The power of sharing stories
UNICEF is working with partners to engage with teenage mothers in Rwanda and help them find motivation for life through community-based outreach programs on HIV and reproductive health
HUYE, SOUTHERN RWANDA – Gloria visits the community-based youth center, also called the YEGO center, on a rainy day to share her story. “I would not have been here without the help of the UNICEF project,” she says with a sigh.
“I became pregnant at 18 years old, in 2018,” she continues. Gloria fell in love with a boy from her village who offered her small treats, like snacks, clothing, and a cellphone. “When I told him that I am having a baby, he refused to accept that the baby was his.”
Dismissed from her family as a result, Gloria spiraled into a wave of depression. “I wanted to be alone. I ran away to Kigali, where nobody knew me,” she remembers. Gloria spent five months in Kigali, moving from house to house. “I was living in a very bad condition. I had no food and clothes,” she recollects, her hands firmly clasped together.
When Gloria’s parents found out that she was having a difficult time in Kigali, she was brought back to Huye. “Still, my parents did not admit me as a family member.” Throughout her pregnancy, Gloria continued to battle depression. “I felt like I lost both my dignity and independence. I even tried to get an abortion,” she remembered.
Fortunately, Gloria was not alone. The health center where Gloria went for a regular check-up, visited her parents to share information on reproductive health. After several visits, Gloria’s parents decided to help their daughter and the baby.
Unfortunately, Gloria’s depression was not to be easily overcome. “After giving birth, I felt even more helpless that I cannot provide support for my daughter.” Then, she came across the peer volunteers. “By joining the outreach activities at the youth corner, I was able to share my experience and connect with other youths,” she proclaimed, excitedly. Opening up to the peers helped Gloria improve her mental state immensely.
“By joining the outreach activities at the youth corner, I was able to share my experience and connect with other youths.”
Since 2019, UNICEF has partnered with the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) of Rwanda to launch a project called UBUZIMA BWANJYE MU BIGANZA BYANJYE. Translated as “My Life in My Hands,” the project aims to improve access to HIV prevention services for adolescents and young people in Huye district through strengthening community-based volunteer programs.
Peer volunteers educate their fellow youths in Huye district by providing them with information about reproductive health through radio programs and interpersonal discussions. “It is very challenging to overcome the rumors about teenage pregnancy and HIV, especially in the rural areas,” says Aline Mukarubayiza, one of the volunteers in Huye district.
“Boys and girls are very curious about reproductive health. By providing accurate information to meet their needs, I feel like this project is a success story for us volunteers as well. With the resources provided by UNICEF, such as free condoms and music equipment, we can implement exciting outreach activities in an entertaining environment,” Aline adds.
In 2021, this project reached out to over 4,000 youths with HIV testing. The project aims to encourage voluntary HIV testing and counseling by providing every day HIV testing for any youths who visit the YEGO center.
Gloria learned about practices to prevent HIV infection, teenage pregnancy, and gender-based violence. “I was truly inspired by the services. Therefore, I voluntarily created small discussion sessions within my village to share information on reproductive health and available services.”
To this day, the father of her child does not take the responsibility for the baby. Yet, Gloria is an independent young mother who takes good care of her daughter. “I am not depressed any more. I feel proud of myself that I can contribute to my family by running a small business in the village,” she says in a hopeful voice.
“I really want to thank UNICEF and YWCA for sending the peer volunteers to my community. I am grateful that the peer volunteers supported me to be part of the community and live the life I have today,” Gloria concludes.