I felt the sun blazing through the one window of the classroom. Sweat ran down my arms and legs, onto the dirt floor. This was even hotter than our August classrooms in the United States.

In Tanzania, the heat lasts all year. For me, it would take some getting used to. I had come to visit a program sponsored by Pathfinder International for girls my age, teenagers, where they share their experiences, get support, build self-confidence and learn about their health.

All around me sat 30 girls in matching blue and white uniforms, packed together in plastic chairs. Many were shy, smiling nervously and giggling, intrigued by the people that had come to visit. I met the eyes of one girl. Her name was Yusta. Something made me want to know more about her.

“I got pregnant when I was 15,” said Yusta, sharing her story with me. “For seven months, I hid it from everyone. Then my family and teachers found out. My brothers beat me. My family chased me away.” Yusta was forced out of school. And her pregnancy could have killed her. “I needed a lot of blood. I had to stay at the hospital for weeks.”

It was hard for me to imagine going through that—becoming pregnant before finishing high school. And then becoming a mother. Yusta was forced to grow up so fast. She had to find ways to make a living. She wanted to create a better life for her son. Yet, she was still a teenager. She hadn’t had a chance to just be a young woman and finish high school. Then she learned of a support program sponsored by Pathfinder.

Yusta supporting other Tanzania teens as a peer educator.

Yusta shared more of her story. After joining the support program, she went on to become a peer educator to help others. “After that, I went back to my village and started my own support group for young mothers,” said Yusta. “And I returned to school. I convinced my parents to watch my son. Last year, I took my Form 2 test, and I passed!” Yusta said.

“I want to be a doctor, not because I think I’m really smart, but because I want to save more lives and help others.” Yusta’s pride showed in her smile; a smile that lifts up other girls, including me.

On hearing Yusta’s story, I had so many things I wanted to say. I wanted to tell Yusta how smart, capable, and inspiring she is. But feeling a bit shy, I just smiled. And Yusta smiled back.

I was glad Yusta had been helped to go back to school and that she was inspiring other young women who had become mothers while still in their teens. She inspired me too.