My Story - Peagie Foday, Née Woobay (07.05.71)
I became pregnant at the age of 15. However, I never allowed the pregnancy to doom my future because I was determined, strong and ambitious and wanted to succeed in life. I could not have done so, however, without the support I had from my parents and extended family network. I know I was very lucky indeed because of this support. In contrast, over 90% of pregnant teenage girls in Sierra Leone, especially those from the provinces, do not have that kind of support. My aim in telling my story is to reach out and help girls in such seemingly helpless situations. Furthermore, my story also appeals to parents who find themselves dealing with pregnant teenage daughters not to abandon them but to support their girls by enabling them to go back to school and complete their disrupted education. My Story is in no way intended to encourage teenage pregnancy, but to share my experience with teenage girls in Sierra Leone who get pregnant while in school to know that such an unfortunate and devastating circumstance may not mean the end of their dreams. Unfortunately, and at times tragically, teenage pregnancy marks the end of the dreams of many girls in Sierra Leone to get a better education that will further their dreams and goals to become self-accomplished women. Many pregnant girls are not given second chances in Sierra Leone. Their plight is unlike what they say in the American game of baseball where three strikes and you are out. For teenage girls in Sierra Leone who become pregnant while in school, it is one strike, and they are out. My plan is to educate girls who have had such an experience and their parents to believe that they can have second and other chances and also the needy who find it difficult to educate themselves. I intend to make this plan meaningful by establishing a scholarship fund named Peagie Woobay Scholarship Award Fund that will also provide financial support for girls who may otherwise not have the means to go back to school after their teenage pregnancy.
I was born in the heydays of Sierra Leone’s stability and prosperity (07/05/1971) (10 years after independence) to average Sierra Leonean parents in Kenema, in the part of Eastern Sierra Leone. I was the last of three children—all girls—but the one to get often into trouble. My two sisters Sentho and Yemah were both very loving but with different personalities. My dad, David Woobay, whom we called the “King” was a civil servant, and my mum, Agnes Woobay, née Berewa, whom we called “Aunty” was a schoolteacher. My parents moved to Bo from Kenema when i was 2years old, southern Sierra Leone where I grew up and had my primary school education.
Life in Bo was comfortable and pleasant. But then my dad was transferred to Freetown, the capital city. Once in Freetown, he could not get access to a government quarter even though his transfer had been long confirmed before his departure. So he went to live with his cousin, uncle Joe at the Public Works Department (PWD) quarters, at the back of Pademba Road. With this situation, my mum could not come with him so she stayed in Bo working. My sister Yemah, already in secondary school, was living with Great uncle Solo at Kingtom, Freetown and Sentho in Bo also in Secondary school(UCC). By the time this happened, economic conditions and the standard of living in the country had started to deteriorate. Part of the reason was the country’s hosting of the annual conference meeting of the Organization of African Unity (O.A.U) in Freetown in 1980. Generally, African countries that hosted the conference went into debt or depleted their national reserves to do so. And Sierra Leone was not different. After the conference, the country started experiencing inflation and economic decline.
My father’s move to Freetown coincided with my admission to St. Joseph’s Secondary School for Girls by the best school principal I ever knew, Miss Florence Dilsworth. So I moved with my dad and lived with his cousin at PWD compound. In spite of all this, life remained good though we all missed being together as a family. I thank my late aunty Hannah for the care she gave me, my uncle Joe Genda for always smiling, and my cousin Larry Bassie, ever fun to be with, a real brain, who would study till the wee hours of the morning. He always advised me to study hard and told me that in life in order to succeed we have to work hard.
PWD quarters was a lovely place, a nice neighbourhood with great neighbours some of whom I still remember, for example the Jallo-Jamboriahs, Muhlemanns, Browns, Jawarahs, Iscandris, Frenchs etc. These families had school-going children at about my age. We all went to school together and had fun.
This period was a transition for me in so many ways, including becoming a teenager. I was still an intelligent girl who performed brilliantly at school. But I had started, as a teenager, to discover myself and experiment with new things, for example my impatience to become a full-grown woman. In my country, I would be described as “troublesome” for such acts of self-discovery. But this growing up did not stop at that. I pushed matters further by falling in love with one of my former neighbours at PWD compound, one charming boy he was. So while The King was not around and Aunty, our mother, was in Bo, I became quite naughty by engaging in naughty things that I should not have done or at least prevented myself from doing at that age with this neighbour.
So at 15, just at the age when I was getting ready to take my O’ Levels exams, I got pregnant. I did not even understand that I was pregnant. Of course my periods stopped, and I had read in my school biology textbook by Stone & Cousins that that meant I was pregnant. In Sierra Leone, talking about sex or the sexual organs of the human body to adolescents and teenagers is taboo. There were no classes on sex education or even about our bodies that would introduce us to this part of growing up.