I realized a couple weeks ago that one of my grade 10 learners is pregnant. While it is a very common occurrence in this country, it was new for me. She is a very bright girl and I worry that her chances of successfully completing grade ten are very slim now. I asked a couple of the senior teachers what the protocol is for pregnant girls at our school and they were very, very harsh and insensitive about it. Apparently, she will is expected to be in classes until the baby is due and then she will get 2 weeks off after the baby is born. Crazy!
So, I have been going out of my way to support her. I am the only female teacher at the senior level and may be the only one she may feel comfortable coming to for assistance. She is 17 years old and she is an orphan. She lives with a relative and she thinks that the relative will look after her baby. The baby is due in May – she is unsure when in May though. I have researched prenatal care in areas of poverty and have been trying to talk to her about basics. The next step is a tough one… I have to encourage her to get an HIV test to ensure that she isn’t positive so that she can make the right decision about breast feeding.
Pregnancy here is viewed much differently than at home. First of all it is very, very common (which is very sad in an AIDS infected area!). There is very little sympathy or pampering for pregnant women. They are still required to carry out their daily routines – plowing, weeding, fetching water. And if they do have a full time job in the cities or towns, they get a maximum of 6 weeks maternity leave! Babies are tied around their mother’s backs or stomachs using large pieces of cloth. They hop in and out of the back of pickup trucks, wash clothing in the river and plough the fields with their babies tied to their backs. And when feeding time comes, they just pop out a boob – no matter where they are. I have seen women shopping in the grocery store with a baby latched onto her boob (fully exposed) while she decided which brand of sugar to buy. I have been in a car when a lady with a baby gets in and just passes me the baby while she gets settled.
Babies and toddlers are very, very tiny. I have a lot of trouble guessing how old they are. Due to the malnutrition and very petite size of the Kavango people, kids are so small. The other day, there was a little toddler under the tree behind the house and she barely looked like she could walk. When I went over to say hello, she reached her arms out to me to pick her up (there is absolutely no concept of stranger here as babies are passed around among families) and she was so light – less than 15 lbs. When I asked the other kids how old she was, they said 3 years old. I was shocked.
Final thought – in our staff meeting last Friday morning, the principal made a strong point to remind all teachers that impregnating a learner is against the school policy and could lead to a transfer (but not getting fired!) While I have heard that there are a lot of incidents of teachers sleeping with students, I didn’t think it would be happening at my school. And I am guessing that because the principal stressed it during a meeting, he has suspicion that it is happening. OMG – things I don’t want to know!