Real Life

Teen mums’ fresh start

A Kiwi charity is helping girls get back in the classroom

Becoming another statistic isn’t an option for these teen mums. With the help of their community, they’re determined to put themselves back into education.

Fifteen-year-old Paige Bartlett is one of 12 new mums who’ve completed a parenting course through West Auckland charitable trust Ohana. She was taking the contraceptive pill but became pregnant with her son Tyson, now one, while on a course of antibiotics. Her boyfriend promptly ran off.

“I had it in my head that my baby’s dad would always be there, so it was quite a shock to realise he didn’t want to be,” she recalls. “I didn’t think I could raise Tyson by myself, but then I realised I didn’t need to do it by myself – I had my parents, my friends and Ohana.” Ohana founders Megan Syddall, 38, and Kerry Leonard, 50, set up the programme in 2014 to support young mums in their community.

“It can be a tough time in your life just being a teenager, without the added pressures of becoming a mother,” tells Kerry. “These girls are fantastic mums, but their community is constantly bringing them down. We need to lift them up. “Young parents deal with some tough issues. We see a lot of violence, inadequate housing and financial shortfalls. If something doesn’t change, that will trickle down to their kids.”

Ohana founders Megan (left) and Kerry say it’s time to support teen mums. “We need to lift them up.”

Second chance

Tyson was born three months early and when he was finally discharged from hospital, Paige joined Ohana. The trust’s centre opens its doors to 12 mums and their babies each term with NCEA accredited parenting classes and correspondence study. The young mothers are collected from home and can even take a nap before class if they’ve had a sleepless night.

Despite the hard times, becoming a parent is the best thing that’s happened to Paige, she insists. “It’s changed my life. If I wasn’t a mum, I’d still be partying and running away, but now I’ve got my driver’s licence and I’m looking for a job.”

Fellow Ohana pupil Courtney Taylor, 18, mum to 10-month-old Jasper, has a troubled history with her baby’s father. “He was drinking and I was kind of blinded to it – I thought it was normal,” she tells. But through Ohana, she recognised the signs she was in an abusive relationship. “It took coming here to make me realise I wasn’t alone. A baby doesn’t ruin your life – it’s the opposite.”

Courtney’s classmate Sarah Tollemache, 19, who is mum to two-year-old Demi, completed the parenting course last year and loved it so much, she’s applied to study nursing. She says, “Being a mum is hard, but it’s the most rewarding thing in the world. It’s a rollercoaster, but you get through it.”

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