Grace took steady steps as she walked from her classroom to the head teacher’s office. While her classmates are playful and girlish as they learn and chat, Grace is more serious, determined. She knows what her education is worth and she is determined not to let anything stop her from succeeding.
Adversity had been a fixture in Grace’s life, but she was determined to never give up. Her determination stemmed from experiencing things most girls never even imagine – at 17, Grace was abused, betrayed and raped, and, at 18, became a teenage mother.
Every day at 4 a.m., Grace woke up to study, feed her 4-month-old son, and get ready for school. Her life was unusual for a JHS 2 girl, but she never let that stop her.
Grace was raised by her mother, a divorcee and petty trader. Their life was plagued by hardships, which eventually forced her mother to migrate to their hometown in the Northern region, leaving Grace to stay with a distant relative her mother believed would be a good guardian. But, unbeknownst to Grace’s mother, her new guardian was anything but kind, and Grace’s mother leaving marked the beginning of years of abuse and struggle.
“Life with my madam was very difficult,” Grace shared, tears clouding her eyes, “my madam barely gave me money for my basic needs in school. She wouldn’t even give me soap to wash my clothes. She never made time to attend PTA meetings and only cared about how I washed and cleaned the house.”
Grace experienced constant emotional abuse from her madam’s husband, who never missed an opportunity to insult Grace and make her feel inferior. Grace thought often about asking him why he was so cruel but was too afraid. When she needed money for things in school, she couldn’t ask her madam or her madam’s husband, so she was often left hungry and unhappy.
Unable to bear this abuse, Grace turned to friends for financial assistance, but those friends were not as kind and welcoming as they seemed.
One day, Grace decided to visit her friend, Rita, who was a teenage mother living with her boyfriend and his two brothers. She spoke of her life with her madam and the abuse she experienced. She shared her need for money to buy books and pay her school dues. Rita promised Grace she would help, but said she couldn’t help right then.
A few months later, Rita called Grace and invited her over to collect some money. Rita welcomed Grace to her home, offering her rice and stew. Grace, ravenous, couldn’t resist, and devoured the food.
After that, her memory is hazy. She woke some time later, her clothes stained with blood and in horrible pain. She couldn’t remember exactly what had happened, but she knew one thing: she had been raped.
Gripped with fear, Grace rushed out of the house and confronted Rita, who admitted that one of the men had slept with her. Grace was furious and scared. She left the house, determined to report the rape to her madam, but, halfway home, had a troubling thought. Her madam had never been kind to her, and Grace had no idea how she would react. Would she believe her? What if her madam called her a bad girl and sent her out of the house? Grace’s madam didn’t give her much, and Grace couldn’t bear the idea of losing what little she had left. So, when Grace returned home, she kept the abuse to herself.
A few months after the incident, Grace began to feel sick and discovered she was pregnant.
She returned to Rita’s house and confronted Salifu, the man who had raped her and threatened to report him to the police. Reluctantly, Salifu took responsibility for the pregnancy.
“When Salifu said he would accept the child, I called my mother and told her about the pregnancy.”
Grace’s mother rushed to her daughter’s side. She suggested they abort the baby, but Grace feared the abortion would kill her. She had learned in school about how dangerous abortions could be when not performed responsibly. “I didn’t want to die,” she said simply.
Grace’s mother couldn’t stay by her side, a family emergency drew her back to the Northern Region, and Grace, wanting to escape the abuse of her madam, accepted when Salifu suggested she move in with his grandmother until Grace gave birth.
Grace hoped this would mark the end of the domestic abuse she experienced, day in, day out, but, in reality, it was only a new chapter. Salifu’s grandmother underfed Grace, who supported her pregnancy through the generosity of her neighbours. In a small stroke of luck, healthcare in her village was free, so she could still go to the clinic for antenatal visits.
Finally, Grace escaped the abuse, returning to live with her mother during her final trimester. But, abuse and neglect, along with her youth, took a toll on her body, and she suffered complications in childbirth.
Grace woke one Monday still feeling sick from the previous day, so she and her mother got in a taxi and went to the hospital. At this point, Grace was so weak the nurses said they needed to do a caesarian section.
Grace didn’t wake for three days. When her baby had been born there were complications. He was safely delivered, but was struggling to breathe and was being kept in the intensive care unit. It took two weeks before mother and son could return home.
It was not an easy transition. Grace’s health was frail, and she still felt occasional pain from the operation. But Grace was determined and informed her parents that she wished to return to school.
“My biggest agony during pregnancy was seeing my mates go to school every morning. I want to work with the fire service someday, and if I don’t complete my education they will not accept me.” Grace said with conviction. She spoke out about her experiences and struggles, and how quitting was not an option.
“Stopping school and staying in the house will not help you or the baby in the future. Only education will help you get out of poverty and other hardships.”
Grace returned to school and became an active member of her Child Rights Club. To this day, she is thankful for the opportunity to be in school once more and is determined not to let the abuse she suffered hinder her from achieving a bright future.