The life of young and poor pregnant women often seems lost. But a support group providing understanding and loving care plus practical skills helps young moms restore faith and strength to fight for a better future.
Supriya Phromma, a Chiang Mai native, was 21 years-old when she became pregnant. The news brought a great deal of confusion to her life and those around her.
Like other girls her age, Kwang, as she is nicknamed, enjoyed going out and had only been dating her boyfriend for a few months. But her situation was more complicated than most people’s: she was unemployed, having dropped out of vocational school, and fought with her parents on the rare occasions she returned home.
Despite her mother’s suggestions that she get an abortion, Kwang knew she wanted to keep her baby and would do so at any cost. Those costs were high indeed, she later realized.“No one tells you this, but it’s not just about buying milk or pampers. There are a million other costs, living expenses and all,”
“No one tells you this, but it’s not just about buying milk or pampers. There are a million other costs, living expenses and all,”she says.
The self-described “rebellious kid”, who readily admits that her parents nearly gave up on her multiple times, credits her money troubles as the turning point in her life. Not wishing to burden her family with her child’s expenses, she took out a loan and found herself in massive debt. Her boyfriend worked odd jobs, from convenience store clerk to rideshare driver, but the couple barely made ends meet with a single income.
This all changed one day when Kwang received a phone call from Supaporn “Amy” Nakfak, the coordinator of Khon Wai Sai (young teens) or Khaw Khon, a Chiang Mai-based support group for teenage mothers, funded by the Equitable Education Fund (EEF).
Ms Supaporn provides counseling and a “safety net” to young mothers, along with empowerment workshops to help those disheartened by the challenges they face, allowing them to regain their confidence and stand on their own two feet.
“A teenage pregnancy can really throw your life off course,”Ms Supaporn explains.
Teen moms are surrounded by correlated problems that can seem impossible to solve at once. Often forced to leave school, they have trouble finding employment and, while they struggle to put food on the table, the expenses continue to pile up. In several cases, they come from low-income backgrounds and are cut off from their families as well.
Raising a child in such an environment becomes a heavy burden.
“As their life spirals out of control, many young women are tempted to give up,”the social worker says.
Khaw Khon’s main goal is to tackle the root cause of these women’s predicament, by helping them earn an income allowing them to support themselves and their child.
Wages are the very basis on which they can start to rebuild their lives. The support group provides training in disciplines such as cooking and teaches young girls basic accounting and marketing skills, including how to create a brand or sell items online. Thanks to this initiative, many mothers are able to map out clear goals and work towards achieving them.
However, according to Ms Supaporn, that does not always happen instantly. Some teen moms are so depressed, feeling as though their life has no value, that they can’t seem to find purpose and direction.
“When asked what kind of work they would like to do, these girls often say they don’t know.
“Our job is to empower them by letting them understand that they are capable of taking control of their lives,”she adds.
Kwang says that the first time she met with Ms Supaporn and other members of the support group, she felt she was being heard and understood. This comforting environment propelled her to set her intentions and start anew by helping her parents sell sweets.
Upon completing the training program, Khaw Khon allocates a sum of money to the young mothers to support them in their professional endeavor. Kwang, who was given 2,500 baht, said this investment allowed her to get down to business at once.
Three years on, she earns a stable income from selling sweets at the market and has mended her relationship with her parents.
Her partner has also benefited from the support program. While Pathompong Baiprao only accompanied Kwang on her first few sessions, he started mapping out clear goals for the future as well. These include putting money aside to renovate their house and cover their son’s school fees.
Through her work, Ms Supaporn has witnessed what she describes as “miraculous recoveries”. The funding she has received from the EEF may be a starting point but it’s really her passion that drives the project forward. There are few initiatives targeting teen moms, yet they are in dire need of a support system, she says.
The program recruits its participants through registrars of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security’s local branch or the Saraphi hospital staff, who spread the word to young girls giving birth.
Prior to receiving EEF funding, Khaw Khon members met once a month. Now, they hold weekly sessions in a lively, sometimes chaotic, atmosphere, surrounded by infants and toddlers. Aside from training sessions and empowerment workshops, Ms Supaporn conducts home visits to check on the girls and see how they are doing.
“Of course, we provide them with financial aid but a good follow-up system is really the most important aspect of our work.”
Supitchayanat or Anne-Anne is another beneficiary of Khaw Khon’s program. Pregnant at only 14, she left school and worked various jobs but couldn’t hold on to them for long. She completed the training course, received 2,500 baht and started her first small business selling grilled chicken. However, the venture soon proved too costly, as profits were too low. Forced to close shop, she found herself back at square one.
Still, the support she received from Ms Supaporn and the group helped her get past her disappointment and she set up a second initiative, a honey and lemon juice stall that is still in business and popular today.
“Earning an income has really changed my perspective on life. It’s given me confidence and I’m now certain that I can raise my child well,”Supitchayanat says.
“I’m proud of myself for coming through these challenges.”