Caring for teenage mothers

Poverty rates in Malawi are alarmingly high and more and more people face acute food insecurity. As a result, the number of abandoned and vulnerable children occasioned by factors such as teenage pregnancies, poverty and disease is rising. A local foundation in Mzuzu, northern Malawi, is providing a safe space to nurture such children and offer them better life circumstances.

Malawi has one of the highest teenage-pregnancy rates worldwide, currently at 29 % of the population. Adolescent mothers are overburdened with giving birth, caring and providing for their children while they are still children themselves and lack practical child rearing skills.

To help deal with increasing numbers of vulnerable children and young women in rural Malawi, 23-year-old Tusaiwe Munkhondiya established an organisation in 2020 to care for children and young mothers. YANA, which stands for “You Are Not Alone,” runs several homes and shelters for vulnerable women and children.

Tusaiwe experienced a traumatic childhood and teenage pregnancy herself: “My mother abandoned me when I was just 9 months old. Today, I foster abandoned children and love them as my own. I do not want other children growing up with absence of their parents, and that is why I am here giving love to these children.”

She adds: “I got pregnant at 16. People from home started looking down on me, I lost many friends and even dropped out of school at that time. That was the time I experienced that being a single mother is hard,” Tusaiwe Munkhondiya says.

Tusaiwe through her initiative has taken up the responsibility of parenting abandoned infants, street children, orphans, children with disability and teenage mothers. They find a safe space to live and access basic needs like food and health care including mental-health support services.

Mental-health specialist Precious Makiyi appreciates the work of YANA. He says, it is vital to advocate for mental health in rural communities as it helps break the stigma and cultural beliefs associated with mental health conditions. “People in rural communities associate common mental conditions to factors like witchcraft and other beliefs. Such narratives compromise the healing process,” he adds. Psychosocial support services help the children and teenage mothers to deal with their past trauma.

“It is important to remind these children and anyone going through any form of mental illness that they are not alone and that with the right support they will heal”, Makiyi says.

YANA relies on the good will of donors and funding agencies to raise money for its operations. They currently have over 40 children under their care and this number is predicted to rise. The foundation is running a crowdfunding campaign dubbed “Help us build YANA village in Mzuzu, Malawi” with a goal of raising £ 1,000,000. So far, contributors have raised over £ 75,277. Tusaiwe Munkhondiya continues to rally support for the foundation through social media.

Sumeya Issa is a freelance journalist in Malawi.

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