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A Young Mother’s Journey of Empowerment through Photo Start and the Teenage Mums Empowerment Program.

By 28 March 2024April 2nd, 2024No Comments

The theme for International Women’s Day 2024 on March 8th was “Invest in women, accelerate progress.” Virginia Wangare, also known as Mama Gift, is a powerful example of why this message matters. A young mother in Kenya who has overcome incredible challenges, Virginia’s story is a testament to the life-changing power of investing in women and girls. In this blog, she shares her experiences of navigating teenage pregnancy, the stigma she faced in her community, and how photography helped her find her voice and purpose. This is her story of resilience, hope, and the inspiring influence of the Teenage Mums Empowerment program and the Photo Start initiative.

Can you share a bit about yourself and your journey as a young mother in Kenya?

My name is Virginia Wangare, and I have one daughter. My journey as a young mother in Kenya has been very hard. I ran away from home because it was not safe for me there, and I experienced a miscarriage with my first pregnancy. On getting pregnant again, life became even more difficult, and I couldn’t even afford pads to wear after giving birth. I was so hungry and skinny that I could not breastfeed my daughter after giving birth to her. My life was hard at the beginning. It got better after I was helped by Doctors Without Borders and later on Teenage Mums Empowerment. Being a young mother without your parents to help you is very hard; I named my daughter ‘Gift’ because she is truly a gift in my life. She has taught me resilience and patience. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for her, and bettering myself is the first step.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in your community?

My community is full of teenage mothers, so it’s not a surprise to see a young pregnant girl or a young girl with a child. In this case, people in the community start to treat us just like adults and forget that we still need guidance and direction. The women look down on us and make us feel like damaged goods, while the men start seeing us as women instead of girls.

How did you first hear about the Photo Start / Teenage Mums Empowerment program, and what inspired you to join?

In my community, word goes around very fast, and that’s how I learned about the Teenage Mums Empowerment Center. Some girls introduced me to it, and I later learned more about Photo Start after joining the center.

How has learning photography through the program influenced your perspective on life and your surroundings?

Learning photography allows me to feel like a child again. I get to take whatever kind of picture I want in whatever way that makes me happy. I do not own a smartphone like some of my classmates, so I do not have much practice with taking pictures using a phone. This makes taking photos in class much more rewarding. It allows me to see the world in a beautiful way, despite the struggles I’ve endured. Teacher Gillian allows us to switch from color to black and white on the camera and tells us to take pictures that mean something to us. This always comforts me and guides me into taking meaningful pictures.

Can you share an example of a photograph you took that holds special meaning to you?

It was during a practical class. Teacher Gillian had given us cameras, and it was time for the first group to go back to class. I remember her coming to the rooftop to tell us to go back to class for the review session. I asked her if I could take a selfie using a DSLR camera, and she said, “I have never done it before, but let’s find out if it’s possible.” And so I tried to take a selfie with my daughter, and the picture was beautiful. It instantly reminded me of how far my daughter and I have come together.

Can you share a moment or experience from your time in the Photo Start program that has been particularly meaningful or impactful for you?

On the first day of class, when we met our photography teacher, she told us her name was Gillian, but we could not pronounce it. After she left the class, we all had a turn trying to say her name, and it was the funniest thing ever because everyone was sure that they were saying it the right way, but we were all actually very wrong.

In what ways has this program helped you feel more empowered and in control of your future?

I feel like I am in university. I feel like I am doing something with a purpose, something that can give me a job later in life and help me better my daughter’s life. Some of the girls in my area are fortunate enough to be going to college, and the experiences they tell me about are similar to what I have at Teenage Mums with Photo Start. The only difference is that our teacher treats us like a big sister. We are lucky in that way.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2024 was ‘Invest in women, accelerate progress’. How do you feel programs like the Teenage Mums Empowerment Program contribute to the empowerment of women and girls, particularly in communities like yours?

Teenage Mums is a heaven-sent organization that has changed my life. They allow us to share our stories and communicate with each other. They bring mentors to guide us and introduce us to different programs with skilled instructors. Every day when I show up for either make-up class, photography class, or nails class, I feel like the world has not given up on me and I still have a chance in life. I believe that the other girls feel the same way. One thing about Teenage Mums Empowerment is that they have 100% invested in us. I am truly grateful.

As a young mother, what are your hopes and aspirations for yourself and your child? How do you see the Photo Start program helping you achieve these goals?

My hope is that I can be a girl who can empower others the same way I have been empowered, and I would love to give my daughter the life I never had. I would want to do everything I can to make her life completely different from mine. I want to give her peace and an easy life. Taking pictures is helpful, and if I can do it professionally, I would be truly grateful. Maybe I can become a trainer like teacher Gillian and help other girls like me.

What advice would you give to other young mothers who may be facing similar challenges to those you’ve experienced? How can programs like Photo Start make a difference in their lives?

I would tell other young mothers to pray to God. He is the only one who can get you through things that human beings will not understand. He will stand by you when everyone else disappears. He will never leave you. Apart from praying, I would also tell other young mums not to take any opportunity they get for granted. You never know what will set you apart in life.

Virginia’s story is a powerful illustration of how investing in young mothers, like the Teenage Mums Empowerment program, accelerates progress. By providing women with resources and support, we empower them to build a brighter future for themselves and their children. If you are a young mother facing challenges, know that you are not alone. There are programs and people who care about you and want to see you succeed. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

Together, we can create a world where everyone can have the opportunity to thrive.
If you would like to be a part of the change, join us!

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