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Kenyan Private School Opens for Teen Mothers, Babies

Students sit at the St. George's Girls' Secondary School as they wait to be picked up after learning classes were called off due to the spreading of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Nairobi on March 17, 2020.

Jackline, who does not want to use her real name, helps out her fellow teen mothers tend to their babies.

But she’s not in a daycare center — she’s at school.

After Jackline, 16, got pregnant in August, like most young mothers, she said she almost dropped out of school — until she found Serene Haven.

“When you are in a class with people who are the same, you are all the same, you know it’s not hard," Jackline said. "You are able to focus because everyone has the same challenge. Because you are sure your baby is safe, he’s with the matron here, and after a short while you will be with your child.”

Kenyan Private School Opens for Teenage Mothers and Babies
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Kenya’s first private school for pregnant teenagers, teen mothers and their babies, opened its doors earlier this month.

The students at Serene Haven either got pregnant or gave birth during last year’s COVID-19 lockdown, when Kenya’s teenage pregnancies surged by about 40%.

In the school’s Nyeri Central sub-district alone, Children’s Officer Paul Ndungu said the jump in teen pregnancies has been shocking.

“In 2019 we were talking about one or two cases," Ndungu said. " But in 2020 we are talking about hundreds of cases, and we already know the reason.”

Kenyan officials blame students not being in schools, which were allowed to re-open this month for the first time since March.

Founder and director of Serene Haven Lizz Muriuki was a teen mother herself. She said their goal is to ensure teens get an education without stigma.

“This school is filling a need and a gap that society had neglected for so long, Muriuki said. "Because when a girl gets pregnant, everyone is pointing at the girl.”

Ruth Kirimi, a guardian of one of the students, says Serene Haven is also helping young mothers to recover their self-confidence.

“They are picking up this girl and telling them ‘hey, there is potential — you are good, just this thing happened, we’re giving you a second chance,’” Kirimi said.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenya was struggling to reduce teen pregnancy.

According to Save the Children’s 2019 Global Childhood Report, Kenya has the third highest teen pregnancy rate in East Africa after Tanzania and Uganda.