Dar es Salaam. When it comes to being a teen mother, Caroline Kandusi, now 30, has seen it all. She became pregnant while still a Form 3 student at the Dar es Salaam-based Cambridge Secondary School in 2002, and right away set off on the rough journey that is young motherhood in a society that frowns on her like. Hers is a tale told by the survivor.
Today, she recalls how she defied the odds and surmounted the emotional, societal barriers to realise her full potential as a young girl.
Now a holder of a master’s degree in leadership and governance from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Sciences and Technology in Nairobi, her story comes as debate rages on whether or not teen mothers should be allowed back to class.
Two days ago, Caroline was forced down memory lane after President John Magufuli declared that under his rule, students who become pregnant would not be allowed to finish their studies in public schools, after giving birth, sparking outrage from women’s rights campaign groups.
As the President spoke live on television, she took a moment to reflect on her life as a young mother who went through thick and thin in the quest to achieve her dreams.
“I am a victim of teenage pregnancy, but who was given a second chance. And now I am playing an active role in the creation of a better world by raising a responsible, exposed and well-equipped son,” she tells The Citizen on Sunday.
“The President should not be afraid that teen mothers, if allowed back in school, would encourage other girls to fall pregnant. I think the focus should be on what the country stands to gain when the teen mothers are allowed back in school.’’
Caroline was one of the thousands of young girls who became pregnant while in school back in 2002. She fell in love with a schoolmate -- and one thing led to the other. The next thing she knew was she was pregnant.
Fully aware of what awaited her, she did what any other girl would have done under the circumstances: “I kept it a top secret. I didn’t want to listen to any advice at that time,’’ she recalls.
She adds: “I continued schooling until I was about seven months pregnant. I did not tell anyone. Luckily, my body did not change much; otherwise people would have notice earlier that I was pregnant.”
A visit to the doctor’s around August of 2002, and she was told she could bring a new soul to the world in two months. “I still kept it a secret,” she narrates.
Teachers discover her secret
But no secret remains secret forever, so they say. That saying was just about to become a reality.
“One day, a classmate touched my belly and realised I was pregnant. She went on to report the matter to my teachers,’’ says Caroline.
That was yet another turning point in her life.
“I was summoned to the teachers’ office for interrogation. It’s here that I revealed all that had happened. I didn’t hide anything.”
“By that time, I was already nine months pregnant. My sister, who lived in Dar es Salaam at that time, was called in. My mother had travelled to Germany,” she recalls.
“When my teachers realised I was pregnant, they told me to go home. But they suggested that I shouldn’t undergo induced labour because they didn’t want me to miss my Form 3 exams. However, that did not help since my time to give birth had come already.”
Her bundle of joy was a baby boy.
“After giving birth, I went to live with my sister. But I attended school every morning as I prepared for my exams. I was required to be in school two weeks after giving birth.”
It was a juggling act for Caroline, who at the time was 15.
She says: “I remember how I used to breastfeed my baby while reading. I had no choice. It was important that I finish school and take care of my baby.”
“Teachers didn’t reprimand me. I was given a chance to continue pursuing my education until I completed Form 4 at the same school.”
“My parents didn’t panic when they got to know about it. But they posed serious questions about the boy who had made me pregnant,” Caroline says.
“But the answers to their questions didn’t matter much at that time because I had already given birth, and what mattered the most as far as I was concerned at that time was the way forward.”
Her mother, Ms Rebecca Kandusi chips in: “I just took it as a mistake that my daughter had made and, as a family, we decided to put our heads together in finding the way forward. I know she was lured into having sex at an early age, but it was not time to reprimand her.”
Caroline admits that parents and guardians have the right to ask many questions when a schoolgirl becomes pregnant. “But the girl should not be discriminated against,” she says.
Looking back, she acknowledges the supportive role that her family played in helping her come to terms with the challenges of being a teen mothers.
“It wasn’t an easy ride though,’’ she recalls. But she defied all the odds in the pursuit of her dreams.
She went on to attain a first class bachelor’s degree in mass communications at Tumaini University.
That would have remained a pipe-dream had she been denied a second chance to study.
“I have been through all that and I can assure you that girls who become pregnant while in school do so because of lack of guidance from teachers and parents,” she says, explaining further:
“This makes girls continue engaging in sex at an early age and trying abortion. Some lose hope along the way and others drop out of school.”
Carol is also quick to point out that she learnt many lessons, and now through her experience as a teen mother ( and by virtue of being a mass communications expert), she has become a leader in fighting from the girls’ side.
“I am now using this experience to educate girls on how to realise their dreams,” Carol notes, “Just imagine the wasted potential… (When these girls are not allowed to study).’
Society, she advises, should not stigmatise girls who happen to become pregnant. “They should be supported to reach their full potential.”
Carol is now married and as another child. “Each time I tell people that I am 30 years and I have a 14-year-old boy they wonder how I got a child at an early age. I have learnt how to live with it.”
The young woman is now pursuing her PhD.