SFH gives former sex workers, school dropouts new lease of life

Justine (not real name), an orphan, dropped out of school at age 13 in primary six, after she was, apparently, abandoned by her guardian.
Some of the former commercial sex workers undergo  hair-dressing lessons at the centre in Musanze District.   The New Times/ Ivan Ngoboka.
Some of the former commercial sex workers undergo hair-dressing lessons at the centre in Musanze District. The New Times/ Ivan Ngoboka.

Justine (not real name), an orphan, dropped out of school at age 13 in primary six, after she was, apparently, abandoned by her guardian.

“Raising money to buy pens and books alone became impossible, besides I would go back home hungry to find no food. This is when I decided to quit school,” she says.

For long, it was misery that gave her company, until a friend told her that there was an easier option to live life, and that was prostitution.

“I knew this wasn’t good for my conscience, but for lack of a better option I went for it,” she says, adding that on joining, she started earning good money,  though at a ‘high price’.

“At times you would find yourself having unsafe sex or sleeping with someone terribly drunk, just because they are offering you a good pay,” Justine says.

The former sex worker adds that some people would sleep with her on “credit” promising to pay at a later date, but of course most of them never did.

Then one day, luck dawned on her and a fellow commercial sex worker told her about a free six-month vocational course that targets girls in her trade and school dropouts.

The course was being offered at the Anglican Church Youth Centre called “Centre Dushishoze.”

SFH has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Anglican Church of Musanze District.

“She said we could join together and, reluctantly, I did.”

Trainees are 30 in total, of whom 15 are out of school you and 15 former sex workers. Justine   is among the trainees at the Centre supported by Society for Family Health (SFH) in the district. The programme is funded by USAID.

“The females are offered lessons on all types of hair dressing, and then males barber skills, and also pedicure and manicure for both gender,” says Julienne Muhawenimana, one of the tutors.

Justine adds that as a result, people now call her to their homes to work on their  hair, earning a good pay as a result.

James Byiringiro, the SFH Northern team leader, said former  commercial sex workers are engaged to help lure others still in the trade out of it, to join the centre.

 “For school dropouts, district and sector officials are used during the recruitment of both targets groups. With their support, we normally   select youth out of school from   district database.”    

He said SFH does not only stop at giving life skills training, but creating awareness on HIV/Aids prevention and treatment through inter-personal communication approach.

 “The centre also supports by offering free voluntary counselling testing services to the trainees,” he says. 

SFH spends about Rwf600,000 per month on supporting the initiative at the centre—to benefit the key populations; former sex workers and out-of-school youth. This money goes into paying the trainers and buying hair dressing materials and barber equipment.

“Our core mission as social marketers is to help improve the welfare of the masses, and then the other things follow.”

He shares that they make regular follow ups of the graduates to see if they get jobs. This is the second lot of such trainees at the centre. In the first lot, 30 trainees benefited too.

“We are glad that most of last year’s graduates found jobs not only in Musanze but also neighboring districts,” Byiringiro said.

He said plans are under way to help those who graduated form co-operatives, so that SFH can extend start -up capital to them easily.

Also, plans are underway to recruit these trainees into SFH’s network of Community Based Organisations.

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