This post by Kadiatu Blango was kindly provided by the Restless Development
My name is Kadiatu, I am 20 and have two daughters. I had my second child when I was 18. Like every mother, I want the very best for my children and do everything I can for them, but I worry that it will be difficult for them, just like it was for me.
Photo caption: Kadiatu and her two daughters in their community
My father died when I was very young and I was only able to go to school up until the age of six. I left my mother’s home to go and live with my uncle, but he was hardly ever around. His wife, my aunt, did not care for me as she did her own children and we did not get on. I was forced to carry out domestic chores while her children were able to attend school.
As the war became more intense, we moved to Freetown. Upon my return to the village my mother forced me to be initiated into the bondo society, a group that practices female genital cutting. I did not want to. I wanted to go to school.
My mother told me that she couldn’t afford to pay my school fees, and yet she could afford to spend a lot of money on the initiation process. Once initiated, I was forced into marriage at the age of 12 and became pregnant the same year. The baby’s father left when I was six months pregnant. I haven’t seen him since. I suffered a lot to raise the baby with no support from my mother or any other relative. Selling wood, potato and cassava leaves were the main sources of income for myself and my child.
There was no way I could continue with schooling without parental support. Later, I met another guy who fooled around with me and made me believe he could handle my problems. He started well, but then he got me pregnant and ran away to Liberia. I got my second child at the age of 18. Life is very hard and quite challenging for us coming from a very poor family but we all do our best.
It should not be like this for me and nor for my two daughters. I want them to be free to get an education, and to not be worried about marrying too young or experiencing violence. I want them to grow up to be strong young women who can make their own choices, go to school, own land and control their own lives.
Kadiatu Blango outlines a few answers to questions from Restless Development:
What challenges do women face in your community?
The main challenges faced by women are numerous to name but a few are:
Sexual assault and harassment
Gender Based Violence
Parental or family support
Finances to help support them on their day to day activities
Access to land for farming and agricultural activities
How does your family make a living?
Through selling local condiments like potato and cassava leaves and sometimes selling firewood to make up our living on daily basis
What opportunities would you like to see for your kids?
To be children of substance and contribute meaningful to the development of my country
Government, CSOs, INGO and CBOs to put modalities in place to address burning issues that are affecting young girls like us bearing children
Provide quality information to help informed us our the dangers early marriage and teenage pregnancy
What would you like to see leaders promise to do to help communities like yours?
To tackle issues on poverty
Teenage pregnancy and early marriage
HIV & AIDS
Standardized free medical health services for all children and women not only the specified category in the free medical scheme zero to five years but even those above ten.
Improved agricultural activities and revised land tenure systems for our community for suckling mothers to have easy access to backyard farming
Microfinance opportunities for women
Underlying these points are high rates of teenage pregnancy. About 34 percent of women aged 15 to 19 have either already had a baby or are pregnant. This also often leads to interrupted education, reduced earning potential, poor marital outcomes and reduced health outcomes for surviving children.
Furthermore, youth unemployment is a major problem in Sierra Leone, with an estimated one-third of urban and one-sixth of rural 20- to 24-year-olds out of work, and more than 17 percent of the urban populations aged 15 to 35 years unemployed. Work opportunities are rare (around 9 percent of the workforce are formally employed), which means that stories like Kadiatu’s are mainly the norm rather than the exception.
Featuring contributions from African citizens who are living in communities affected by extreme poverty, ONE’s African Voices series will follow their progress to give a better understanding of the day-to-day challenges they face and also to track changes that occur over time. Find out more at one.org/africanvoices.
Restless Development is an agency that places young people at the forefront of change and development. It works in Africa and Asia to empower young people to take their lives into their own hand and trains, educates and inspires young people to be part of the solution. Find out more at www.restlessdevelopment.org