Introduction  

Elsie: Halo olgeta, I’m Elsie, welcome to the RoundTable Podcast. We’ve created this space for Ni-Vanuatu women to speak freely on issues affecting us today. Let’s navigate life in the islands together. Join me as I speak to a new guest every episode and ask the questions you’ve always wanted to ask. Ale yumi storian. This project is made possible with the support of the WeRise Coalition and PECMAS. 

TRANSLATIONS: Hello everyone, I’m Elsie, welcome to the RoundTable Podcast. We’ve created this space for Ni-Vanuatu women to speak freely on issues affecting us today. Let’s navigate life in the islands together. Join me as I speak to a new guest every episode and ask the questions you’ve always wanted to ask. Let’s discuss. This project is made possible with the support of the WeRise Coalition and PECMAS. 

 

Interview Introduction  

Have you ever wondered what happens to young girls who get pregnant while in school? Do they receive any support from the school? Do they get kicked out of school? But most importantly, are they allow to come back and complete their education after having their baby? On this episode we’re exploring the support young mothers receive while attending school and what it takes to complete their education.  

Our guest today is Brianna Toner. Brianna Toner is the young mother of two daughters, she fell pregnant when she was 16 years old and in year eleven at secondary school. She’s live through her personal experience and will help us share light on the topic of this episode.  

Elsie: Hi Brianna, thanks so much for joining me at the round table. So, teenage pregnancies aren’t rare in Vanuatu. There was a policy brief published in 2013, which found that 1 out of 8 child births occur to adolescent or teenage mothers. So, a lot of young girls have experience this. Now when you felt pregnant as 16, what was your immediate feeling or thought?  

Brianna: Uhm my immediate feeling was that I failed actually. Uhm didn’t expect that I’ll be pregnant as 16, but uhm yeah. The feeling I got was that I failed my parents for sure. Cause I know that it wasn’t what they expect of me to have in my life. But yeah, it was an immediate feeling of failure, but through it all I kept up. I think there should be something more than just being pregnant at 16 so, that what got me forward to think of other stages in life. 

Elsie: Thank you Brianna. I feel like yeah, that, feeling would probably be common for a lot of uhm other young girls who fall pregnant you know unexpectedly while in school. Uhm there was a report on unplan teenage pregnancies in Vanuatu. It was done where interviews were carried out with young girls who had unexpected or unintended uhm pregnancies. These girls were between the ages of 16 to 19 and a lot of them had expressed when they found out that they were pregnant, they felt helpless, and that the only option for them was to end the pregnancy. Now this reaction was mostly because, they were afraid of their parents, they were afraid that they would be angry with them, or that they would be excluded you know from family from friends or like even from the school. So, you know what was your experience like? Particularly with how like the secondary school reacted.  

Brianna: Uhm so the experience I had, was that once they found out I was pregnant there was an immediately stop, I can’t go to school. No, we won’t allow that in our school so yeah. When I found out my dad was like, “okay will just hide it for now.” So, it was like in the woods at the moment, going through school and then suddenly popped out from one student from another, “ah she’s pregnant, she’s pregnant,” after that uhm the councils was like, “oh I need you to come into my office tadada (sound of blabbering).” Yeah, we went in, dad got called in as well one afternoon was like, “oh we found, we heard that she’s pregnant.” My dad was like okay we just have to come out for them so yeah. We told them and they were was like, “no we can’t have her she has to drop out of school.” There was no help from there so yeah. From there I feel like, okay school is not helping me, doesn’t want to help me, I was like okay I’ll take that risk just to drop out of school and see what’s next for me there. It wasn’t really a good experience but yeah. I mean we can’t do anything because we don’t own the school so yeah (giggling).  

Elsie: So, it was the counsellor who came to speak with you. Uhm did the principal come and like talk with you, your parents at all or was it just the counsellor handled the whole situation.  

Brianna: Uhm yeah so, after the counsellor and the principal came in. But he was all okay, the principal was all okay for me to come back to school. But the counsellor said with the group of teachers said, “that they have that experience before with two mothers but the excuse was always with baby, baby, can’t finish that because of baby.” Then they took into hand that I’ll be the same. Although she was like no can’t come back to school, so I just had to dropped out.  

Elsie: And was there anyone you could talk to? Cause I can imagine like having them just be like oh no you can’t come back. That would have been like a lot of you emotionally, and mentally but so, like was there anyone you could talk to, or maybe someone who would be in your position before?  

Brianna: Uhm no cause I didn’t really know who else was like had the same lifestyle that I’ve been through so yeah, I didn’t know who else have that.  

Elsie: And looking back do you wish that there had been someone there that you could go to look for support or just kind of find advice? 

Brianna: Uhm yeah, there should be. There should be some like, experience I had with my previous schools and as the one I had after it so yeah. I think that the schools in Vanuatu should actually consider teenage pregnancy mothers to still go to school. Because there is no difference, I mean there is only difference in your body not your mind. I mean you still have you know the knowledge to go to school, so yeah. They need to change that as well. 

Elsie: And I feel like you’ve already touched on it but maybe you can talk a little bit more. You know did you feel when you were pregnant, that you were being excluded from the school. I guess yes you were you did touch on that. Was there any point you felt excluded from your family and friends at all?  

Brianna: No, my family and friends were supportive yeah so, they knew what I was going through so they were helping me throughout the little times I had in school. But yeah mostly was just like, the eyes on you feeling everywhere you walk, so yeah just that. 

Elsie: Uhm am glad that you got that support from your family and your friends and they didn’t exclude you. Because there are some situations that does happen and so the report that I had mentioned earlier on with the interviews with the young mothers, it showed that some girls who felt pregnant in their teenage years were asked by the school principals to leave when they found out that they were pregnant. So, some of them you know the principals asked them to leave, others just chose to drop out. Well, you know some young moms then went back to school to finish their education and get that certificate, others didn’t see a point in going back. And that report found that those who had continued their education were very motivated to do so because they have that family support as well. So, I guess we already know that you didn’t really receive any support from the school so they asked you to leave and that was it. Did they you know suggest like okay after you’ve had the baby you can come back, or was it just?… 

Brianna: No, so we suggested that. So, my parents suggested, “oh she’s just gonna have the baby, we gonna look after the baby she’ll come back and continue school?” Nah they were like no you just have to go, they were like “just go.” I mean maybe because of the image of the school I don’t get it but like. I was like okay because my dad was like, “oh we looking after the baby she needs to continue, we are looking after the baby.” The counsellor was like, “no just we can’t have that anymore.”  

Elsie: That’s really unfortunate and am so sorry that you went through that. I would have imagined that okay for one they shouldn’t have excluded you and told you to leave because of the pregnancy cause like you said, you are still there, you still, your brain is functioning and everything its just your body,  

Brianna: Your body   

Elsie: is changing yeah. Uhm but I would have imagined that they be like yeah sure you can come back after. So, that’s really unfortunate am kind of like disappointed that they said that. Uhm so okay besides the school, what kind of support did you receive from your family?  

Brianna: The support I have from my family was, yeah, they had my back this whole full time. So, there was one part where my dad and my mum could take the baby and they’ll look after the baby so we could be siblings, that was one of the plans. Next thing was that, I can have the baby they can look after it but I can continue on with my life so yeah. But plans change yeah so, I took all the responsibilities to look after my little one coz it’s me that who created her, didn’t wanna give her away. I mean she wasn’t going away she will still be there seeing her face but just be a different name according to me so yeah. But my family had my back, my partner had my back, it was, yeah it was challenging I was scared. I was crying the whole time but yeah. My partner was like, “nah we can get through this it was just another challenge in life.” But yeah, my partner and my family were supportive. 

Elsie: That’s so nice am so glad that they were supportive of you and watched through that adventure, that new journey that you took. And so, looking back what, is there any particular kind of support that you wish you had?  

Brianna: I think I got all the support I needed. But in educational wise that’s one thing that Vanuatu needs to change that. Uhm so, during my experience once I finish from here, I went to New Zealand and they had a teenage pregnancy school there. I got enrolled there so like mothers and fathers can go to that school. Its one complete like building that been separated from school. If you have a baby, new born, name what age you want, they can look after the baby. It has a day care there while you go and finish your education in another room. And then when its lunch time you can go and see your baby come back play with her and then go back to class, have lunch with your baby and every afternoon school bus drops them off with the baby and picks you up in the morning. So yeah, that’s one thing I really want Vanuatu to actually change that. Like it’s, like you just get pregnant there is nothing wrong with your brain. Maybe we need to support young leaders or even mothers who they haven’t fall pregnant at teenage, they need to help them support them. Not only the mothers but also the fathers. Like when I was there, there was also fathers there. Both of the enter the same school just to finish their school and support their little ones. That’s what we need to do as well. 

Elsie: So just to be clear, you had both your little ones in New Zealand?  

Brianna: Yep. 

Elsie: And that was a facility they had for teenage moms and dads where they could… 

Brianna: Go back to school 

Elsie: Go back to school  

Brianna: Continuing their education and all that. 

Elsie: That’s great, and I think yeah you are right. Like in Vanuatu we need to start putting those kinds of facilities and support in place, cause yeah like you’ve already said like its not, it’s not fair that you know a girl falls pregnant at school and then asked to leave when she is totally fine to complete her education. So, as we know it’s not common for adolescents or teenagers to be informed by parents, care givers, or even elders about sex and pregnancy prevention or you know the contraception ol family planning. And there was a Ministry of Health case study that found that the high rates of teenage pregnancy are clear sign to a lack of education in sexual reproductive health, and unmet need for contraceptives but many people, many young people feel that this is important information. So, I just wanna know were you given this information?  

TRANSLATIONS: That’s great, and I think yeah you are right. Like in Vanuatu we need to start putting those kinds of facilities and support in place, cause yeah like you’ve already said like it’s not, it’s not fair that you know a girl falls pregnant at school and then asked to leave when she is totally fine to complete her education. So, as we know it’s not common for adolescents or teenagers to be informed by parents, care givers, or even elders about sex and pregnancy prevention or you know the contraception and also the family planning. And there was a Ministry of Health case study that found that the high rates of teenage pregnancy are clear sign to a lack of education in sexual reproductive health, and unmet need for contraceptives but many people, many young people feel that this is important information. So, I just wanna know were you given this information?  

 

Brianna: Oh, in my house was a harsh harsh thing (she giggles). But yeah, I mean school had those uhm, I remember they had those uhm Smol Bag was going around school and notifying everybody how to use those uhm contraceptions but yeah. I mean like we were young, we didn’t know what we were doing. I mean it was just like a moment in time where you can’t really tell that you gonna get pregnant but yeah. At least there was information going around but like at that time I was young, and I was into you know there’s this stage in life where you just feel like you wanna experience everything but then something happens, something comes up at the end and yeah. But yeah, there was information going around so yeah, they should continue doing that as well.  

Elsie: And, so there was information going around at that time, do you think like today that this kind of information is still made available enough to young people? 

Brianna: Uhm I think no, not really know about that but yeah, they should continue doing that.  

Elsie: So, maybe doing the awareness that you said Wan Smol Bag came to the school and did awareness on contraceptives. So there have been many situations like yours where schools have suspended the girl as soon as they found out that she’s pregnant. And in some cases, maybe like yeah yours as well uhm the school doesn’t want them to come back or like the report showed some of them, some of the women feel like they can’t come back. Maybe out of shame, maybe they don’t wanna put themselves through that again. And so, I just wanna to get, I know that we’ve touched on it a little bit on it already but I wanna to get you know your thoughts on this. Do you think girls should be allowed to stay in school during their pregnancy and come back after they’ve had their baby?  

Brianna: So, my experience based on your question, uhm yeah girls should be allowed to go to school while pregnant. I mean I went to school while pregnant, so yeah it’s just your body changing. It’s not really based on how you look into your work to do school work well yeah. As long as you have the time to look after yourself and have the time to do your school work, so yeah. If you have the time management you can go to school while being pregnant. So, schools should support teenage or even mothers to go back to school while being pregnant go throughout school. Cause it’s just 9 months, like once you give the baby, I mean once you give birth to the baby you are back to normal. I mean you’re just aiming for that paper. So, once you give birth to your baby you can just walk with your flat belly grab a paper.  

Elsie: And what kind of support do you want to see for young mothers from schools and even family? Because I know there’s some situations where uhm some young mothers aren’t as fortunate and will have you know will feel excluded, will have the family kind of put shame on them that they fell pregnant in such a young age. So, you know do you have any advice that you wanna give out? Like what kind of support do you wanna see from the schools. I know you’ve touched on that a little but maybe you can uhm reaffirm that, and what kind of support do you wanna see from the families? 

Brianna: So, support that I wanna see through schools, is to allow girls to go back to school even though they are pregnant. Uhm they should be like; they should be welcoming that’s one, open handed to every girl. Uhm families such as continue to support, I mean like it’s your daughter, your cousin, or your aunty it’s still your member of the family that you have love for them. So, give them the love even though they are in a sad time. Not in the sad time, but you know in a stage where, “oh god what am I supposed to do while they are looking at me and all that?” But you just give her the love that she needs. Cause all love the people need for them to grow. So yeah, If you show them the love you have for yourself and for other people, people will continue to do what they have to achieve in life. So yeah, for schools yeah, they should be just like open handed, open minded as well, yeah, she just going through phase of life that everybody goes through after school, during school whenever, so yeah. They should be open handed, I mean open arms to, young mothers, every mother, and family should just continue with the love support they have for their family members and all that even though, yeah, its expectations that they fail but I mean “it’s a brand-new baby, god that’s like another love into the family.” So, yeah they should just give them the support.  

Elsie: Thank you Brianna, I really, I want to see the same kind of support from schools and from families. I think that was really nice how you said, “to show them the support and love because then it will help them grow.” And then, its all about yeah, being on a journey, figuring out what life has to offer. So, I really appreciate that answer, thank you. I think just to wrap up our episode, we’ve started this new thing where we ask our guests the final question in three words describe what your journey has been like as a Ni-Vanuatu woman navigating life in Vanuatu. 

Brianna: Uhm three words, uhm it was hard as a Ni-Vanuatu woman but I don’t know how to say this. Uhm it was hard but it was also wonderful. And the third one, what the third one would be? Thankful actually. 

Elsie: So, hard, wonderful and thankful. I love it. Okay well thank you Brianna for joining me for that fascinating discussion of supporting young mothers. I really appreciate it and admire your courage to share your experience. And am sure a lot of young women and girls out there will be able to relate or learn from it. 

Brianna: Thank you, thank you for having me. Uhm yeah, it’s good to talk about my experience and something to learn out of it. But yeah, just a note to all teenage you go through shit. I mean I’ll tell you that but like you have to keep your head up the only way for you to support your little one is to continue to be strong even though, I mean we know Ni-Vanuatu women are considered as strong women so yes. That definition is true, we are strong. So, we just have to be strong for our little ones, so that they can also be strong for themselves.  

Elsie: As always, we love to leave you with good information to take away from each episode. The education system specifically schools need to start implementing policies that support these young girls who fall pregnant while in school. These young mothers should feel supported and their education taken seriously, they shouldn’t be excluded. Families who find themselves in these situations where their daughters, or their niece has fallen pregnant need to continue to support, love and care for them. Like Brianna mentioned, “a family’s love and support contribute to her growth.” Our country also needs to start investing in facilities and programs that support teenage mothers especially those who see themselves going back to school. We’ve got other resources and links which you’ll find in our show notes. That brings us to the end of another episode. We hope this conversation has opened your mind to the importance of providing meaningful support to young mothers especially those who are still on their journey of completing their education. As always, thanks for listening to the round table.  

Conclusion 

E: Make sure to check us out on Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok as Sista Vanuatu and our website sista.com.vu. This is Elsie, from the RoundTable. If you want to hear from The RoundTable podcast, make sure to tune to the next episode.