Bringing Hope to Unwed Mothers in Rwanda

Anathalié Umugwaneza was nine months pregnant when she interviewed for her current job. For most employers in her home country of Rwanda, her bulging belly would have disqualified her—but at Youth for Christ (YFC), based in the capital city of Kigali, it only added to the 34-year-old psychologist’s appeal. Now a mother of two, including a three-month-old baby boy, Umugwaneza was recently hired to spearhead the organization’s fledgling Crisis Pregnancy Ministry (CPM), which will fill an obvious void in the country’s ability to care for women facing unplanned pregnancies.

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A Christian counselor, Anathalié Umugwaneza has a heart for serving vulnerable women.

Nearly half of all pregnancies among Rwandan women are unintended, according to a 2012 Guttmacher Institute report. Even more alarming is that 22 percent of these unplanned pregnancies end in abortion, although the procedure is legal only in very limited circumstances (rape, incest, forced marriage, or for health reasons). A disproportionate number—about one third—of the country’s abortions occur in Kigali, where the ministry will initially be focused.

Since abortion is mostly prohibited—and with just one doctor per 17,000 Rwandans—“women [seeking abortion] don’t approach doctors or midwives,” says Umugwaneza. Instead, abortions are often performed, illegally and riskily, at home, either by traditional (and untrained) healers or the women themselves, according to the Guttmacher report. This practice explains, in part, why 17,000 Rwandan women are treated each year for abortion-related complications, which are far more likely among poor women. “This shows that we really need CPM in this country,” says Umugwaneza, who clarifies that the center isn’t there to promote unplanned pregnancy or abortion, but rather to share the love of Christ with women and encourage them to choose life.

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Anathalié Umugwaneza opened her home to the LifePoint Rwanda team during their March trip.

It’s not just the legal and medical risks of abortion that motivate the ministry, though. Umugwaneza also hopes to combat Rwanda’s strong stigma against single mothers and women who’ve had an abortion. If you choose either path, “you are no longer accepted in society,” she explains. “Women [who’ve had an abortion] even think that if they were Christian, they are no longer Christian.” Adds Jean Baptiste Mugarura, the national director for YFC Rwanda: “If a girl gets pregnant out of marriage, the family says, ‘Get out of here. Get out of school.’”

In fact, last year, a high-school student at YFC’s Kigali Christian School (KCS) stopped attending—and the staff discovered it was because she was pregnant, and her mother was too ashamed to send her to school. “For most of them, the easy option is to remove this baby and move on,” says Mugarura. But the KCS student chose to have her baby, thanks to counseling and help from the school staff, and is now back in the classroom.

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YFC Rwandas national director Jean Baptiste Mugarura shares a sweet moment with a student on the Kigali Christian School campus.

Stories like this are why the center—which will be given a more welcoming name than CPM—will prioritize providing more than just diapers and baby clothing: Umugwaneza, along with trained volunteers, will offer peer counseling, group support, pregnancy testing, and post-abortion care to an estimated 10 to 20 clients per month. The ministry will also refer women to health care services, including hospitals, centers for sexual abuse victims, and a local clinic run by a Canadian missionary and midwife. Eventually, YFC aims to partner with the police, who could refer potential clients to the center, and start a residential program for women and children in need.

Although young women and teens with unintended pregnancies are the primary target, the ministry will also assist babies, married women with unplanned pregnancies, sexual abuse victims, young fathers-to-be, and women who require post-abortion counseling.

As evidence of the need for such a broad scope of care, Umugwaneza recalls a married woman she met who became pregnant with a baby her husband didn’t want. “Before marriage, the man said, ‘I only need two children,’” Umugwaneza says. When the woman became pregnant with a third child, her husband refused to speak to her. “Now, the lady has a young, beautiful baby, but the husband [still won’t] speak to the wife,” says Umugwaneza. This situation, she explains, demonstrates the necessity of counseling women of all walks of life—single and married, poor and rich, Christian and non-Christian.

With the official launch slated for July, Umugwaneza has a busy few months ahead: recruiting and training volunteers, visiting similar centers in Uganda, and launching an awareness campaign in churches, schools, and hospitals to spread the word about the center. Most pressing, though, is raising the funds to rent an office in Kigali or, eventually, construct a building on the school campus. Currently, Umugwaneza is working out of an office in the KCS administrative building, which lacks the privacy necessary for the ministry. “God willing, we want the ministry to take place on this campus,” says Mugarura, “and it should be a separate space.”

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A proposed site for the Crisis Pregnancy Ministry building on the Kigali Christian School campus

Women from LifePoint’s MOPS group have already donated clothing to the ministry—and now, the CPM team asks for members to prayerfully consider contributing to the ministry’s rent, estimated to be $1,000 per month, plus another $500 for upkeep, or eventually, the construction of a building. To do so, please click here.

Contributed by Laura Tedesco

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