A journey to discover the people who change our world.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Advocating for Teenagers Mothers- Meet Stella Omunga

‘It’s a long story’, was Stella Omunga’s response when I asked how she came to set up ‘Advocates for Teenage Mothers’, an advisory and support service for girls who become pregnant. And indeed it is a long, but fascinating story. Stella, now just 29, has been working in the area of youth health issues for nearly 20 years. Yes, do the maths- she started young!

How? When Stella was in 5th class/ form in primary school, one of her friends, one of the brightest and best in her class, started menstruating when she was just 10 years old. Stella’s friend, knowing nothing about periods, was frightened and scared. She started missing school, and as a result her grades and school performance worsened. Stella took it upon herself to get informed, and tell her classmates. Her own mother was a teacher, and she organised for her to come and speak to the girls in the class about female health and reproduction issues. There started Stella's campaigning/ advocacy career.

That initiative led Stella to set up peer education classes in the secondary school, where she would arrange for groups of girls to come together and discuss female health issues. Her commitment to doing something about the lack of information available to girls was intensified when one of her closest friends died from an illegal abortion, aged only 17.

Looking at the statistics, Stella knew that there was a critical problem. She could see young girls, some as young as 13, become pregnant, and then watch them drop out of school. Some had been through rape trauma. Some were suicidal, or seeking abortion without being properly informed about the pros and cons. Without proper education, Stella knew that there were few prospects for these girls.

When Stella herself finished college, she decided to set up ‘Advocates for Teenage Mothers’. Through it, she now provides counselling and support for girls who become pregnant. She works with families, convincing parents to allow the girl to have the baby, and return to school. She works with church groups and talks to young girls about health issues. She goes to the rural areas and teaches girls about using sanitary towels, and about safe sex. She leads a team of volunteers who in turn go out and promote female welfare. She also opens her own home to girls in need. On the day that I visited Stella in her home, one young girl was staying with her, a girl who had no where else to turn.

Stella, who married when she was 22, has three young children herself. She is keen that they grow up informed and responsible. With her as their mother, I think that they have little choice in the matter!


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