Teen mums get aid from local artists


Left, Eric Wainaina's flying fish and right, E. Wamagata's 3D coastal scene. Both are on display at the Village Market, Nairobi. PHOTOS | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU

Lucy Ndungu was not surprised to read in the Business Daily (April 9, 2015) about a newly released demographic report which found that “poor rural households have defied the well-oiled birth control campaigns.”

The founder of “Hope for Teenage Mothers” would only challenge the report’s finding that “on average, a rural woman has nearly twice the number of children as her urban counterpart.”

Perhaps the study conducted by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics was more focused on middle-aged mothers, she surmised. But from her own research in rural Nyeri and in the slums of Nairobi, the number of girls between the ages of 12 and 19 becoming mothers is most alarming, irrespective of whether they live in rural or urban areas.

Ms Ndungu’s observations may not be as statistically accurate or scientifically provable as those made in the KDHS study, but it was while working for the NGO Save the Children that she came across such a large number of teenage mothers. It was so disturbing that she ended up leaving STC after eight years to start her own organization.

“I got tired of watching children giving birth to more children,” said the founder of Hope for Teenage Mothers (HFTM), the NGO she started to help little girls escape the cycle of poverty and underage child birth.

Currently HFTM primarily works with teen mothers in the slums of Nairobi, deep inside Mukuru and Dagoretti. In Mukuru, the main focus of her work is on girls’ skills training in everything from knitting, dressmaking and tailoring, beading and cookery.

“We call that project ‘Rewriting the Future’ since we aim to empower young mothers with skills to help them eventually become self-sufficient,” says the MBA who received her degree from Oxford University.

“In Dagoretti, we train the teen mothers in entrepreneurship, also with the hope of empowering them with basic skills in business,” she added.

Yet these programs require funding. And again, she says the problem is so vast, she’d like to establish more ‘hope’ centres for other teenage mothers across the country.

Visual arts

That vision is how Ms Ndungu decided she required innovative ways to raise funds to expand HFTM's initiatives.

“That’s how I got involved with the visual arts,” said the curator of ‘Transformations,’ the current exhibition of eight Nairobi-based artists whose paintings and sculptures are up on the top floor of Village Market.

“I’m a newcomer to this field, I confess, but it’s exciting to find so many artists willing to help me raise funds for the school I plan to build for teenage mothers in Kajaido,” she said.

Spurred on by a family friend who is one of the eight exhibiting artists, Ms Ndungu assembled an eclectic show featuring both professionally-trained and self-taught artists: two are from Sudan, Fawaz Elsaid and Yassir Ali while the rest are from the peri-urban areas of Nairobi, including Martin Muhoro, Peter Mwalavu, John Ndungu, Eric Shitaka, Alex Wainaina and E. Wamagata.

The Hope exhibition is upstairs from another show of Kenyan artists entitled Shags, and featuring Patrick Kinuthia, James Njoroge and Fred Abuga.

The space being occupied by the Hope artists just recently opened up due to the demand among artists for more space in which to show their artworks.

Situated just next to Village Market’s car park, Ms Ndungu has used the panels dividing her exhibition from the parking to hang both paintings by John Ndungu and sculptures by Alex Wainaina.

Wainaina’s work may look familiar to Village Market regulars since he was commissioned a few years back to create his whimsical scrap metal sculptures for display all around the Market. So one will find his ‘askaris’, cattle and other creatures standing on every floor.

In the Hope show, Wainaina’s butterflies are bright and lion and hippo heads are majestic expressions of species currently endangered in Kenya’s game parks.

Colour-wise the Sudanese artists’ work is most eye-catching but there are no more whimsical works in this show that those by Eric Shitaka.

What’s most stunning about the Hope collection of works is the large discrepancy in prices. A few of the artists are asking hundreds of thousands for their art while others have priced their work in what the Kenya Museum Society has described as “affordable”, meaning below Sh100,000.

Then there are one or two out of the eight whose prices fall in both categories.

The style of works ranges from abstract and expressionist to naturalistic and realistic. Only Wainaina does sculptures although Wamagata’s coastal creations have a 3D effect thanks to his attractive (hinged) wooden window shudders.

A percentage of all the sales will go to Hope For Teenage Mothers.