Teenage mother Sarah now helps other victims

Left alone as a teenage mother during the Sierra Leone ebola crisis, Sarah (24) thought her life was over. But now, having been given a fresh perspective, she intends to study and is committed to combatting teenage pregnancies and violence against girls.

The little village of Taiama is nestled peacefully between palm trees and the fertile fields on the banks of the Tai River. But don’t be deceived, this peaceful façade belies some traumatic stories, such as 24-year-old Sarah’s. Like so many other young women in Sierra Leone, she had a child when she was barely more than a child herself, just 15-years-old. Her parents were divorced and they had both started new families of their own, so she couldn’t look to either of them for support. Fortunately, the father of her young son accepted his responsibility, until his untimely death during the 2014 ebola crisis.

Village in quarantine

Sarah finds it very difficult to talk about that period. “She was probably unable to say goodbye to her husband when the village was immediately quarantined as a result of the ebola outbreak. The whole community was surrounded by soldiers and nobody was allowed to leave the village,” explains Hawanatu Mansaray of Defence for Children, Sierra Leone, the organisation that has helped Sarah regain her life.

And she has regained her life. “I now have two people to look after,” says Sarah bravely. “I have to think about my son’s future as well as my own. This year I’d like to start an agricultural science course. The parents of my dead husband are prepared to look after their grandson. Eventually, I’d like to start a farm, with a shop,” she says under the porch of the home of her uncle Augustine, who is taking care of her.


In addition to caring for herself and her son, who is now staying with his grandparents in Freetown, since recently Sarah has also been watching over other girls in Taiama. She has created an ever-growing WhatsApp network group in which young women in the village keep one another informed of problems that would otherwise remain under wraps. Now, if an incidence of sexual violence or a young teenage pregnancy is reported, not only is the chief or mayor of the village informed, Sarah is also called in to mediate or give advice.

“The help that I received has taught me to pursue my dreams and this has put some perspective back into my life. But I also think it’s important to try to help solve the problems of other girls and young women in Sierra Leone,” she says, by way of explaining her motivation for creating the network she set up. “There are so many girls in a similar situation to me. I would really like to see changes made in the areas of domestic violence and early teenage pregnancies. These are very pressing problems, particularly in my region.”


This is a battle that Sarah is learning to fight by participating in training sessions given by the Girls Advocacy Alliance, a collaboration between Defence for Children, Plan International Nederland and Terre des Hommes. In these sessions she is being taught how to bring about change by lobbying influential figures like the village chief, the school principal and the parents of vulnerable girls. She already has the chief on her side, she says. “This is very important because he wields a lot of influence in the community. And I’m now working alongside him.”

“To find long-term solutions to these problems, you have to start by making education more accessible to girls,” insists Sarah. “At the moment, as soon as a teenager becomes pregnant she has to quit school immediately and devote her life to her child and home. There was even a law that prevented a teenage mother from going to school. Fortunately, that is no longer the case. The most important thing now is to make it clear that education for all girls is the key to solving social problems, such as poverty, violence and teenage pregnancies.”