Elizabeth Muriuki from Kenya started Serene Haven as a shelter home, it now provides education to over 26 Teenage mothers and takes care of their babies.
Increasing crimes against women and girls is a cause of concern all over the world. Over 30% of girls aged 15 or above suffer from physical or sexual partner violence as per the data by WHO. Kenya is no exception. However, the stigma around them in the aftermath of this crime makes it worse for them to recover from the trauma. These girls are unable to continue their education, making their future ambiguous. Between 10,000 to 13,000 girls drop out of school in pregnancy-related cases. Only a paltry estimate of 1200 girls return to class after delivery (CSA, 2008).
Serene Haven is an initiative that is bringing these ostracised teenage mothers back into the world of education. The organization initially planned to shelter and harbour the girls who have face discrimination and abandonment from society. But soon evolved into a learning space upon realising that these kids weren’t able to find their space back in school. The idea is the brainchild of Elizabeth Wanjiru Muriuki, a prominent humans rights activist and social worker who understood that only education can help these girls get back on their feet.
Learning from personal experiences
Elizabeth was a teenage mother herself. Hence knows the challenges a teenage mom faces. Elizabeth says, “ I got a lot of love from my family and relatives. I was able to make myself independent with education. If these teenage mothers remain uneducated, what would be the future of them and their babies?” Her will was strong. Elizabeth’s experience says that the families were more than welcoming of the idea. The bigger challenge, she says, begins when the girls are inside the school. The mother and the baby need special care and need to be looked after frequently. Also, the teachers have to be careful about what words to use as the girls may be in heavy trauma when they join. “They have had very bad experiences. We have long counselling sessions for them. Yet, we tell teachers to be very careful about what words they use. Some of these phrases or words may trigger a traumatic memory” she mentions.
Started in 2020, Serene Haven is home to over 26 teenage mothers and 16 babies and has received good support from the Government and other human rights organisations.
A Day at Serene Haven
The day begins with the girls waking up early in the morning around 6. Then they assist the management in cleaning the facilities. They bathe their babies and then ready themselves for the class. There are caretakers to take care of the babies while their mothers study. The classes last till noon with breaks in between to replenish themselves. Post that, the girls engage in extra-curricular activities. The evenings at Serene Haven are joyful as these girls take care of their babies and play with them. Late evenings are assigned for homework and revising the concepts taught to them.
A lot of girls are still recovering from their trauma when they join the school. Hence, it becomes difficult for them to study. They have experts who constantly communicate with them and help them overcome. There are support groups for the girls during the weekend. The girls can discuss and help each other to release mental stress. The founder’s motivational story helps them further. Elizabeth tells them plainly,” If I can do this, you can too.” The School also counsels them and makes them realize that all men are not bad. There are good ones too, just like at the Haven and their to-be men babies. Expenses is another major challenge the school is facing. With constant support from well-wishers and authorities, Elizabeth can pay off rent, bills and salaries for teachers.
The Bigger Picture
The long term mission is to empower these girls enough that they can reintegrate back into society. They are given opportunities and resources such that they can own small businesses. Elizabeth makes sure to conduct seminars and sessions by female entrepreneurs that inspire the girls even more. “Seeing a real-life example gives them an impetus. They aspire to become like these independent women. It makes me very happy.” she beams. Elizabeth plans to establish another school like the Serene Haven in the country. She also plans to have a kindergarten for the babies of these teenage mothers. It would ensure that these little children also get their chance at education. The ingredients of making this massive change in so many lives are simple, Elizabeth says. “You need just the right amount of love and patience. Rest everything falls into place.”
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