32,000 – that is the number of teenage pregnancies reported on average per month in Uganda since the start of the pandemic in 2020*.
Prolonged school closures due to COVID-19 have had unintended consequences. It turns out that for some Ugandan girls, going to school is a much safer place than anywhere else – unfortunately, their home too.
13-year-old Natale** had been shaken between several families since her parent’s divorce, but when COVID-19 hit, she moved back in with her mother and new husband – a traditional medicine man or medicine man.
Natale’s stepfather began to abuse her repeatedly, telling her that intercourse would provide spiritual cleansing and make the family rich.
But when Natale tried to tell her mother, she was shocked to find that her mother allowed the abuse because she also believed it would bring wealth to the family!
Natalie couldn’t tell anyone else with the schools closed—she was almost always locked in the house. Even if neighbors knew, they wouldn’t intervene for fear of the witchcraft practiced by the family.
Then, earlier this year, Natale found out she was pregnant at only 13 years old.
When Natalie’s mother and stepfather realized she was pregnant, they planned a dangerous and illegal abortion at home.
But – praise be to God – a brave neighbor also realized that Nantale was pregnant and contacted the police.
The police arrested Nantale’s stepfather, but unfortunately, that didn’t mean Nantale was out of danger. Natalie’s mother repeatedly told police that the stepfather was innocent, hoping he would be released and that they could continue with the abortion and abuse.
So the police, neighbors, and family members worked together to get Nantale to a place where she would be safe and cared for WorldShare’s partner, Wakisa Ministries.
Wakita Ministries specializes in helping girls like Natale, who conceived at a young age, often with heartbreaking stories of abuse and neglect.
Before arriving at Wakisa Ministries, Natale saw no hope. She thought her life was over.
“I found myself a lost cause; my future was gone, my dreams of becoming a doctor were no more,” Natale recalls.
“I lost confidence, I lost confidence, I lost school life, I lost friends, I got stigma and fear, and I developed suicidal thoughts…I couldn’t sleep; I was worried and felt like a worthless girl.”
And because of the stigma and shame of being pregnant so young, Natale expected to be shunned everywhere she went.
“I didn’t like the idea [of going to Wakisa]thinking I would be judged.”
But at Wakisa, Natale was not convicted at all. Instead, she was warmly welcomed into a loving, supportive community of Christians committed to loving her as Jesus would.
Girls like Nantale can live in the center of Wakisa Ministries during their pregnancy, in safety, while learning how to care for their new babies and being supported in their studies.
And after giving birth, they are helped to rebuild their lives with their baby in a safe location.
Natalie still faces many challenges. She will give birth to her baby in September this year, and although her aunt has promised to help raise the child, she will continue to be stigmatized as an unwed mother.
But thanks to Wakisa Ministries, Natale now has hope. She knows she is loved and safe and that her life has value.
“I am no longer threatened and mistreated. I feel loved by all the aunts of the Wakisa team [female elders], loved and appreciated by the other girls. I have friends to talk to and share my concerns with, unlike when I was in that violent environment where I couldn’t speak to anyone.
I am no longer afraid but slowly regaining my confidence because I feel safe.”
You can read more of Natale’s story on the WorldShare website
WorldShare partners with grassroots Christian ministries in Africa and Asia-Pacific that help show and share the love of Jesus with those in need.