CHURCH elders from Inverclyde say their trip to a project supporting teenage mums in Zambia has been life-changing.

Helen Eckford and Patricia Robertson spent a week visiting the Journeying Together scheme which supports 100 girls and their children.

The pair, who are both retired teachers, taught the girls how to bake biscuits, make cards and how to sew, to help them make goods that they can sell to support themselves.

Helen, of Port Glasgow New Parish Church, said: "Meeting the girls was a wonderful opportunity and a life-changing experience.

“Getting to know them and their stories was humbling - one hug said a thousand words.

“Most of them get up at 5am and walk at least thirty minutes to get to the project.

“They have no breakfast and survive on one meal a day provided by mentors."

Helen, who is a retired teacher, said she was very moved by the story of 19-year-old mum Grace, who was the victim of an attack.

She said: "She called her two-year-old son Innocent because she told me what happened to her is not his fault.

“What happened to her was not her fault either.

“The project will allow her to complete her education and get her life back on track.

“I will carry her story in my heart forever.”

Both Helen and Patricia, of Westburn Church in Greenock, are members of the Church of Scotland Guild, which raised £45,000 for the project, which is based in a township near the capital Lusaka.

The project works to build confidence in the girls, challenge social injustice, and they are given the opportunity to return to school to finish their education or provided with vocational training.

Patricia, who is also a retired teacher, said: “I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Zambia and I met many interesting people including Keith Waddell, the Church’s Mission Partner, who was brought up in Greenock.

“The project is working very well and during our time with the girls we introduced them to games they could play with their children, shared some basic first aid and handed out toothpaste and toothbrushes.

“We took part in basic sewing skills making scrunchies, children’s aprons, biscuit making and card making.

“These skills will enable them to continue to produce items that they could sell to make money for themselves.

“I left Kanyama with a feeling of contentment that this project is working well for the girls and that they had a future to look forward too.”

Karen Gillon, associate secretary of the Guild, said UCZ is doing fantastic work to tackle the vicious cycle of poverty in Kanyama.

She said: “This is a project the Guild is proud to support and we now better understand the lives of the girls and the challenges that they face and the opportunities they are missing out on because society thinks they should leave school and their lives are over.

“The project is helping to ensure that their lives are not over and they can be whatever they want to be with the right support and encouragement.”