From young love to trust betrayed, many teenagers have walked this path. But for some, the pain is further complicated by an unplanned pregnancy and the associated social shunning. Mmegi Correspondent, NNASARETHA KGAMANYANE writes
At 27 years of age, Rejoice Senabye has accumulated the life experiences of women far older than her. At just a tender age of 18, Rejoice made a poor decision. Partly due to peer pressure, she found herself pregnant and alone.
Now a gospel singer and motivational speaker, Rejoice recalls how she did not know she was pregnant until she finished writing her exams.
The path from being a child to a mother in the home was strewn with painful experiences.
“Growing up, I faced many challenges in life, at home and personally. I had issues of accepting myself because I was always told that I was ugly. I felt like the black sheep. People at home gave me the impression that I was not beautiful and as a result I had low self-esteem. I had no confidence in myself.”
Rejoice says family members subjected her to emotional abuse and she never thought at some point she would be a motivational speaker standing in front of other people and motivating them.
“When I was a child, I could not voice out my opinions or express how I felt even though it was killing me inside. This continued until I became a teenager, which is when I realised that certain things had died in my life.
“I grew up in a strict family where my two siblings and I were not allowed to do certain things. I was a good girl. I went to church every Sunday.”
The good-girl upbringing provided fertile ground for later rebellion.
“Things changed when I was in my senior secondary school. I thought I had grown up and started doing things that put my life in danger and possibly ruined my life.
“I started drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and marijuana. I also absconded from school on a number of occasions. It was fun at the time,” she said.
Peer pressure soon overwhelmed her, which today she realises was because she could not take a principled stand. All the drinking and smoking weighed badly on her academics. While other students were focused on their books, Rejoice could not concentrate in her studies.
She started dating because she saw her peers doing it and she wanted to look cool to them. Unfortunately, when she tried engaging in sexual activities, she fell pregnant.
“I was involved with a group of people whom I felt gave me recognition and the love I longed for. I did certain things to please them. I also did those things so that I could stay in their circle and enjoy the love and warmth they gave me.
“Growing up, I had a void inside me. I was not close to my mother. Whenever people filled that gap and gave me love and warmth, I wanted to keep them.
“I didn’t realise that they were no good for me when they encouraged me to go clubbing and drinking. I thought they loved me,” she says ruefully.
After her exams, a positive pregnancy test changed everything. The pregnancy was not easy. She had many complications that threatened both her life and that of her unborn baby. Ultimately, the baby was born with many complications.
“The doctors told my mother that there was a possibility that my baby or I would die due to the complications,” Rejoice recalls. “After giving birth, I stayed in the hospital for a long time as the doctors tried to help both of us.
“When we went back home, life was difficult because the community, my church and family condemned me for having a child at a tender age. They stigmatised me. The church shunned me for having a baby outside of marriage when I was one of its members.
Rejoice’s baby was born with disabilities and needed extra attention to preserve his health and keep him alive. The situation was unbearable on her. She felt she had failed herself, her family and the church.
She could not go back to school to upgrade her marks because she needed to take care of her son alone as a single mother. All her so-called friends abandoned her.
“After a year, I decided to self-introspect. I decided to change. I went back to church. I felt that I needed God in my life. Even though it was not easy to leave my life of drugs and alcohol abuse, I pulled myself together and made it. Today my son is here and healthy. God helped me through all the storms.”
Today, Rejoice is a motivational speaker who goes around schools sharing her experiences with teen girls and advising them to stay away from sex and social ills.
She has adopted Marang Junior Secondary School Guidance and Counselling Department where she regularly holds meetings and advises girls on issues affecting them. Rejoice is now a full time motivational speaker.
She is also in the process of registering a Non-Governmental Organisation specifically dedicated to the girl-child, which will discuss different issues affecting teen girls in their everyday lives.
“I am also a travelling minister, preaching the Word of God through singing,” she says.