My 20th high school reunion was last weekend. I know that those teen moms have now gone on to be great mothers and successful women… but I also know they don’t take any of their successes for granted because they have had to struggle every step of the way, most as single mothers with no higher education.
In Nicaragua, only 10% of the population graduates high school, and teen pregnancy is a full-fledged scourge: 45% of all births are to girls aged 14-19. In our own New Mothers Program at the Nueva Vida Clinic, we consistently have 40 women participating, nearly all between the ages of 12 and 19.
So in May 2014 we started a program at the clinic for at-risk teen girls with the goal of keeping them from getting pregnant at a young age. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing, but our health promoter Jessenia and I decided we needed to try. She and her health promoters identified 11 girls in Nueva Vida who weren’t in school or who were living in difficult situations at home (most come from families with 8 or 9 kids and many don’t eat three meals a day).
We asked the girls to come to the clinic for our first meeting. They didn’t show up. We talked to their moms and rescheduled another meeting. They didn’t show up again. So we invited them to go to the movies: a little carrot never hurts, right? They all showed up! They’d never been to the movies before. We got popcorn and soda and introduced ourselves before Godzilla started. They couldn’t even tell us their names and ages without getting too shy to talk, but they came back the next week.
Since then, we’ve promised them an outing one week, then a talk at the clinic the next. At the clinic we start off with a game, then we talk about heroines: we tell them stories of women and girls from Nicaragua and around the world who have done brave and amazing things. We talk about important stuff: self esteem, beauty, puberty, sex, family planning, HIV, rape. When we first started, the girls refused to answer questions, but they bravely named their group Las Lobas, the She Wolves. By the time we had advanced to anatomy several months later, I asked who wanted to get up in front of the group and name the female organs and they were all shouting “Me! Me! Me!”
And we do crafts…So.Many.Craft.Projects. When we started most of the girls couldn’t cut a straight line or follow simple instructions. Now they love to be creative, to color, to collaborate.
But most of all they love getting out of their neighborhood: we’ve been to the movies, the park, the lake, the smoking volcano crater, the museum…. We’ve also met with strong women in our own community: the bank manager (“I used to walk to school barefoot because I didn’t have shoes”), the city’s legal counsel (“I’m the youngest of 15 and didn’t start first grade until I was 10”) and we went to the university. The Lobas had never been to a university before. How can you imagine yourself somewhere if you have never been there?
Last week they went to Nagarote, a town 45 minutes to the north, where they met another girls group, Las Chicas of the organization Nica Photo, and they made friends in a few hours. Next month, the Lobas will begin going to Nagarote once a week for a two hour class taken together with Las Chicas and with girls from the U.S. The class is all done online in pairs; they will be learning about computers, CAD and 3-D printing. And after that, who knows what they’ll be capable of? Little by little, the world is opening up for our Lobas.
Jessenia and I still don’t have a clue what we’re doing, but these wonderful wolves are teaching us as we go along. I just wish my middle school friends in Idaho could have had the chance to be Lobas. – Becca
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