Rhoda Siyabu (18) is the first born in a family of six and she sadly got impregnated when she was only 14 and she was in Form 2 of her secondary school studies. Four years after the incident, she is failing to go back to school because her parents cannot afford to pay for her tuition fees.
Her story is among many sad stories that illustrate the hardships and challenges that many adolescent girls face in Malawi mainly due to a number of factors that include the lack of information on Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH).
For over 15 years, Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO) has been very active in the promotion and enhancement of the lives of adolescent girls and women in Malawi. Thus, Rhoda narrated her reminiscence during a monitoring visit that was conducted by YONECO in one of its initiatives that are aimed at supporting teen mothers in the Reaching the Hard to Reach Project. The visit was conducted in February, 2014 at Kanzingeni village, Group Village Headman Dzoole in the area of Traditional Authority Kwataine in Ntcheu district.
Rhoda stated that when her parents realised that she was pregnant some four years ago,they forced her to marry the boy who impregnated her. This meant the boy also had to drop out of school as both of them were still students at Dawe Community Day Secondary School and the boy was in Form 3. Nine months later, Rhoda gave birth to a baby girl through a cesarean method because she was too young to give birth and she recounted it as a very bad experience in her life.
Her marriage to the father of her daughter was typical of a forced child marriage and there was no happiness from the word go and she described it as a nightmare. Rhoda said her husband did not even buy any cloth for the child and life became very miserable for her.
In March last year, Rhoda decided to call it quits and left her matrimonial house for her home village after getting tired of her so called husband. After some weeks, the boy went to her home seeking a marriage reunion and promising that things will be okay and rosy.
No sooner had they reached their matrimonial home than the man was back in his malevolent usual self. Rhoda said that the man was even worse than before. He neither provided food nor any kind of support to his family. The man also reached the point of not sleeping in his matrimonial house for some days.
As of now, the man is a bicycle taxi operator in Ntcheu district and Rhoda is back in her home village and she said she has no wish to go back to him. Rhoda said if there is anywhere else where she would like to go back to, then it is to school.
Rhoda was among several teen mothers who were trained by YONECO on SRH and Facilitation of Life Skills Sessions to their peers in December 2013. Since January 2014, she has managed to distribute 100 female condoms and 200 male condoms to her fellow girls. Apart from that, she has also established a Teen Mothers Group that has a total of 13 members. The group meets every Wednesday for a forum where they discuss and conduct a number of activities including sessions on HIV/ AIDS prevention and treatment, family planning, STIs and the group also has a component of VSL within its activities. In addition, Rhoda said the group also encourages one another on the importance of going back to school and so far three teen mothers from the group are intending to go back to school in the next academic term.
“I would like to express my gratitude to YONECO for the training they organized in December, last year, on Teen Mothers in SRH and Life Skills Facilitation. The training helped me as well as other young girls a lot to make informed decisions and choices.
As a facilitator, I always advise my fellow adolescent girls to abstain from sex and that if they fail to abstain then they should make sure that they are using contraceptives. I also distribute condoms to them as I do not want them to fall into a similar pit like the one I fell into four years ago” says Rhoda.
As of now, Rhoda says she badly wants to go back to school but the challenge is that her parents cannot manage to pay for her tuition. This is the case because two of her siblings have also reached secondary school and their tuition fees are heavily draining the already meager resources of her father.
“My parents cannot afford to pay me school fees because they are already paying for my two siblings at Dawe CDSS. My father is a Watchman and the salary he gets is not enough to pay tuition for the three of us. Maybe I had my chance but I screwed it up,” said Rhoda.
Currently, YONECO in its innovative approaches to promote and enhance the lives of young people in Malawi has been using the SMS system to disseminate and moderate information concerning SRH to the youth. The organisation has also embarked on using the blog in order to reach out to as many young people as possible.