Promising Interventions this Giving Season for Teenage Mothers
Malkia Foundation is a national non-governmental organization in rural Western Kenya that empowers girls with educational opportunities, economic development and self-employment for sustainability. This is done through life skills training, mentorship, menstrual hygiene management and microfinance. Malkia Foundations encourages pregnant adolescent girls to resume schooling, the reason why income generating activities which include the manufacture of school uniforms at affordable prices for Vihiga County Schools and soap making are done by teen mothers. The soap making program started with 30 girls, but come COVID, the number of teen mothers has increased and Malkia Foundation is currently working with at least 200 teenage mothers every three months. The girls manufacture liquid soap to sell to the community at affordable prices. The returns are used to support girls to go back to school; at least 90% of the girls in the program return to school.
Phionah Musumba, the founder and Executive Director for Malkia Foundation is a high school dropout who got married young, at the age of 17. Malkia Foundation was conceived out of her personal experiences, hardship and the opportunity she had to complete her education and become economically independent. The program works in Gamoi village in Vihiga County, a region that is characterized by poverty; rape; incest and rejection of teen mothers by partners, parents and guardians. It is not uncommon for parents to kick out pregnant daughters out of their homes. In the absence of organizations that could support pregnant mothers to cope with their situation and resume education, Malkia Foundation steps in to support teen mothers for the long term.
The cultural norms in this region are very strict and when a girl gets pregnant, the community expects the girl to get married, yet most of the pregnancies are due to poverty, incest and violence. Many girls will engage in risky sexual behavior to buy items such as body lotions and sanitary pads. Malkia Foundation helps the girls to understand their bodies are sacred and work to prevent repeat pregnancies by offering youth friendly Family Planning services by partnering with health centers. The girls in this community, being very young, are ignorant and wouldn’t know where to go if they needed Family Planning services. Additionally, the community expects that only grown, adult women will seek Family Planning services which leaves the girls embarrassed. This leads to repeat pregnancies.
Teenage Mother Program: Malkia Foundation provides teen mothers with a 7-week training in financial literacy skills, after which small loans are made available to the girls to run small cottage businesses.
- Ensure teen mothers get a second shot at life so they can go back to school.
- Support teen mothers to start small businesses that can support their children and pay for their education.
- Provide youth friendly Family Planning services to prevent repeat pregnancies among teen mothers.
Selection of beneficiaries: The program targets teenage mothers who are in need and come from vulnerable backgrounds.
Geographic Coverage: Malkia Foundation primarily works in Vihiga County and conducts advocacy in 5 other counties. The program office is in Gimengwa Parish.
Malkia Foundation is building the Malkia Opportunity Center for Teenage Mothers at Jepses Market that will house the project. Malkia Foundation is also building a Science Technology Engineering and Math school that will target girls and build their strength in STEM from an early age (Kindergarten).
Achievements: The program has several success stories of girls who have transformed their lives and families. One such girl was a problem kid with discipline issues during adolescence. She was the best student in Vihiga county; she joined a good school and was expelled from three other schools because of bad choices. At her fifth school, she became pregnant and dropped out.
Malkia Foundation intervention saw her return to school. She currently runs a small cottage business and sells fries by the roadside. Her business is doing well, as she now pays her school fees herself, has maintained good grades and is mentoring other teenagers to stay on the right path. She plans to study Medicine after high school. Other girls in similar situations have gone back to school and are now taking care of their extended families. The girls often seek refuge with elderly grandmothers and other relatives and end up taking care of their relatives after going through the teen mother program. Another such girl, a total orphan after her parents died of HIV and left her in charge of three siblings. Malkia Foundation paid her school fees when she got pregnant. She has since taken care of 3 siblings through her street business and is now a university student at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
- Funding is a challenge and the program is grateful for the support that partners provide.
- Giving handouts is not a good way to support a community; it cripples the organization because funding is not always going to be available. “Teach people how to fish instead of giving fish.” This lesson has given impetus to start a social business that will be sustainable and not dependent on donor funding.
Funding Estimated cost per girl: it costs USD 500 to train a girl in street business, USD 500 to train a girl in school uniform manufacture, and USD 500 in soap making business. The cost of supporting a girl to start a cottage business is USD 300. Most of the funding comes from the founder‘s personal and family contributions, and one or two partners.
Scale up: Funding would be a challenge; but since Malkia Foundation is building the Malkia Opportunity Center for Teenage Mothers, this will save the organization from paying rent.
- Meeting the expectations of the girls is a challenge; the girls expect much more.
- Parents fear that girls would disclose what happens at home. The program has addressed cases where girls were violated at home through working with relevant authorities.
COVID-19 Adjustments: Malkia Foundation has overhauled most of their programs and will now predominantly work with teenage mothers. The COVID-19 pandemic has informed their decision to focus on teen mothers, because an estimated 5000 girls in Vihiga county are pregnant since the pandemic hit the world. Malkia Foundation is filling the gap in fully programming for teen mothers.
Program aspects that have helped girls to address COVID-19 challenges include:
- Conversing with the girls- the program has seen their confidence grow and they can face whatever comes after child birth.
- Mutual trust: the girls have found a home away from home where they can be themselves and pursue their dreams.
- Entrepreneurship skill development is providing the girls with economic benefits that is helping them meet their needs.
Summary: The program addresses teen mothers, a population that has surged during the COVID-19 pandemic and has potential to help pregnant girls to not only return to school but also meet the economic and social burden associated with teenage pregnancy in poor households and communities. The proposed social entrepreneurship model has the potential to make the program more sustainable and less dependent on external donor funding.
Phionah Musumba, Founding Executive DIrector. The views expressed in this paper are solely the author’s.