How Kilifi youth-led initiative is empowering girls to break cycle of teen pregnancies

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The two pride themselves on successfully training more than 50 teen moms to earn a living through art, tailoring and beauty.

Menza Mgendi and Miriam Kadii, both 24 years old, are working to create change in the slums of Mtomondoni in Kilifi County.

The village is located in Mtwapa, a town known for its vibrant clubs and prevalence of commercial sex workers. Due to poverty, many young girls from the slums resort to commercial sex work to earn a living, leading to rampant teen pregnancies in the region.

To address this issue, the two youths started an initiative to rescue girls from teen pregnancies and help the victims rebuild their lives and dreams.

When The Eastleigh Voice visited Mtomondoni Church, the atmosphere was filled with murmurs and laughter, indicating the participants' engagement and enjoyment. Inside, teen mothers were participating in discussions, some nursing their infants. They were learning about reproductive health and ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Narrating how Madvocate was born four years ago, founder Mgendi, a third-year clinical medicine student at Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC) in Mombasa, shared his story of being raised by a single mother.

"We are nine siblings. After my parents separated, my mother took us to her maternal home. Life was not easy. It broke my heart to see most of my cousins getting pregnant at an early age," he said.

Mgendi told The Eastleigh Voice that many of his cousins dropped out of school due to early pregnancy. "None of my cousins managed to join high school. Most of them dropped out in Standard Eight, while others in Standard Six. Because of this, a dream to create change in my community and save the girl child was born," he said.

Through Madvocate, they use film to raise awareness and educate girls about reproductive health.

"We engage girls from 10 to 24 years old because this is the most vulnerable group. For the teen moms, we have partnered with professionals who counsel them, educate them on reproductive health and family planning, and support them in learning a skill," he said.

Kadii noted that the teen moms they are currently assisting were mostly impregnated by their boyfriends, who are often adults.

"When we question them, they confess to having been impregnated by boyfriends who are 18 years and above. We also found that many do not know the proper channels to follow when defiled," she said.

The youngest case they encountered was a 12-year-old who had recently given birth.

"It is like a cycle where teen moms give birth to girls who also get pregnant once they reach the teenage stage. We want to end the trend and bring change where girls can get an education and achieve their goals," Kadii added.

Menza Mgendi, the founder of Madvocate, at their office at Mtomondoni. (Photo: Mishi Gongo)

Asked how they incorporate films and comic books, the two youths explained that they produce short films on topics such as reproductive health, drug abuse, and crime, then engage the minors in discussions about what they have watched. Among the films they have produced is "Mshomi," which focuses on improving education.

The initiative has also supported about five students from vulnerable families by providing them with bursaries.

"The money we get from our films and art we use to assist students from vulnerable families," said Mgendi.

He added that their focus depends on the community's needs at the time. "When crime is high, we do creative interventions on the subject," he said.

The two pride themselves on successfully training more than 50 teen moms to earn a living through art, tailoring and beauty.

Mgendi's advice to other youths is to create more initiatives that bring a positive impact to society.

Turning over a new leaf

Currently, Madvocate is run by eight men and seven women, who serve a number of women.

Margaret Mbeyu, not her real name, is a 12-year-old with a two-month-old baby. She conceived while she was in Grade Six.

Narrating her story, the minor said she was in a relationship with an 18-year-old who abandoned her immediately after discovering she was pregnant.

"He used to operate a shop in our neighbourhood. He befriended me, but when I got pregnant, he abandoned me. After delivering, my parents wanted to seek justice for me and my son, but when we reported the matter to the police, we were asked to get a medical report, which we couldn't obtain because of the doctors' strike," she said.

Mbeyu says she has found a family at Madvocate, who have never judged her but supported her in achieving her dream of becoming a professional salonist.

"I am currently studying hairdressing and beauty therapy. With this skill, I will be able to earn a living and support my child," she said.

Amina, 15, said she entered a relationship with a Boda Boda rider to sustain herself.

"My parents could not afford the basics, so when this guy asked to be my boyfriend, I accepted because he provided everything I needed. At times, he would even buy food items for me to share with my family, but when I got pregnant, he dumped me," she said.

Like Mbeyu, Amina is a skilled tailor after receiving training in tailoring. "Through this skill, I can make clothes for my child and others," she said.

Mwanahalima, another teen mom, said the peer-to-peer training has been very helpful as they can open up about the challenges they encounter in their daily lives.

"We are comfortable sharing our problems because the peer educators can relate. Some of them have gone through what we are going through," she said.

She mentioned that they have accepted their situation and are now working to improve their lives and offer their children a peaceful environment.

"Being a teen mom comes with many challenges, including stigma and mental health problems, but with a supportive group, every challenge becomes easier to handle," she said.

She called on other teen moms to find supportive groups and not to be afraid to start over.

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