It Takes a Village

Written by
Sarah Harrington
Published on
January 4, 2024 at 4:47:00 PM PST January 4, 2024 at 4:47:00 PM PSTth, January 4, 2024 at 4:47:00 PM PST

You've probably heard the phrase "It takes a village to raise a child," before. After all, it's well known that community support is crucial for raising a child! But what happens when those helping hands never arrive and, in their place, a new mother is shamed by her community?

In Rwanda, teen pregnancy rates rose dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, partly due to prolonged school closures. These new mothers face stigma and judgement every day, like many other teen moms around the world. Faced with financial challenges and ostracization while trying to raise a family, anyone’s mental health would take a hit. 

But with the help of Food for the Hungry Rwanda, a group of determined young mothers is rebuilding their self-esteem and beginning to flourish.

A road map to rebuilding self-esteem

We all make mistakes when we're young, but It's the response of our friends, family, and community that shapes how we recover.

In May 2022, FH partnered with the Young Women’s Christian Association to empower 20 teen mothers in the Cyeza community with skills training. Having dropped out of school and now struggling without family support, these young women needed help developing entrepreneurial knowledge that could bring in an income to support their children. 

Based on their interests and talents, the girls learned skills like carpentry, shoemaking, growing vegetables, and tailoring. Once they were equipped with these newfound skills, each mother developed a vision for her life and a road map for how to get there.

In a world that often preaches the idea of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, equipping someone with new skills and a plan should be enough to transform their lives, right?

Not quite.

In follow-up visits, FH staff discovered most of the girls weren’t moving forward on their business and life plans. The issue at heart? These girls believed they were failures and not capable of achieving something new. And their lack of self-confidence was regularly reinforced by their community. 

The very people who were supposed to support them were instead tearing them down for getting pregnant without husbands. Unrelenting discrimination and discouragement from family, church, and neighbours kept the girls from turning their lives around.

The truth is, to reach youth, you have to also transform their environment. We all make mistakes when we’re young, but it’s the response of our friends, family, and community that shapes how we recover. 

A strong and stable environment helps young people learn and grow from their missteps, while a negative environment leaves teens vulnerable to mental health struggles, including anxiety, depression, and warped self-perceptions. Youth need to be surrounded by the care and support that we all need in order to flourish.

With this in mind, FH quickly got to work cultivating a social support system for the girls. One of the first steps was to group the teen mothers together so they could support each other. Creating this network of peers was groundbreaking! Now, the girls had a safe space to share with others who truly understood what they were going through. This peer accountability gave them a feeling of security to start their journeys out of poverty together. 

Meanwhile, FH organized community meetings to explain how much the girls needed social support in order to provide for themselves and their young children. With each meeting, community members began to realize that the girls—and all their youth—deserve the same dignity and respect as everyone else. It’s an ongoing process to transform mindsets, but the community is beginning to embrace these women once again.

With growing support from their community and peers, the young women finally felt empowered to change their lives. They took the first steps toward what they call their “diamond dreams”

Annociata, a teen mother who received entrepreneurial training, is transforming her tailoring business with her new management skills.

Reaching their diamond dreams

Only one year later, we’re already seeing inspiring success stories from these determined women. Take Annociata, who, after training with FH, transformed her tailoring business with newfound management skills. Her daily income tripled, and she’s now getting ready to buy a plot of land for her future home!

“My future is bright! Almighty God bless you all!” ━ Olive

When Olive, another young mother, joined the program, she felt hopeless. “I was isolated and marginalized,” she shared. “I could not see the value and means of my living.” After connecting with her peers, she found joy in raising livestock and growing vegetables. Her dedication led to purchasing a cow, now worth nearly three times its original value. Olive is using her skills to plan for the future and she proudly shares, “My future is bright! Almighty God bless you all!”

Alongside Olive, Marie Rose also journeyed from lacking confidence to running a successful vegetable business. “The training allowed me to build confidence. I took courage and I have started a business.” With the income from her vegetable business, Marie Rose purchased and raised a pig which will produce little piglets for her to sell to others. With this new stream of income, Marie Rose feels confidence and hope for the future. “I am really grateful for bringing my life back.”

Using income from her vegetable business, Marie Rose purchased a pig which is already producing piglets for her to sell, creating a new source of income.

A nurturing community

The stories of Annociata, Olive, and Marie Rose remind us of the profound impact of community support on individual lives. When a lack of self-esteem kept them from success, the same community that initially tore them down is now rallying together to build them back up. So, in honour of Annociata, Olive, and Marie Rose’s triumphs over adversity, here’s a challenge for us all. How can we put aside judgements in our own lives to support the mental health of those around us who are struggling? How can we create a safe and hope-filled environment for our youth and young adults, specifically? After all, transformation happens not just through individual effort, but through the collective support of a nurturing community.

It really does take a village.

Discover more inspiring stories of hope and learn about Rwanda’s incredible journey.

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