Reintegrating Young Sex Workers Into Academic and Skills Training

DETERMINED, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS), “that’s exactly how I feel right now as a young sex worker,” said Rosaline a 19 year old sex worker from Sakubva in Mutare.

By Michael Gwarisa in Mutare

Rosaline is amongst some of the many beneficiaries of the DREAMS initiative which is being implemented by the Family Aids Caring Trust (FACT) through support  from USAID and PEPFAR in three districts in Manicaland province namely Mutare, Makoni and Chipinge.

Having been raised by a single mother in a family of four and with her being the eldest, Rosaline found herself venturing into sex work early so as to complement her mother’s vending job whose income was insufficient.

I never wanted to be a sex worker, it all started  in 2017 after I had fallen in love with my boyfriend. We loved each other so much to the extent that I ended up taking all my wares and stuff to my boyfriend’s place and he would give me money in return. I would even lie to my mom that i would have sold everything knowing very well that i would have spent the day with my boyfriend.

“Trouble started when I fell pregnant one and half years ago. Everything changed and my boyfriend just vanished into thin air, I don’t even know his whereabouts as we speak. My mother sent me away and I lived on the streets briefly before a certain women took me in and introduced me to sex work,” she said.

Since Rosaline didn’t have any money for survival and for her baby’s preparation, she had no choice but take up the sex work offer.

“Even though I was pregnant, I had no choice, I had to eat and my child needed preparatory clothes. I sold sex despite the fact that I was pregnant and since then I  never looked back.”

Her baby is now a year and half old. Through the DREAMS initiative, Rosaline has managed to enroll back in school and in 2020, she will be sitting for her Ordinary Level exams.

“I want to be a lawyer, I feel that is where my strength lies. I had become so addicted to sex work but due to the busy school schedule,  I now have to focus more on my books and less on sex work. It is my hope that one day I stop sex work and focus on mapping a carrier path that is sustainable and does not expose me to the risk of HIV and STIs,” said Rosaline.

Most young girls in Zimbabwe find themselves engaging in sex work due to a plethora of factors many beyond their control. For young girls below the age of 16 who find themselves at risk of commercial sexual exploitation, the consequences can be catastrophic.

Adolescent girls and young women account for a disproportionately high number of new HIV infections in Zimbabwe and around the world. According to the UNAIDS: HIV and women report which was released early this year, Zimbabwe has 780 000 girls infected with HIV mainly due to growing poverty, unemployment and other economic hardships

Through the DREAMS program, girls like Rosaline have been offered a lifeline and an opportunity to pursue their dreams and aspirations as well as evade HIV infection by availing  themcomprehensive Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) information and resources. Even though they are still into sex work, they are empowered to make choices that prevent them from contracting the HIV virus, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and unintended and unwanted pregnancies.

The young girls are allowed to choose between an academic and or occupational training. The DREAMS initiative falls under  FACT’s Safeguarding and sustainable livelihoods pillar which seeks to mitigate the impact of HIV and AIDS by providing comprehensive continuum of services to Zimbabwe’s orphaned and vulnerable children in a sustainable way.

The program has three projects namely, Children Tariro with an OVC and DREAMS component targeting Adolescent Girls and Young Women, Expanded Impact Program and Livelihoods. Children Tariro (CT) project provides a critical continuum of care and is earmarked to contribute to epidemic control through social-economic interventions that reduce vulnerability to HIV and AIDS. The goal of DREAMS is to help girls develop into Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe women.

Lindsay (23) who is also a young sex worker from Sakubva and Beneficiary of the DREAMS and Children Tariro both of which are FACT programs, says she has benefited immensely from the interventions which have seen her enrolling as an Auto Mechanic at Mutare Poly Technical College while her child is also being sent to school by the Children Tariro project.

“I was asked whether I want to go back to school or enroll for a course and I opted to become an auto electrician. I am now an auto electrician by profession. I can now make my own money without relying solely on sex work. I have also been initiated on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxes (Prep) so I am now prevented when it comes to my other profession of sex work.

My child is also being sent to school through the Children Tariro project. This means I can work at the garage without having financial pressures that will push me into full time sex work. I don’t need to rely on anyone to make it or survive,” said Lindsay.

Under the DREAMS initiative, adolescent girls and young women are  provided with a core package of services that includes HIV testing, pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis, prevention and gender-based violence support, family planning, social protection, educational subsidies, and economic assistance for parents and caregivers of highly vulnerable girls.

The DREAMS initiative was launched in 2015 as an ambitious  partnership to reduce new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women by 40 percent in ten sub-Saharan countries, including Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, FACT Education Officer for Mutare District,  Fiona Karumbidza said they have come up with a non-formal kind of learning for their beneficiaries which they feel is comfortable and free of stigma and discrimination.

“We ensure that school attendance for these girls is above 80%. Our aim is to retain these girls so that they stay longer in school and avoid risky behavior. We are working with girls who had dropped out of school because of different reasons including those who had gone into Sex Work, the orphaned and vulnerable children (OVCs).

“When a child fails to attend classes, we usually send a community volunteer we work with.”That’s either a child care worker, village worker and a trained psychosocial Support teacher (PSS) who conducts home visits to find the reasons behind them being absent. We follow up and update in the students individuals case file,”  said Karumbidza.

FACT also offers school fees payment,  a stationery package and also an examination fee for six subjects at ordinary level .

She added that they work hand in hand with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC), Ministry of Women Affairs and the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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