After getting pregnant at the age of 17, Rinouzeu Kavikunua has been battling to keep her dreams alive so that she can give her daughter a better life and put an end to the vicious cycle of poverty that she finds herself in.
She too was born out of wedlock and was raised by a single father, who tried his best to provide for his family despite the hardships he faced.
Many schoolgirls become pregnant every year, and fail to complete formal education once they become mothers. According to a UNFPA report on teenage pregnancies in Namibia, more than 46,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 were pregnant in 2013 alone.
However, Kavikunua is determined to succeed and has refused to just drop out of school and move to the village like most of her peers who find themselves in similar circumstances.
The young mother has a fierce determination to succeed though her eyes tell a different story. She has been broken by life’s difficulties, but she is slowly piecing things back together.
When she got pregnant four years ago, just as in many African cultural households, she was frowned upon and sent to live in the informal settlements with her unemployed brother where she had to hustle to survive.
The father of her baby who was also a school boy, abandoned her and denied responsibility, leaving her destitute.
Living with her brother presented more challenges because instead of just fending for herself and her child, she also had to fend for her brother.
“I have had no one to rely on. My father abandoned me when I got pregnant and I have been on my own since then,” the young mother reflected on her life.
Last year, she enrolled at Ella Du Plessis High School in Khomasdal where she is now in Grade 12 preparing to write her examinations in a few months’ time.
Going back to school has not been a walk in the park for the young mother, as she has had to struggle with juggling motherhood and school.
Sometimes, she goes for days without attending school because she has no one to leave her child with, while at times she is too tired to walk the 5km journey from 8ste Laan informal settlement on the outskirts of Otjomuise to her school.
“The transition has been very hard. Living in 8ste Laan is not easy because there is no water and electricity. I sometimes have to leave my baby at home alone while I go to fetch firewood in a nearby bush,” she said.
“There were times when I would go for days without food and all I could feed my baby was pap and powdered cool drink that I would mix with water and use as soup.”
As a result, her daughter started losing weight and getting sick all the time.
“I would give her the food and she would not keep it in; she would vomit. I later noticed that her left side was swelling, her tummy and her head were all getting big and she was refusing to eat,” she said.
When she took her baby to a nearby clinic after school, instead of helping her, nurses at the clinic chided her and blamed her for her child’s condition.
“At the clinic, all the nurses would do is shout at me and accuse me of not taking care of my child.”
It was only after a neighbour realised that the condition of the baby was getting worse that she assisted the young mother with money to go to the hospital, where she and her child were rushed to the emergency room.
“I was scared, I didn’t sleep for weeks. I didn’t want to lose my baby so I knelt down on the floor in that hospital room and cried out to God to help me and my child.
“My mind, body and soul were weak that I never thought I would make it, but God heard my prayer and as days passed, my baby started recovering,” she narrated her ordeal, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Kavikunua spent over a month in hospital as doctors kept a close eye on her daughter before she was discharged.
When her father visited her in hospital, he had no remorse, and he beat her down some more.
“I think my father does not have a heart, he came and said you refused to apologise to my wife, now look what is happening.”
Kavikunua’s story is not unique to her as Namibia has been struggling with high teenage pregnancy rates, which often results in learners prematurely terminating their schooling, leaving them with very few options to establish a good life for themselves and their offspring.
According to the USAID statistics of 2011, the Kavango Region has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Namibia, standing at 34 percent. The figure is double the national average teenage pregnancy rate which stands at 15 percent among the 15-19-year-old age groups.
It is against this background that Government instituted a policy that allows pregnant girls in school which came into effect in 2010
The Teenage Pregnancy Policy of the Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture makes provision for girls who walk into parenthood before completing their education to go back to school one year after giving birth.
The Forum for African Women Educationalists in Namibia (FAWENA) works with the Ministry of Education Arts and Culture to support learner mothers and encourage them to finish school.
According to the FAWENA National Chapter Coordinator, Charlene Mungunda, the organisation is supporting about 3,000 young women this year through scholarships.
The organisation also empowers girls through support groups in schools.
“Some of the girls who are part of the organisation are girls who did not get pregnant by choice. Some were raped by family members and became infected with HIV in the process, thus they go through psychological trauma. Most of the girls are also orphans and vulnerable children,” Mungunda said.
A study carried out in 2004 by the University of Namibia on teenage mothers in the Khomas region showed that some teenage mothers found it difficult to cope because there was no support from home, which created a number of problems that these girls were unable to deal with while in school.
Some of these problems include low self-esteem and lack of concentration, paying little attention to school work, not wishing to take part in extra-mural activities at school and dropping out of school in the middle of the year to look after their babies.
According to principals and teachers who were interviewed as part of the study, girls with a strong parental support did so well in school that they even went for further studies.
These girls showed more responsibility, and took their schoolwork more seriously than the rest of the girls in their schools.
It is not only the children who go through hell when they find themselves pregnant, but parents also go through a lot.
The study found out that parents felt an indescribable pain and sadness when they discover that they daughter is pregnant.
Most parents said they felt powerless because they did not know how to handle the situation, and how to make it better for themselves and their daughters.
They also had to cope with the shame and the gossip from their own family members as well as from their friends and neighbours.
Although Kavikunua is still struggling to cope with parenthood and school, she is determined to excel and provide the best life for her baby.
“Not all hope is lost, I still stand a chance,” she said.