Having the cognizance that adolescence is a vital stage of growth and development when young people are intensely influenced by their peers and the outside world, Girls for Change (GFC) Executive Director, Mrs. Ora Barclay Keller said.
She says her organization, since 2013, has been keeping sleeves above elbow to provide lifesaving skills to teenage mothers and nurturing them to form a positive self-image, manage emotions, build relationships, strengthen social skills, and deal with peer pressure.
Mrs. Keller added that adolescents at this stage are more prone and vulnerable to high risk, especially considering the fact that more than half of Liberia's population is under 18 years.
These alarming stats are further compounded by the availability of limited opportunities for education, training and employment, which render this age group particularly vulnerable. It is this situation, Mrs. Keller said that GFC is working to address with the requisite support from those who believe in Liberia's future.
She spoke in a exclusive interview with this newspaper on Monday, May 20, 2019 at her Thinker's Village office.
Mrs. Keller said that GFC is prepping these young women, most of whom dropout of school by providing scholarships, health clubs in schools, training and awareness on teenage pregnancy, early childhood development for teenage mothers' children, while they are in school and mentoring.
According to her, this initiative grew out of the realization that many young women who dropped out of school would go back but not stay in school because there are no facilities to cater to their children while they are in school.
It is based on this that the GFC began running their childhood development programs to provide care for these kids to sustain their mothers in school. "This allows the mother to be settled in school and pay attention to her studies, because her child is being taken care of at our child development center," she said.
"Most of the girls we are providing opportunities for are victims of sexual abuse and some got pregnant while in school. Retaining them in school is a primary concern for us. We saw a gap in the lack of a safe environment for those children to play and learn," Mrs. Keller said.
Besides taking of these children while their mothers are in school, GFC saw the need to educate teenagers on reproductive health as the surest way to prevent teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and the consequence of getting pregnant while still seeking primary education since there are not courses in schools to provide such knowledge.
During school vacations, beneficiaries of GFC scholarship program and other community residents are encouraged to attend skills training activities such as tailoring, graphic design, knitting of African slippers, painting that would keep them busy during vacation.
Mrs. Keller said that more than 500 teenage mothers and their children have benefited from the organization's programs. Some of the students who completed the training are being used as ambassadors to teach their peers about the importance of healthy living, prevention of teenage pregnancy and peer-to-peer coaching.
GFC is a women's rights non-profit organization committed to transforming society and supporting women/girls affected by all forms of violence.
The self-supported civil society organization, which operates within Montserrado, Bong and Lower Margibi counties with focus on supporting teenage mothers, less fortunate girls and under privileged and marginalized youth through the provision of scholarships in formal and informal education.
GFC expertise provides a holistic trauma-sensitive and empowering approach to survivors of sexualized and other forms of violence and to service providers and stakeholders.