Charity Stephens: Founder and executive director of New Beginnings Malawi. By Faith Kaunde

Image taken from The Nation

Charity Stephens is founder and executive director of New Beginnings Malawi.

This is a local organisation that supports expectant girls, young mothers and adolescent girls in difficult and abusive situations.

Stephens herself is mother to a six-year-old daughter and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communications from African Bible College (ABC).

Her organisation works with young women below 25 years old from peri-urban areas of Lilongwe with a desire to expand to other districts in the country, where their services are equally needed.

Stephens says her aim was to create employment opportunities for young mothers and adolescent girls by training them in different vocational skills so that they can use the skills to start small-scale businesses.

“We are helping to improve the mental health of young women in Malawi as we provide our beneficiaries with psychosocial support through trauma counselling to help them deal with any pain they’ve been subjected to. We also have a life skills programme, which includes human rights awareness, gender based violence (GBV) education and awareness.

“We also connect our girls to service providers such as legal departments, hospitals and police. Part of it is also sexual reproductive health rights education so that they have the right information to help them make informed decisions when it comes to sexual relations,” she says.

On top of that, the organisation also has an early childhood development (ECD) programme where children of the young mothers are taken care of while their mothers are in school.

New Beginnings also has a feeding programme which provides lunch for both mothers and their children every day.

It also educates communities on changing negative narratives and stereotypes on continued victimisation and stigma against young mothers.

Stephens says her personal experience as a young and single mother is what motivated her to start New Beginnings.

“I got pregnant out of wedlock when I was 21 and I faced a lot of challenges. Apart from being judged on how I had ended up in that situation, some people went as far as labelling me a prostitute and a shame for what I had done. My situation eventually worsened as I ended up out of university, homeless, financially lacking and cohabiting with the father of my child who, unfortunately, was physically and psychologically abusive towards me,” she says.

She adds that there were other people around her, especially from her church, who were willing to support her and she was able to leave an abusive situation, return to school to finish her degree and find healing from the trauma that had affected her for a long time.

“Surviving this ordeal made me realise there are many other young mothers just like me across Malawi who are facing the same pain and rejection, and need support which isn’t readily available. And so, New Beginnings was started in 2017 so that I could reach out to others whose stories are like mine,” says Stephens.

She adds that what she enjoys the most about working with New Beginnings is knowing that the organisation gives hope to young mothers.