Mary Mundeya / Regina Pasipanodya
Grace Chakari* (17) becomes uncomfortable whenever she is asked about how she became pregnant at 14 and a mother at the tender age of 15, only to lose her flesh and blood last year, when he was 11 months old.
Talking about her life experience is something that she finds uneasy, especially when talking to a stranger, given her story which about loss and betrayal.
After taking part in a talking therapy session with professional counsellors and therapists at a platform that was organised by RhoNaFlo in Epworth last week, she summoned the strength and courage to be open about her life story.
Grace is five-months pregnant and is hoping fate will smile on her this time around, given the hardships and heart ache she experienced on her first pregnancy.
“I grew up in Makonde District, living with my paternal grandmother. This was after my parents separated when I was only three-years-old. That is when all my problems in life began,” said Grace with a gloomy face as tears formed in her eyes.
Her grandmother, like many people in Makonde District in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland West province supported the family through agriculture. Her family survived on subsistence farming.
School dropout in young girls and early child marriages
Growing up in a broken family in Africa has been seen as one of the major contributing factors to challenges faced by young children as they grow and how they turn out to be in life.
Grace believes the separation of her parents when she was only three, is the root of all challenges she had to encounter in her troubled life.
“When I finished my Grade 7 in Makonde, I was forced to drop out of school after my grandmother told me that she no longer has money for me to further my studies,” she said.
She was 13 at the time.
To aggravate the matter, her grandmother and aunt married her off to a man who used to visit their home from Harare selling clothes and leather shoes in their area.
“I still remember this day as clear as daylight. My grandmother whom I considered my mother and only family member sent me off with a stranger to a new city where I had never been. I did not know anyone in Harare. The day I was sent off, I saw gogo (grandmother) and my aunt receiving US$100 from that man, little did I know that was my lobola. I was told that I had to go to Harare with him but they never told me the reason. So I just thought to myself that maybe mukoma (the man who sold clothes) just wanted to show me other areas since I had never travelled to any place since my childhood.
“When we arrived in Harare, he took me to Epworth and told me that I was no longer going back since I was now his wife. That is when I got married at the age of 14.”
Fast forward, her marriage did not last long. When she was three months pregnant her “supposed” husband left her and never returned.
“I waited for him but he did not come back. Going back home was never an option for me. I felt that there was nothing left there for me; so I decided to look for a job so that I could earn a living and buy clothes for my unborn child and I got one at a local tuckshop. The money was enough since I was staying alone,” said Grace.
She later gave birth to a baby boy who died last year when he was 11 months old.
“I was devastated after losing my flesh and blood. I did not know how I was going to overcome this loss and I would cry whenever I feel lonely.
“Seeing me in pain and troubled, one of my friends decided to take me to a lady who is RhoNaFlo Foundation’s focal person in Epworth for assistance,” she said.
RhoNaFlo Foundation is a maternal health-focused organisation that seeks to promote and enhance safe births in Zimbabwe by ensuring that no woman dies while giving birth.
The foundation has been operating in Epworth, where there are over 150 teenagers (17 years and below) who are either pregnant or lactating.
“RhoNaFlo Foundation taught me to open a new leaf in life. Through the moral support that I received from other members within the organisation, I felt better as they helped me a lot through the healing process,” added Grace.
In an interview with She Corresponds Africa, Founder and Director of RhoNaFlo Foundation, Chipo Tsitsi Mlambo revealed that a RhoNaFlo story began on June 29th, 1995 when her mother died in one of Harare’s hospitals while giving birth to her fourth child due to haemorrhage.
This led to the establishment of the organisation in 2018.
“After spending years grieving my mother, I decided to turn my pain into a purpose and introduced the RhoNaFlo Foundation a non-profit making project that seeks to help pregnant women under the age of 18 years by providing birth kits support for safe child delivery and our target is disadvantaged mothers at childbearing age,” said Chipo.
“However, lately we have been having disheartening situations as most of the young mothers that we were working with in Epworth, about 13 of them between the ages of 14 and 17 lost their babies after short illnesses. This is why we decided to provide them with a relaxed platform for talk therapy with professionals so that they can get help mentally throughout the healing process.”
During the talk session, the Institute of Women Social Workers’ (IWSW), Mental Health Behavioural Specialist Mariam Ismail said trauma cannot be fixed in a day or one therapy session. It is a continuous process that may take a lifetime for some time.
“It is not easy and should be treated with care. Therefore, sharing one’s sadness can help a person through the healing process,” she said.
RhoNaFlo programs manager, Terrence Muvoti said since 2023 RhoNaFlo Foundation has been rolling out about five programmes in Epworth.
“Our first program is the “Apona-Birth Kit” Programme which is an incentive program to ensure that expectant mothers have a dignified birthing experience through the provision of both clinical and non-clinical components required during and after the birthing process,” he said.
“The second one is the #263BirthStories Program which involves profiling vulnerable teen moms and documentation of their stories to have an in-depth understanding of their circumstances in accessing maternity services.
“Another one is a Welfare and Nutritional Support Program whereby as RhoNaFlo we canvass food hampers and baby clothes from well-wishers for the benefit of vulnerable teen mothers and their babies.
“Another program we advocate for Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) and under this program, we educate Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) on the various contraceptive methods they must consider post-birth. This is informed by the realisation that some of them are getting pregnant multiple times before the age of 17 because they lack awareness and knowledge of contraception.
“The Purple Door Initiative is designed to enhance the positive development and overall wellness of Adolescent girls and young women (AGYW), teen moms, and victims of GBV/SGBV (Sexual Gender Based Violence) by creating psycho-support systems within the community. This is done through the training of volunteer community grandmothers and service providers. After completion of training, their doors will be painted purple. A purple door in the community signifies and illuminates the path to justice, support, and refuge for GBV/SGBV victims. In a crisis, the Purple door is an ever-present respite and referral pathway.”
RhoNaFlo has also been working with several disadvantaged communities in Harare and surrounding areas including Hopley Farm, Glendale, and Bindura among others.