Sex Workers Take Different Road

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK In a highly encouraging initiative, a group of former prostitutes fed up with the sex trade recently approached the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN) with a plea for help and their prayers were promptly answered when the CCN offered to assist them. Without hesitancy, the CCN heeded their appeal for help by launching a Home Based Care (HBC) Training Program that got underway in Windhoek yesterday. With the Stand Together organisation, a group consisting of 35 erstwhile sex workers joined hands with the faith-based organisation to form one of Namibia’s unique partnerships aimed at empowering marginalised members of society. Officially launching the HBC programme yesterday, the Vice-Chairperson of the National Council (NC) Margreth Mensah-Williams commended the CCN and particularly the sex workers for wanting to help themselves after getting tired of selling their bodies on the street and their desire to rather find decent ways of making a living for themselves. “Prostitution has become a desperate survival tactic for the poor as they have no other alternative. But now with this programme, they are today being given an alternative to change and become agents of change,” she explained. It turns out that out of desperation to look after their children and pay their municipal accounts, most of these women turn to prostitution as a source of income. However, since more than 75 percent of the 1 230 women are HIV-positive, the programme will train the former sex workers in HBC to take care of those infected with the virus while at the same time luring those already in the sex industry to move away from the industry. “About 75 percent of sex workers are HIV-positive, but very few go out for help because Namibians are very judgemental,” added Mensah-Williams. The parliamentarian said this situation prevails despite the fact that over 90 percent of Namibians are Christians and should have a culture of caring and sharing with others. However, during the next two weeks, the 35 women of Stand Together will be undergoing a two-week Home Based Care Training Programme which will further give them the skills to help those in their neighbourhood. Programme Officer in the Faith, Justice and Social Unit of CCN Ludwig Beukes reiterated that the women can now be-come agents of change for others in similar desperation situations to follow in their footsteps. “There are still others out there selling their bodies and that is very dangerous,” said Beukes, adding that based on the success of the two-week programme, there are plans to introduce other income generating projects for the sex workers. According to Beukes, the just concluded basic computer , plumbing and hair-dressing courses would give trainees a small allowance and three meals a day to stop them from going back to the streets. Help has also been streaming in for the women of Katutura’a informal settlements under the Stand Together organisation. Just last month, the Ministry of Health and Social Services donated N$85 000 to the organisation for self-help projects. The HBC project was made possible with funds from the Global Fund. Depending on the success of the project, it may also be rolled out to other areas of the country such as Oshikango and Walvis Bay where prostitution is rife. On their part, however, the former sex workers were grateful for the efforts made by CCN to get them out of their desperate situation of abject poverty, saying this would ultimately mean being able to feed their children and their own survival.