16-year-old Chemine never planned to have a baby so young. When she was assaulted by the father of her child, she had no one to turn to. However, with the support of a Compassion Child Survival project working through her local church, this brave teenager in Togo, West Africa is making friends and learning to be a mum who can provide a future for her daughter.
Chemine’s life is characterised by neglect, abuse and assault. The youngest of eight children, Chemine was just two when her world began to unravel. After her parents died in quick succession, Chemine was sent away from her home in Legbanou – a rural community two hours from Togo’s capital city, Lomé – to live with abusive relatives in Lagos.
“There I was not taken care at all. I was very unhappy and sad,” she remembers.
When she returned as a teenager to live with her elderly aunt she’d missed out on virtually all her primary education and could not catch up. In Togo, girls are still discriminated against within the classroom. According to UNICEF, literacy rates among boys run at around 87%, while for girls it’s just 72%. Chemine struggled to make a living by farming a rough patch of ground outside their small, rural home.
It was shortly after her return that she met the father of her child in a neighbouring town. She believed he wanted to marry her, but after he assaulted her, she never saw him again.
“I was not happy at all of this situation. When I realised that I was pregnant, I was very scared,” she recalls. “The very worst about all the situation is that I had nobody with whom I could share my worries.”
Chemine didn’t want to be pregnant, she didn’t want a baby and she didn’t want to be reminded of her ordeal again and again. Perhaps the worst part was the gossip that began to circulate within the community – the sideways glances, the comments and the open judgement that she felt was heaped upon her.
That has now changed, with the support of Compassion’s Child Survival project run by the local church in Legbanou. The project works through the church in the local community to improve pregnant women’s access to antenatal check-ups and trained birth attendants, offer life-saving assistance including basic healthcare, hygiene, nutritious food and safe water, as well as providing mentoring, support and spiritual guidance for families.
Chemine’s daughter was born without complication in a local clinic. In many respects, Chemine was lucky. 17% of all babies in Togo are born to mothers under the age of 18 and adolescent mothers face higher risks of more pregnancy complications than women in their twenties and thirties.
Whilst Chemine never experienced the love of a mother herself, the Compassion team are helping her to take good care of her daughter Esse.
“The project takes care of my child’s health and mine too,” she smiles. “They pay all the bills when we go to hospital and buy all the medicine prescribed by doctors. They also assist us with food kits and hygiene kits every month. We are taught lessons in the project about how to take care of our children, how to live in hygienic conditions in order to prevent sickness.”
The project is there for her every step of the way and through the church she is connected with a supportive wider family who love her.
In her tough life Chemine has known little joy, but in Esse she has found happiness and with the help of Compassion she is confident that her daughter will have a different and more hopeful future.
“I hope that the life of my daughter will be better than mine,” she says resolutely. “My prayer is to be a good mother to my child.”
In Togo, 1 in 20 babies won’t make it to their first birthday, compared to 1 in 250 in the UK. Esse’s bright eyes, mischievous grin and chubby cheeks are evidence of what a great job Chemine is doing. One of the greatest reassurances for Chemine is that she doesn’t have to walk the journey of motherhood alone.
Compassion UK’s Different Path Appeal aims to save the lives of even more mothers and babies in Togo by providing access to life-saving medical support, health screening, hygiene supplies, nutritional supplements and education that will help secure a healthy future for them and their families.
Visit www.compassionuk/differentpath and give before 24 June 2019 and your donation will be doubled by the UK government. We will be able to support even more mothers and babies – giving them a different path forward.