When she was only 16-years-old Laetitia Mukamana, from Sumba village in Southern Provence, Rwanda, discovered she was pregnant.
Like hundreds of thousands of other young Rwandan girls, she was left to look after herself from a young age and had to drop out of school.
“My mother died when I was seven years old, and I was looked after by older sisters until they got married. Then I was left to fend for myself and ended up getting pregnant.”
“Life got tougher when I gave birth because I was living alone. As I sought support to feed my family, I got pregnant again”.
“I struggled to feed my two children because their father did not give me any financial support and our living conditions got worse.”
Laetitia’s story is not unique. Child pregnancies, linked to poverty and limited access to sexual reproductive health information, are common in Rwanda.
But things changed for the now twenty-six-year-old when she was one of 20 teenage mothers from the Southern Province selected for a Women’s Economic Empowerment Programme in Nyamagabe.
The pilot programme, funded by the Bank of Ireland and implemented by Trócaire and its local partner Duterimbere ONG, paid for school fees, meals and materials to enable the young mothers to pursue their vocational training.
“I attended the training programme for six months and was given the opportunity to join a dressmaking company as an intern. Having realised my ability, the owner offered me space and a sewing machine in her workshop which I rent.”
The empowerment programme provided start up tool kits to each of the young women to support their chosen skillset.
Immediately after finishing her training, offers started coming in from clients and since receiving her new dressmaking toolkit, Laetitia believes that the best is yet to come.
“I get orders from clients who like my designs and I use the money I earn to feed my children, pay school fees and medical insurance.”
“In the past my children were not going to school because I could not afford uniforms. Now I own chickens and rabbits and my living conditions have changed completely,” she says.
Most of the participants in the vocational training project entered the job market withskills that are in demand, making it easy for them to get jobs.
Another young mother who benefitted from the programme is 22-year-old Delphine from Kitazigurwa Village who had to leave school after becoming pregnant. The programme helped further her career in hairdressing, allowing her provide for her family.
“It would have taken me years to earn enough money to buy the hair dressing equipment. Getting this equipment means that I will progress my career soon.”
She said: “We will also use the tool kits provided by the empowerment programme to train and employ fellow girls in our community. I thank Duterimbere ONG and Trócaire for providing us with this support.