Kenyana’s struggle to give sex workers a decent life

Kenyana speaks during the graduation ceremony for the women who had acquired skills in hairdressing. / Courtesy

Prostitution is a social issue almost everywhere in the world. Few individuals in different countries have come out to do something about it, especially in a loving approach.

Chantal Kenyana is one of the few people that have reached out to sex workers in Rwanda. “Kura,” a ministry that she runs in her home church, Christ Gospel Fellowship in Busanza has gathered about 50 prostitutes and drug addicts since 2017 and tries to help them to a decent life.

Recently, some of these women graduated with skills in hair dressing.

Sunday Magazine’s Hudson Kuteesa sat down with her to find out what it takes to reach out to them, and if they really change, among other interesting questions.

Tell us about yourself and what you do

I am Chantal Kenyana. I was born in 1981; I am married and a mother of 5 children. For three years, God gave me a mission to help women who do shameful works that are not in line with the dignity of us as Rwandans.

My work involves fighting the behavior of prostitution, drugs, and unplanned pregnancies among girls and women.

In normal life, I am a pastor’s wife. I have currently gathered about 50 ladies that were formerly in prostitution and drugs. Their lives are changing. They are ministering in church, and have also learnt tailoring, and making other crafts from which they can earn money and support themselves and their families.

How did you start having zeal for people in such walks of life?

In 2012, I was living in Samuduha in a neighbourhood that had many sex workers. I used to hear them at night at our gate. They used to come and do shameful things from there. One morning when I was mopping, I found my two year old child with a condom. He had picked it and he was pumping it like a balloon.

That is the time I said, “Jesus help me.” I heard a voice in my heart telling me, “Those people need you.” That’s where the vision started.

I knew that God is with me. That’s how I started to go close to those people.

How was your first day of approaching these women?

It was not difficult. One day, about 9 am, when close to ten of them were in a small poor house they had rented. I felt my fear gone, and went there. I felt that Jesus was with me.

I asked them, “Do you know that Jesus loves you?”

Some laughed at me, others told me, “If he loved us, he wouldn’t have allowed our parents to die leaving us destitute. If he loved us, our employers would not have cheated us. All these challenges piled themselves on us and we became what we are.”

Having heard all this, I told them, “He loves you, that is the reason I came to meet you. This shows you that he loves you.”

That is how we started. I had them invited to ‘Umugoroba wabayeyi’ (A Parents’ evening program) and we talked for some time. That time, I did not have resources to support them, but at least we became friends. Some accepted Jesus and they became saved. But I still wanted to get a way of supporting them financially or in other fields of life.

How did they trust you?

It was a miracle. They trusted me, and I started meeting with them every evening. We talked and prayed together.

You started approaching them in 2012. But the programme of supporting them started in 2017. What were you doing in between that time?

I was praying and also trying to get ready. We started in 2017. We started with tailoring. Now they make different things like earrings and hairdressing.

Where do you get support from?

First, Jesus is supporting me. I didn’t start because I had money. I also didn’t have a person whom I had trusted to support me. I did it in faith.

People of these days want to do things because they have money. But even if it is not there, we should do something.

I get support from people that visit the church and get touched with the story of the women. We currently have about 100 sewing machines. These are used to train the women, and others are used by the women to make some money to support themselves and their families.

To what extent is change visible in these women?

They are changed. They serve in church as singers, as part of the prayer team. They are also working and support themselves and families. Four of them have actually even got married.

Are they some who failed to change?

Yes not all are patient enough or agree to change from their previous life. But there are times they refuse and go, but after sometime they come back having seen the improvement in their former colleagues’ lives.

How old are they?

Some are 18, 19, 20 and we have those who are as old as 27.

What do you think makes girls or women go into prostitution?

Many people don’t do such habits as their character.  Many do it because they lack someone to approach them and show them the right thing to do. There are others who do it because it is in their character, but not all of them.

The women I have had chance to meet with have changed.

Is your work registered?

We currently work under the church. But since the numbers have been increasing, we want to register it.

What is your call to the government?

The government is like a parent. They should see someone that has this zeal and give him or her support in order to do more.