When Isata Kamara found out in July that she was pregnant, she was ashamed and embarrassed.
She said that her ex-boyfriend is the father but that he denied responsibility and left.
Kamara is among many thousands of girls who became pregnant since May 2014, when the Ebola crisis took hold in Sierra Leone. The government closed schools for almost a year in an attempt to control the outbreak, leaving girls idle and vulnerable.
On Monday, Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) for the first time began special classes for girls who are pregnant or have recently given birth.
Forty-four community centers across the country opened their doors to approximately 3,000 girls who have registered so far. Classes will be held three times a week and will cover the same curriculum as in public schools. Some regular schools will hold classes for the girls after school hours.
Olive Musa, the director for nonformal education for MEST, said the government opened the schools because of the increase in teen pregnancies during the Ebola crisis. Public schools were reopened in April 2015. Sierra Leone is currently in a 42-day countdown to being Ebola free, after more than 10,000 people died of the hemorrhagic virus in West Africa.
“It was the Ebola that really brought out the problem, and so we created a special needs working group in April. It was set up to address issues for pregnant schoolgirls and their education,” Musa said.
She added that the schools aim to provide a proper education to girls coping with the stigma attached to teen pregnancy.