In 2015, after a number of tragic births within the LifeLine community in Freetown, Sierra Leone, we carried out a survey of births in the immediate area.
The survey showed that one in seven pregnant teenagers under 17 years old died in pregnancy or around the time of birth.
Midwife researcher Lucy November from Kings College London spent a year asking why.
The research – why are teenage girls dying in pregnancy and childbirth?
Lucy spoke to a wide range of professionals and community members, and found that girls are under enormous pressure to engage in transactional sex – for school fees, with teachers for grades and to pay for food and clothes. They often become pregnant as a result. When this happens, girls are often abandoned by their families, miss out on vital antenatal care and become sick and anaemic due to lack of food and pregnancy medication.
A solution – the mentoring project
Lucy and Mangenda Kamara, a member of the LifeLine team, recognised that having a mentor could make all the difference for a pregnant teenager with no family support. They have started a mentoring scheme where mentors support girls to access antenatal care and a hospital birth, run a small business in order to eat every day and prepare for their baby. They also help the girls to re-establish support from their family where possible.
Mentors have regular contact with the girls who can call on them at any time. They gather at the LifeLine compound on a monthly basis to make friends, eat together and discuss common health issues. At the moment we have three fantastic mentors who are mentoring 13 young women and have had eight safe births.
Developing a sustainable model
This initial phase will iron out any issues with the mentoring scheme – finding out how it works best so we can be prepared for growth. We need to grow – tragically, in January a teenager not in the scheme died unnecessarily in childbirth – all for the lack of an adult to talk to, to advise her and to go with her for health care. Sadly, this is a common story. The project is a very sustainable model – it costs £5000 for three mentors to support 20 girls throughout pregnancy and for the baby’s first six months.
What the mentees say
“Before I met my mentor, I was so alone. I had no-one to turn to. Now I can talk to Aunty Marie and she even came with me when I had my baby.”
“My mentor has really helped me with my business. I was struggling to eat but now I eat well every day and have even bought things my baby needs. I feel good.”
“Going to the monthly meetings is good. Now I have friends who understand what I am going through. We even advise each other and share our stories.”
Growing the project – how you can help
Over the next two years we want to support many more pregnant teenagers and their babies. We also want to demonstrate the measurable impact of the mentoring project. Read more of Lucy’s story and donate to help us grow the project and save more lives.