Just in Nine Months

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By: Peris Wakesho, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Peris Wakesho, one of the fifteen Young Champions of Maternal Health chosen by Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth. This is her final post about her experience as a Young Champion, and you can learn more about her, the other Young Champions, and the program here.

It takes just nine months on average to carry a pregnancy to term. But these are not just nine months; they are months of anxiety filled with hope for every man or woman anticipating parenthood. However, there is no guarantee that a mother will carry the pregnancy to full term, deliver the baby alive and survive herself, or have a “normal” baby with no birth defects or any other congenital abnormalities. Despite all these uncertainties, many look forward to the joy of parenthood.

You might be wondering where I am going with this: Just like the pregnancy period, with all its excitements, anxiety, and uncertainties, I embarked on a similar period when I left for the long journey to Northern Nigeria (Minna in Niger State) to work on maternal health issues.

Throughout my fellowship program I kept reviewing my idea in the hope of having ”a baby” that will live to leave a mark on another’s life. I must admit, the experience had its ups and downs, but it was worth every bit of the time and effort. One major thing that I am taking home to Kenya with me is the women daycare schooling model.

Niger State is an Islamic state where most of the population practices early or forced marriages. However, from what I gathered, in a bid to improve the lives of mothers, the government started women daycare schools. At these daycare schools you see mothers of all different ages and some carry their babies to school. The school operates during the morning hours which makes it convenient for the women, most of whom are married, to also attend to their families while getting an education.

Kenya has long passed a return to school policy, aimed at giving a second chance to girls who mostly dropped out of school due to pregnancy. However, the implementation of this policy is still left at the discretion of head teachers, and some do not allow the girls back to school. For me the daycare model, though not meant to replace formal education structures, could offer another avenue to strengthen implementation of this policy. I know other issues of stigma, sustainability, and more will arise, but just like in pregnancy, though we anticipate that 15% of pregnancies will develop complications, we do not stop women from getting pregnant because of the risk. Instead, we let them know the possibilities and work with them to avert or manage complications — in essence, this is what the women daycare model will do.

The daycare model will form an integral part of the Swahiba Club (a psychosocial support group for adolescent mothers, parents, and pregnant adolescents) and a second opportunity for learning. Through it is on a smaller scale, adolescent girls will be given a chance to complete or further their education, or take different vocational training to better their lot. The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2008/9 clearly indicates that the majority of women with post-secondary education receive antenatal care, post-natal care, and have a delivery with a skilled birth attendant, and their children have a higher survival rate. Through the Swahiba clubs, which at the beginning will be groups of ten women in selected districts in Kenya, we will aim to give this agency to the Kenyan adolescent girl so that she can also negotiate for contraceptive use and family planning, in the hope that this will improve maternal health indicators in the country.