For years, Clonel Samuels-Boston has seen the struggles and pain teenage mothers endure on a daily basis as she has been assisting them, and though there have been times she wanted to give up, she kept pressing on.
As the coordinator for Women Across Differences (WAD), Samuels-Boston has not done it alone and even though her position is a paid one, she has gone above and beyond the call of duty. It is the perseverance and compassion she has shown for the hundreds of teenage mothers who have benefited from the organisation that are responsible of her been named among the 2018 Medal of Service recipients.
“I am very humbled in being awarded and I must thank President David Granger and the government for this Medal of Service… I want to express my gratitude to the persons who nominated me,” Samuels-Boston told the Sunday Stabroek in an interview.
A religious person, she also thanked God for allowing her to work with the target group and give service to her country.
A social worker by profession, Samuels-Boston holds herself out as a success story for WAD, as before she joined the organisation, she said, she was very shy. But today she can represent the organisation and women at any forum. “I have grown…,” she said.
For her one of the most difficult things is seeing a 12-year-old or a 13-year-old, or any child for that matter, as a teen mother. She noted that they would be transitioning from childhood to adolescence and are still children themselves. Some do not receive the support of their parents and are forced to fend for themselves.
The young mothers face discrimination from the man and woman in the streets as well as from health workers, according to Samuels-Boston. Sometimes it difficult to explain to the young girls that they were raped as they would blame themselves and there are cases where their mothers would accept money from their rapists to assist in the family’s maintenance, which makes a bad situation worse.
Because the males would have committed rape in the process of impregnating the children, Samuels-Boston said, it would be difficult to engage them in the process of assisting the young mothers. In some cases, these males are teenagers too and they remain in school while the girls are forced to leave or move to another school, if they are strong enough to face their peers while pregnant.
Samuels-Boston acknowledged that she is not on a solo journey and thanked the many persons, inclusive of the other staff members at the organisation, who have walked with her over the years.
The journey started 15 years ago when she left the University of Guyana (UG) library where she worked after she would have completed a degree in Social Work.
“I am a humane person, I like helping people,” was how Samuels-Boston put it when asked what keeps her going on the difficult days.
But her drive could also come from the fact that Guyana is said to have the second highest numbers of adolescent mothers in the Caribbean and Latin America.
“It is a national issue and there are other stakeholders who are also working in the area. We partner with the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Social Protection,” she said, adding that these partnerships have seen them move into the communities of Yarrowkabra on the Linden-Soesdyke Highway and Angoy’s Avenue in New Amsterdam.
“It is a grave problem and we need all stakeholders to be involved to address the problem. It needs a multi-stakeholder, holistic approach…,” she added.
She suggested that more work needs to be done in the communities and with families in an effort to address the root cause of the problem.
She described the programme that assists teenage mothers as a comprehensive one for adolescent mothers ages 12 to 19. Initially, when the programme commenced, it catered for young mothers between the ages of 15 to 19 but because of the numbers they were forced to lower the age to 12.
The programme commenced in 2008 through assistance from United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) made possible through Patrice La Fleur who was the fund’s Assistant Representative at the time. Since then, the progarmme has been identified by UNFPA as a best practice throughout the Caribbean and Latin America.
Over the years, some 450 adolescent mothers have passed through the one-year programme and according to Samuels-Boston they have seen countless success stories as there have been young mothers who were given the opportunity to write the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examination and passed in several subjects; some have gone on to UG. Some were valedictorians in their schools and others are now entrepreneurs.
Some of the past beneficiaries of the programme have also formed themselves into a group known as Young Mothers for Change and they support each other.
Since 2015, the office of First Lady Sandra Granger has been the patron of the organisation and according to the coordinator, she assists with the care for the elderly, child care, ICT and first aid programmes along with networking and providing psychosocial support.
The teenage mothers’ programme is now being supported by Republic Bank.
WAD emerged in 1996 following a poverty reduction conference held at the Pegasus Hotel, as some of the participants wanted a platform where they could discuss women’s issues. They formed a group called ‘A Woman’s Thing’ and met in various places, including homes, where they would discuss different issues. But in 1999, when Samuels-Boston joined and became the coordinator, the group changed its name to WAD which indicates that all women could join the organisation regardless of race, religion, age or political affiliation.
At that time, they focused on building the capacity of the members and strengthening the institution but have since grown past this and have been working in many areas and extending programmes to the community instead of being limited to members.
The organisation’s main aim right now is the empowerment of women and youths socially and economically, and this is accomplished through various programmes. There are active members who are volunteers and assist the organisation in the different areas. There is a core group of members whom they call upon to be facilitators for training; some also act as mentors for teenage mothers while others are community mobilisers. They also represent the organisation at various forums.
The organisation has also worked in the area of positive parenting, gender-based violence, gender development, climate change and disaster preparedness. It has also worked with the victims of the Lusignan massacre and with youths from Plaisance to Cane Grove through the Social Cohesion Project which is a UNDP project. The organisation also worked during the 2005 Great Flood in Regions three, four and five with the focus being on public health promotion, water and sanitation and distribution of sanitation and personal hygiene kits.
It has collaborated with CIDA, the Common-wealth Office in the UK, OXFAM, the Carib-bean Association for Research and Action and the Caribbean Policy Development Centre.