For youth without a choice about pregnancy, Pathfinder offers hope.
Living on Bussi Island, surrounded by Africa’s largest lake, it’s easy to feel isolated — especially if you’re a girl.
“No one really knew who I was,” says Dorothy.
Like most girls here, Dorothy married by 18, had a baby, dropped out of school, and had more babies. Within five years, she had five children.
“I gave birth every year,” she says. “The pain was unbearable.”
Dorothy delivered four of her babies at home, without electricity or a doctor to help. As soon as she recovered, she was pregnant again. “I didn’t know what family planning was,” she says.
A Problem for All of Us
Dorothy belongs to the largest generation of young people in history.
Today, half of the world’s population is under 25. And the youth population is growing fastest in the world’s poorest countries.
“Everyone should care about this issue,” says Dorah Taranta, Pathfinder’s Program Manager in Uganda. “Our future depends on young people’s futures. Tomorrow’s leaders will not be able to lead if their urgent needs for sexual and reproductive health are ignored.”
For young women like Dorothy, the situation is dire.
“We’re talking about some of the most socially isolated people,” says Dorah. Forced out of school by pregnancy, burdened by family obligations and endless chores, “these young mothers struggle to belong and believe in themselves.”
The Young Mothers Club
In the shade of a banana plant, Dorothy sits among a group of young women wearing matching shirts that say “HOPE.”
This is the Young Mothers Club.
Every month, Dorothy and 19 of her peers come together to gain the knowledge and support they urgently need. It’s all part of Pathfinder’s Health of the People and Environment in the Lake Victoria Basin project.
Since 2012, Pathfinder and our partners in Uganda and Kenya have been uniting groups of underserved young people. We provide them with new information on topics that affect their lives, including family planning, maternal care, child immunization, and how to generate income.
“Pathfinder can train health care providers. We can tell young people where they can access contraception and how to use it,” says Dorah. “And we do that everywhere we work. But until young women like Dorothy are able to believe in themselves, they won’t believe change is possible. That’s what makes the Young Mothers Club so important.”
Pathfinder implements groups for young women all over the globe. In Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Niger, Tanzania, and Uganda, vulnerable young women are embracing their self-worth and learning about their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Hand in hand, they are becoming stronger and creating their own paths forward.
Gertrude, the group’s young leader, welcomes everyone to her home.
“A lot has changed because of this group,” Gertrude says proudly. “Before, we were shy, almost afraid of people. But now we’ve learned things — about family planning and how to take care of ourselves and our children. We confide in each other.”
Pauline, another young mother, steadies her daughter on her lap.
“I think it’s important to share what I’ve gone through,” she says. “I didn’t space my pregnancies and I faced a lot of problems. My children got sick. I didn’t have clothes or enough food. But now I want to wait to get pregnant again. My daughter is still so young. She needs my attention and love.”
Dorothy nods. This sounds like her story too.
“My youngest child is two and, for the first time in my life, there is no new baby immediately after her.” Dorothy smiles and points to the contraceptive implant in her upper arm. “I learned the truth about family planning.”
Change Is Possible
Through this Pathfinder program, nearly 20,000 women began using contraception for the first time in 2012–2014. More than half of them were young women between the ages of 12 and 24.
Some of the world’s most vulnerable youth now have the power to prevent unintended pregnancy and shape their futures. And they have become a force for change in their communities.
Just look at Dorothy — exercising her rights and helping more young people have choices about their bodies and health.
“We go to community meetings on Sundays now,” says Dorothy, “People recognize me. They say, ‘It’s young mother Dorothy. She can talk to us about family planning.’”
“It feels good,” she says.
The Health of People and Environment in the Lake Victoria Basin project is made possible through a close partnership between Pathfinder International, Nature Kenya, and Ecological Christian Organization. Funders include USAID via the Evidence to Action project, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; David and Lucile Packard Foundation; and the Barr Foundation.