Faith was horrified when she realized the truth.
She was pregnant.
The repercussions for Faith’s life were immediate and drastic. At just 14 years of age, she dropped out of school. Her family, dismayed and embarrassed by the news, offered her little support. When the baby came, and she took up the responsibility of caring for him alone, she felt afraid and abandoned. Her dreams for the future had been shattered.
Faith’s story is not an unusual one in the Kenyan town of Kehancha. Many of the children and young people face a bleak and uncertain future. Only about half of the young people in this region make it to secondary school. A huge number of children – some as young as five years of age – have been forced into child labor. Poverty and squalor are rife. And, in what one medical doctor in the region has described as a “decaying society,” teen pregnancies are rising rapidly – almost one-quarter of girls give birth before their nineteenth birthday, and many are much younger than this. Teen pregnancies force young women to drop out of school, enter into early, often abusive, marriages, and curtail any opportunities they may have for productive employment. Another shocking development has been the ‘marriage’ of young, vulnerable girls to older, childless women, with the sole purpose that they bear children on their behalf.
“A whole generation is being lost to early pregnancies,” shares Hilda Boke, who coordinates HopeCo’s leadership programs with young women. “Suicide rates among teenage girls are increasing. These girls urgently need life-skills, empowerment, training, and hope. As part of this, they need trauma-informed care. We must be painting a new picture for them. What has happened to these girls is wrong, but all is not lost.”
At HopeCo, we have felt God’s call to respond to this need. As a result, a new women’s empowerment program – building on the huge success of the similar program at City of Hope in Tanzania – has been launched in Kehancha. Here, teenage girls, all of them single moms, are trained to become seamstresses and learn other valuable life skills. Empowering these precious young women enables them to provide for themselves and their families in a way that would not be otherwise possible.
Faith gladly accepted the opportunity of joining our women’s empowerment program. Coming to class each morning with the baby strapped to her back, she is tenacious and eager to learn. Despite losing her father last September, she has allowed nothing to discourage her or get in the way of gaining the skills that will empower her to earn an income of her own. She also finds great encouragement and support in being loved and cared for by our staff. The future now looks more promising for Faith and for her baby.
Our vision is to expand our women’s empowerment program in Kenya during the coming year as we seek to help more young girls who, like Faith, would otherwise have no hope. As well as practical skills, we are exploring how we might provide care that will help them recover from the trauma that they have experienced. Where necessary, we will provide a “safe haven” for vulnerable young women when they are at risk of violence and abuse. And, of course, we are committed to sharing with these young women about their loving Heavenly Father who cares for them and has good plans for their lives!