A Journey to School: A Second Chance
My name is Soumata*. I am 18 years old and live in a village in Sanankoroba, Mali. I began school in 2002 and dropped out in 2010, when I was just 16 years old.
Before I left school, I was struggling to concentrate on my lessons and my home life was very difficult. We barely had any food to eat and I could rarely afford to light up the house with candles.
Trying to study was almost impossible. My mother had no money to purchase the basic learning materials that I needed for school. As a result, I had a limited amount of school supplies. Instead of 17 school books required for my lessons in year 8, I only had seven, and the lack of lighting at home meant that I couldn’t revise my lessons in the evenings because it was too dark.
When my father was alive, he always encouraged me to continue my education. He paid my school fees and even gave me pocket money to buy sweets. When he passed away things started to go bad.
Not too long after my father died, I became pregnant. The father was a young man from our village. My family was outraged. I was shamed by my mother and uncle for my behavior. The other girls in the village also made fun of me. I felt disgraced and remained isolated for months.
Initially, my boyfriend was supportive. He paid for all my medical visits up until I gave birth to our baby boy and also bought baby items for the child. When he had the baby baptized, I thought he had fully accepted the responsibility of being a father. But, not long after, he left the village and went his own way.
That’s when my situation stated to get worse. I was living with my three little sisters, dependent on my mother and raising a baby. How could I possibly take care of a child being totally penniless?
I wanted to return to school, but there was no one to look after my child. My mother was already working every hour of the day so that she could feed us.
Earlier this year, the Student Mothers Association (SMA) came to our home and asked my mother to let me resume my studies. The SMA is a support group for the education of young teen mothers. Plan facilitated the creation of the group by training young mothers in the essential skills needed to continue and support their education. This involved training them to access available support by consulting with their teachers and forming discussion groups to address shared issues.
They explained the advantages of education for girls to me. I learned that an educated girl is more able to ensure a better and healthier life for her and her children; she can better manage her family’s finances.
Not long after, with a little help from the community, my mother was able to find time to look after the baby and I was finally able to go back to school. The headmaster was very happy and agreed to re-enroll me.
SMA encourages girls to go to school more regularly and invites them to attend talks on reproductive health. I am now more studious at school and have learned a lot about contraception and protection against sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS.
All the teachers and mothers have all started to support the pregnant girls and young mothers at school by organizing catch-up courses that I and about 10 other girls attend. These special courses are taught twice a week and I personally feel much more confident in the subjects that I used to struggle in such as mathematics, physics, and chemistry.
I no longer feel inferior to the boys in class and my results are always praised by my teachers. For that reason, the SMA regularly gives me, and the other most deserving girls, gifts at school.
Right now, my goal is to pass year 8 and continue my studies. I hope to become a mid-wife so that I can help the women in my village through the difficulties of childbirth. I also want to support the SMA in their awareness raising campaign against early pregnancy and girls’ education. I would still advise all the girls of my village to protect themselves from early pregnancy, as it puts the lives of girls at risk.
*Editor's Note: Soumata's name has been changed to protect her identity.
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