Unsung hero of Freetown working tirelessly (and selflessly) to provide support to one pregnant teenager at a time.
Mangenda Kamara is a gender specialist with an M. Phil and MA in Gender Studies, who previously worked as a lecturer in Community Development Studies at Ernest Bai Koroma University of Science and Technology, in Sierra Leone. With a special interest in working with young women affected by adolescent pregnancy, Magenda focussed her M. Phil research on barriers and facilitators of educational opportunities for these teenagers. In 2017, Magenda worked with Lucy November from King’s College London to research the causes of maternal death in Sierra Leone amongst teenage pregnant girls and this process reinforced her passion for social science research.
Working with Lifeline Nehemiah Projects, Magenda and Lucy started ‘2 Young Lives’ in 2017, one of the CRIBS workstreams. Mangenda ran 2 Young Lives as a volunteer until 2021. She is currently a Research Assistant for the pilot cluster-randomized trial and is soon to start her PhD on this.
What inspired Magenda do this work?
When Magenda herself was pregnant during the time of Ebola in Sierra Leone, she had a breech baby and when she went to hospital, was told by the doctors that they would not do a caesarean section to deliver her breech baby, until she had made payment. Her husband (boyfriend at the time) went to look for a loan to pay for the caesarean, however by the time he got back with the money the following day, it was too late, and Magenda’s baby had died. This traumatic experience of not having anyone to assist her in her time of need, ignited a passion for Magenda to support and help fellow pregnant women, to accompany them to hospital and do something about the high maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leone and her community.
High maternal mortality rate in Sierre Leone.
When Lucy November, from King’s College London came to Sierra Leone in 2015, Magenda was involved in doing a household survey to understand why women of all ages were dying in pregnancy (1 in 10 women were dying) and why there was such a high pregnancy rate in the country. In terms of the high rates of pregnancy, they found that many of the young girls were not staying with their families, but had come to the city from the country with the hope of being sent to school. When the girls arrived in the city, they were asked to sell and feed the families they lived with and they were forced to have transactional sex for various reasons. Sierra Leone has a problem with water scarcity and many of the young girls were having sex for water – the girls queued for hours on end to get one small jerrycan of water; often the water runs out and they don’t get water and they have to go back. Boys standing around the area offer to get water for them in exchange for sex and they then get pregnant. Also, when the girls need to pay their school fees, they often don’t have the money and they then have sex to pay school fees. Furthermore, because of numerous chores at their homes, the girls don’t have time to study and so their grades start to decline or they fail and teachers then offer the girls sex for good grades.
Challenges of getting pregnant girls to go to hospitals.
Many of these girls die when they become pregnant because they are not bold enough to go to the clinic or hospitals on their own because of stigmatisation and the fact that the nurses don’t treat them with respect and love. Many decide to stay at home and deliver in the community or when things worsen, they seek help, but it is too late. Sadly, many of the parents or guardians throw the girls out of their homes when they become pregnant and they go and stay with friends and don’t have much food/ nutrition, etc so when it is time for them to deliver they are anaemic and lose blood.
2Young Lives – an impactful intervention
In response to this dire situation, in 2017, a mentoring maternal group was set up to help these girls at risk, who were not bold enough to seek help from hospitals. The programme selected women from the community who had experience and a passion to help young girls in these difficult circumstances. They found that when these mentors took the pregnant girls to the PHU, they were treated with respect and greater care and then went back for follow ups.
Funding was accessed via NIHR and the team extended the sites and implemented research to investigate formal results. They have 6 site – the intervention sites – 2 Young Lives plus standard care and the control sites just had standard care so that they can compare the results and look at the impact of the 2Young Lives programme. To date they have mentored 343 girls and have had no maternal deaths. What is encouraging is that many of the girls have been able to go back to school and many have followed a path of vocational training, becoming plumbers, electricians and working in the hospitality industry, working in hospitals. One of the girls who was previously running a small business in the market, is now supporting her mother and has gone to school and she is training to be an electrician and works in the township as an electrician. As a result of the intervention, girls have gone back to their parents and as a result of the advocacy role that the mentors are playing.
An welcoming home for those in need
2Young Lives does not cover everyone in Sierra Leone, but Magenda goes the extra mile and is always willing to take people into her own home when their living conditions are not ideal. Magenda usually has 2 or 3 girls living with her and she has some permanently staying with her. This is a woman with a very big heart and endless compassion for others in need, always willing to open up her own home and to make personal sacrifices to provide for the needs of others. Currently Magenda has a 2 week old baby staying with her – the child of a 17 year old girl with learning disabilities who cannot cope, so Magenda stepped in. She also has a 3 year old girl Lucinda Nancphil who was abandoned by her 13 year old mother when she was just 2 days old. Magenda has raised Nancphil who is thriving under the love and care of Magenda. Magenda also has a 14 year old (who is not pregnant) staying with her because her mother is mentally unstable… says Magenda, “I thought I could help, bring her under my roof, give her an education and make sure she is doing well” – which she now is.
It is not only women who Magenda cares for, she has 3 boys/ young men who stay with her. One of them, Patrick, was staying with his stepmother, who drove him out of the home and he was living on the street and starving, but Magenda’s daughter told her about him, and he came to live with Magenda and her family because she wanted to save his life – which she did and he is now in his final year of teacher’s training college.
What drives Magenda?
What is the driving force of this remarkable woman, who often has to go without in order to feed and provide for the many people she supports in her home and who worked from 2017 to 2021 for 2Young Lives without a salary? “Seeing the boys and girls doing well in life gives me great happiness. It keeps me going and makes me realise that I am not wasting my time. Every morning the children all send me messages saying: ‘Mom how are you?’ and that makes me more willing to sacrifice more for them. And even when my house is full, and I see someone like the 17 year old with the learning disability struggling with her 2 week old baby, I just have to take them in”! This is clearly a woman who lives out her beliefs passionately and with compassion and empathy and seeks to make a difference, using all of her resources to ensure others have a good life.
Images below from left to right:
1st Row: Image 1: Magenda’s daughters Nancy, Philecia, Lucinda (who Magenda adopted when her 13 year old mother abandoned her when she was 2 days old)
2nd Row: 1st photo: Sunday, who was given to Magenda when he was 6 years old because his father was sick and aged; next to him is Sattu who Magenda took in because her mother was mentally unstable, with Lucinda in front ; 2nd photo: Patrick, who was driven from his house by his stepmother and was living on the streets until Magenda’s daughter Philecia brought him home. 3rd photo: Alie who Magenda is supporting at university.
3rd Row: Image 1: Baby Magenda, who Magenda has taken in with her mother, who has a learning disability; Image 2: Magenda’s husband