SFH gives Western Province ex-sex workers a lease of life

After losing all her family to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Claudine Mutungirehe, then barely 18, saw her life suddenly relegated to despair and abject poverty.
SFH has helped Mutungirehe (L) and others cut the yoke of prostitution. The New Times/ Ivan Ngoboka.
SFH has helped Mutungirehe (L) and others cut the yoke of prostitution. The New Times/ Ivan Ngoboka.

After losing all her family to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Claudine Mutungirehe, then barely 18, saw her life suddenly relegated to despair and abject poverty.

Being the kind of girl who had been pampered by her parents, Mutungirehe had grown to abhor work, so looking for a house-keeping job was out of the question.

But amid the challenges she was faced with was added a bigger moral dilemma; her friends would return home with packages after nights out. They were always well-off. It did not take Mutungirehe long to find out how.

But the ‘laziness’ trait in her reared itself and urged her to try that trade that gave one an opportunity to survive without hustling–prostitution.

Mutungirehe would offer her “service” to ‘loaded’ men who in turn could pay her generously. For a short while, she was able to lift herself out of deprivation.

It was not long before she relocated from her home in Huye District in Southern Province to Kibuye town, Western Province, a renowned sex trade hub.

“Being a busy town close to the DR Congo border, this township attracted more than 700 sex workers including Burundians, Congolese and Tanzanians, among others.

After 10 years or so in the “game”, Mutungirehe discovered that sex work was not as easy as she thought; she was still stuck in poverty and misery.

“Money from prostitution is seemingly wrapped in curses. You can never make anything tangible from it,” she says. 

It was not long before Mutungirehe threw in the towel.

Mutungirehe is now the president of Tubusezere Twihangire Imiromo, a 41-member former sex workers’  cooperative in  Kibuye town, Karongi District of Western Province. The cooperative was formed about a year ago with support from Society for Family Health (SFH).

Workshops on HIV/Aids

SFH organises regular workshops where cooperative members are counselled and trained in HIV/Aids prevention and treatment.

“The organisation also helps us access start-up capital for small business enterprises. I am now a proud owner of a lucrative fruits and vegetables stall in Kibuye Market,” she says.

Mutungirehe adds that forming an association has made it easy for them to access loans from banks and also access health insurance (Mituelle de Sante) since it is simpler to pool resources.

Joe Rutayisire, the SFH Western Province team leader, said the training not only aims at enriching the lives of the cooperative members, but also makes them ambassadors to those who are still engaging in the trade .

He said SFH, through its professional inter-personal communicators, reaches out to other prostitutes outside the cooperative, ostensibly to talk them out of the business.

Rutayisire said they still face challenges such as some members  falling back to the practice when economic times bite hard.

“Some of these people have been surviving on prostitution for more than a decade, so it takes time to change their mindset,” Rutayisire said. 

He said victims of relapse cases are counselled before being re-integrated into the community.

“We try to give them success stories of other former sex workers to motivate them in the challenging recovery process,” he added.

The association has also been selected as a community-based distributer of SFH health products such as Prudence and Plasir condoms, which the members sell at affordable rates to residents.

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