I didn't know, but now I see.
Sometimes what is, is meant to be.
You saved me.
"I became pregnant when I was 17 years old. I was in my last year of high school. It was something...I don't know...that I couldn't believe. How could I do this? I've worked so hard. Seventeen years old and pregnant..." - Jareli
I remember the day that Jareli called me to tell me she was pregnant. My heart sunk and I couldn't believe it. Not Jareli. Not my Jareli. Not the little girl who I'd known since she was nine years old. Not the smart, driven and passionate young woman who was fighting so hard for a better future. Please, not Jareli.
In all the time I have spent here in Nicaragua, the countless stories of young girls just like Jareli are the ones that affect me the most. The stories of young girls whose childhoods are cut short. The stories of young girls who will have to face the challenges of motherhood without so much as a high school diploma (and for some, without even finishing primary school). The stories of young girls who will be left alone to fend for themselves and their new baby because dad decides it "is not his problem." The stories of young girls who very quickly learn the meaning of sacrifice, laying aside their own hopes and dreams to take care of a precious new life.
As I sat and watched Waitress a few months ago on Broadway, the idea for this photograph came in an instant. Jenna, the protagonist of the show, reminded me of these girls from Nicaragua in so many ways. She finds herself in the midst of an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy and, what's worse, with an abusive husband by her side. Her passion for baking brings her comfort and solace, but at the same time, it reminds her that the dreams she once had for her life have slowly slipped away, and as she faces motherhood, she realizes that they just might be gone forever.
...For the girl that I knew who'll be reckless just enough, who'll get hurt, but who learns how to toughen up. When she's bruised and gets used by a man who can't love and then she'll get stuck and be scared of the life that's inside her....
Nicaragua has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Latin America, with almost 30% of girls giving birth before the age of 18 and almost 50% before the age of 20. The reasons for this are extensive, but the most common are sexual abuse, lack of access to birth control and little to no access to sex education. The machismo culture of Nicaragua only perpetuates a cycle that undermines even the most basic human rights of adolescent girls.
At the end of Waitress, Jenna gives birth to a baby girl named Lulu and as she gazes at the new life in her arms, she feels something that she hasn't felt in a long time...hope. With this new life, comes a fresh start, a chance to begin again. The love that she feels for her child renews her determination to work towards a better life for both of them and also gives her the strength to leave her abusive relationship once and for all.
The statistics on teenage pregnancy are devastating, but much like the other social issues I have covered in this blog, there is always hope. I see things changing everyday here in Nicaragua and although the progress may be slow, it only gives me that much more of a reason to continue fighting for these girls. As an organization, Teatro Catalina helps adolescent girls develop the confidence to resist peer pressure, while grounding them in a network of role models who can provide the mentorship and encouragement they need to persevere on their path to a different future.
In the blink of an eye, there's a new life in front of my face.
And I know in due time, every right thing will find its right place.
"The day that my daughter was born was a great day. I thought to myself 'this [baby] is something that came from me, my fruit. She came to change my life...'" - Jareli
This is the moment I wanted to capture in this the photograph...redemption. Jareli as Jenna and her daughter as Lulu, baking together in their "diner." I love the way that our photographer, Edgard, so brilliantly brought this photo to life. The smoke from the wood burning stove, the flips flops, the avocados on the shelf...these are the details that bring us to rural Nicaragua. As Jareli looks at her daughter, you can see the pride in her eyes and the motivation to continue dreaming of a better life for herself and her children. And, of course, the image is complete as Jenna's pies become Jareli's tortillas.
Photo by: Edgard Buenas
Go behind-the-scenes of our Waitress-inspired photo and learn more about Jareli's journey. We cannot thank Jareli enough for having the courage to tell her story.