By Aimee Hurtubise
Canadian Aimee Hurtubise is helping to change lives through Ignite South Africa. Extreme Response Canada is pleased to be the sending organization for Aimee.
The first time I drove into Qwa Qwa, South Africa, I knew I was home. I still feel that way 10 years later. Although I have spent half of the last decade living in Canada, the moment I moved back to Qwa Qwa last year I knew I had returned to a place that will always be my home away from home.
Qwa Qwa is a place filled with challenges, endless potential, cold winters and the warmest people. It is where I get to make a difference in the lives of orphaned and at-risk youth while being surrounded by my African family, and I can’t imagine doing life any other way.
I am able to do this work through Ignite South Africa. This organization is dedicated to developing leaders of all ages and empowering them to impact their schools, communities, country and homes.
Many young women in Qwa Qwa struggle with unplanned pregnancies. The girls typically range in age from 13-18, although I’ve seen them as young as 12. Most will keep their babies because adoption is seen in a very negative light in our community, although we will walk with the girls through either parenting or adoption.
Statistically, 25% will be HIV positive and suffer from hunger and poor nutrition. Those who will be staying with us have no where else to live. They are afraid, alone and overwhelmed. If they are orphaned or have been kicked out of their home for being pregnant, they also may be dealing with abandonment issues.
While there are no accurate statistics on teenage pregnancies in our area, we believe they are on the rise. There are flyers advertising “safe” illegal abortions on every pole, board or free space in our community. So many girls choose abortion because there is no support for them should they decide to become a parent or gift their child through adoption. We want to provide an alternative and make parenting a viable option for these girls.
House of Refuge
The Ntlo ya Setshabelo (House of Refuge) is a maternity home for orphaned or at-risk pregnant teens that we are in the process of developing. Our vision is to offer a place of safety, mentoring and encouragement to provide a solid foundation.
The girls who enter our program will be in intermediate or high school, have limited or no support from their families and must agree to fully participate in the home’s practices. This means they want to learn how to be a good mom and are willing to put in the effort.
The girls will be expected to continue their education and attend classes designed to help their development, including budgeting and life/parenting/small business skills needed to help support their families. We try to offer everything they will need to parent on their own. Our goal is to see them graduate as capable and confident mothers who will positively impact their children and their communities.
Our mentoring program will connect each girl with an older female from the community who can guide and support them. Each girl will begin this relationship while living in the home with the hope it will continue throughout her lifetime.
Ignites’ Executive Director June Blanshan shares this background on why we are introducing the the home.
“We decided to move forward with the home when we discovered that the girls were experiencing abuse and manipulation by providing sex in exchange for food, toiletries and other items. Their situations already appeared hopeless, but adding pregnancy into the mix made these girls feel trapped. Often they choose ‘safe, pain-free abortions’, which translates into illegal abortions. We believe the death rate, sterility and other complications from these unregulated clinics to be astronomically high.”
The Story of Mpho
Blanshan also shares this story about a girl who Ignite helped.
Mpho (named changed to protect her privacy) was planning to end her pregnancy as she was already was struggling to support her three-year-old child. It was difficult for her to even to put food on their table and most days they did not have electricity. She was HIV positive and the father refused to be involved. She was alone and scared.
“One of our Ignite leaders knew her and shared about adoption. I was called in to talk with Mpho because I had gifted a child for adoption. Mpho was excited about this opportunity and decided adoption would be a good choice for her. We promised to walk alongside her and help her connect with services in the community.
“Unfortunately, Mpho’s delivered her baby the next week, prior to contacting social workers. She informed the nurses and a hospital social worker of her intent to place her child for adoption and therefore she did not want to see the baby. The response was…I’m sure you can guess.
“Mpho was basically ignored, or when spoken to, demeaned. The social worker and nurses were downright cruel. Finally, the social worker informed Mpho she would be in the hospital for six months if she wanted to adopt her baby because that was how long court time would take. Mpho already had a child at home who needed to be cared for, so this was not an option. The social worker sat down with us and shared a ‘secret’. If Mpho said she would keep her baby, they would discharge her. What she did with the child after that was completely up to her.
“Mpho chose that option and we cared for her baby as she thought through what she wanted to do. After a week she decided to keep and raise her baby. We remain involved with the family and help as we can. All three are doing well.”
Based on this experience, we decided to provide the support systems and identify other community support for the young mothers. Currently, my efforts are focused on building a solid foundation for the home. This includes applying for grants and fundraising to allow us to purchase and furnish the actual dwelling. Our goal is to open our doors to our first pregnant teens by the end of 2016.