Today all the kids are going back to their homesteads for the holiday weekend and won’t return until Monday. This means two things: baby D will spend the weekend with me and people get rightfully nervous about the girls getting pregnant. In the history of the hostel (I believe around 10 years), they have only had three girls finish high school. With few exceptions, this is due to girls falling pregnant. In a country where the HIV prevalence rate is around 33%, nobody can deny that sex is part of the society. One of the great things about this hostel is that they strive to maintain relationships between the kids and their homesteads, familial lines, and lands. This is crucial in a culture/society where everything—land rights, community rights, etc—is tied to the family and family name. This is why kids spend as much time at their homes as possible. One of the downsides to this is the fact that they are at the hostel because their homes weren’t deemed suitable originally. For many, going home means a child-headed homestead, less supervision and structure, and poorer nutrition. And then about three months later it’s discovered that girls are pregnant. On Monday we just learned that one of the high school girls is about three months pregnant. I don’t think I will ever be able to get used to receiving this news. Each time it feels like someone is stepping on my chest. What should be such a wonderful thing is shameful and painful for the girl, and to me it feels like a death sentence for the life she could have had. I was relieved by the general staff reaction though—it was not one of punishment or teaching lessons, that ship sailed. But instead we discussed ways we could support her during the pregnancy.
With this in mind, Christine and I took the opportunity to talk to the girls about sex and birth control in our weekly meeting with them Tuesday night. We asked them how they could prevent pregnancy, and like well-trained Swazis they all responded “abstinence!” Well clearly that’s not working for the country or you guys, so let’s try a more realistic approach. We reminded them that condoms protect them against HIV, STIs, and pregnancy, and that birth control is available for free at clinics. We answered a few great questions about these contraceptive methods, and although a lot of the girls got giggly and embarrassed, hopefully we got through to a few of them.
D is with me for the weekend, which will be great fun. She was super disoriented and upset to be put down for her nap in a new room, but now she’s sleeping peacefully. Probably much more peacefully than in a dorm with 60 other girls. I’m looking forward to feeding her all sorts of delicious, yet nutritious, foods this weekend!