WHEN most 12-year-old girls were preparing to sit the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), little Ashura was getting ready to deliver her baby.
Molested by a family friend when she was only 11 years old, Ashura, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, now 14 years old, shares how the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation (WCJF) has helped her.
“I went to the Women's Centre after I had my baby. It was the only place I could be myself without thinking that anyone was judging me.
“The teachers were very loving and understanding; everyday they would tell us that the first pregnancy is a mistake and we should not beat up ourselves over it [the pregnancy] but instead, focus on getting an education,” Ashura said.
With 18 sites across the island, the WCJF — an agency of the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport — provides girls 18 years and younger with an opportunity to continue their education during pregnancy.
Through the WCJF, the girls are placed back into the secondary school system or placed at a vocational training centre after the birth of their babies.
Adolescent mothers attending the centre are not only taught academic subjects, but lifelong skills, such as effective parenting and time management, as well as mechanics for coping with stress.
The WCJF past student credited the foundation's rounded curriculum for helping her to understand the challenges and responsibilities of an adolescent parent.
“Just before I was placed at high school, a nurse came to the centre to talk about her experience as a teen mother. To this day I can hear her voice in my head. She told us how her mother put her out of the house and that she had to take her baby to school with her. I cried while listening to her story. And from that day, I told myself that if she can have a baby and become a nurse, I can do it too,” she shared.
Ashura, who is now in grade seven at a traditional high school, wants to become a nurse and professional athlete. She is a member of her school's track and field team and shared that good time management and support from her mother have helped her, so far, to be a good student and an involved parent.
“Every morning before I go to school I have to bathe and feed my baby. My mother knows that I do track, so she gave me a certain time by which I have to get home. She makes sure that I do my homework and play with the baby. There are times I really want to sleep or do my own thing, but she [Mommy] always tells me that I have to spend time with the baby,” she said.
The young mother said even though her mother does not blame her for her pregnancy, she cries when her mother is unable to provide for their now family of three.
“There are times when my mother cannot give me lunch money and cannot buy diapers for the baby. When that happens I really feel bad; I feel like I caused this [the pregnancy] on my mother,” the teen said.
Ashura said while she is trying to live her life without regrets, she thinks it is her duty to tell young girls not to fall into the trap that she did.
“Young girls... be careful around some adults. If they touch you inappropriately, tell your mother, tell your sister, tell a friend, just tell someone. It does not matter what they [the molester] say to you, just tell someone,” she encouraged.
Latoya Rattray is the public relations and communication manager at the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation.