A mother to teenage moms
When Rosemary Rodriguez began visiting teenage mothers at a hospital on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast, she did not expect to find that an average of more than 500 girls, aged between 11 and 16, from Umgababa to Mtwalume, a stretch of land less than 80km long, would fall pregnant each year.
Her organisation, Ethembeni (Give Hope), helped 581 schoolgirl mothers last year.
"Every year the number seems to get higher," Rodriguez said.
Two months ago, provincial education MEC Senzo Mchunu said that there were 17260 pregnancies recorded by KwaZulu-Natal schools last year.
Rodriguez said the number of pregnant schoolgirls was "getting out of hand".
"These young girls are being taken advantage of by men. They do not have support systems, such as older women, to teach them about protection," she said.
"The girls, some of whom are from model C schools and middle-class homes, are getting caught up in sexual relationships that they do not realise might be dangerous to their future."
Last year, Rodriguez met an 11-year-old from Umkomaas who had been impregnated by her 19-year-old mentally ill neighbour.
"It was a horrendous situation. It was a middle-class family. The girl's body was not even mature enough to have a baby," she said.
"When she did have the baby, she was so confused, and still is.
"Her parents are shattered and are now parents to the new baby because their daughter is still a little girl."
Rodriguez founded Ethembeni when her husband, a doctor at GJ Crookes Hospital, on the south coast, introduced her to teen moms.
"I used to meet my husband for lunch daily and he used to be quite upset about the teenage girls who had given birth days before but had no clothes for their babies and no one to fetch them from the hospital.
"So I began visiting these girls and started to drop them off at their homes and then put them in touch with social workers."
But Rodriguez had to do more.
"When I went to these girls' homes, I was shocked.
"In one home, the teenage mother was the only parent to her siblings. The children slept on bricks covered in cardboard. There was no food and the children were starving," she said
Rodriguez began to help the teenage mothers from her own pocket and later appealed to the community for donations.
"We have people who come forward with baby clothes and milk.
"People just pull together and give what they can."
Ethembeni also tries to get teen mothers back in school.
"We believe education is extremely important so we take the girls to Social Welfare. We get them talking to social workers.
"We find out what their problems are and how we can help. We then try our best to make sure that these girls have a good support base, and we even counsel their parents."