Enriching the lives of sex workers

The Sunday Mail

Garikai Mazara

Meet Getty, Mona and Tasha, three sex workers who find themselves in almost unifying and similar circumstances yet they are the very difficult and different situations that have made them resort to the world’s oldest profession.

Getty is the ravaging 22-year-old that will, at any time of day, fix the electrics of either your car or yourself (provided you are prepared to pay for either service).

Tasha is the 19-year-old mother-cum-student-cum-sex worker who is struggling to weave her life around the three equally demanding roles.

Mona has been in the trade for more than two decades now and at 42, she reckons it is time to retire.

As much as they are from differing and difficult backgrounds, the three’s initiatives collide (for want of a better word) when they become peers in the DREAMS initiative, a peer-to-peer programme that seeks to educate, empower and emancipate sex workers in Mutare.

Under the DREAMS initiative, adolescent girls and young women are being 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.

Empowering adolescent girls and young and strengthening family and community support structures are critical to stopping the spread of HIV.

The initiative is co-ordinated by the National Aids Council in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Child Care and other ministries and supported by USAid and PEPFAR.

Whilst all of the trio’s stories are teary to listen to, it is Tasha’s story, who became a sex worker at the tender age of 15, that makes for sad listening and reading.

In 2015 she dropped out of school because her mother, a single mother, could no longer afford her fees and she took to fruit vending to raise the fees instead.

It was during the vending escapades that she met a boyfriend, whom she mistook for a “blesser”, and assumed he would take her out of misery.

The boyfriend, upon learning that she had fallen pregnant, ran away from all responsibility. Consequently, she was to be chased away from home by her mother, “as she didn’t want me to spoil my sisters as I am the eldest”.

Faced with the daunting task of having to look after a baby and paying for her own rent, she had to resort to the oldest profession in the world.

But the initiation was somehow laboured. “I had had sex with this one guy that I so loved with all my heart and to think that I was faced with the prospect of selling my body for survival was a culture shock for me. It was a tough decision to make and I had to make it.”

But why didn’t she consider vending, her initial survival engagement? “I tried going back to selling fruits and vegetables but many-a-time my stock would rot before selling it. Besides I was not making much, much to keep myself and my baby going. So selling sex was the only route that could take us out of our imminent poverty.”

It was during the course of her sex work that she came across a social worker from CeSHHAR, which specialises in HIV/Aids prevention. After listening to her story, the CeSHHAR social worker passed her on to Family Aids Caring Trust (FACT), an implementing partner of the DREAMS initiative.

DREAMS, which encourages adolescent women to be determined, resilient, empowered, Aids-free, mentored and safe, is one of the several other initiatives by FACT that seeks to reaffirm dignity for girls aged between 14 and 24.

It is through this initiative that Tasha was enrolled back into school to achieve her dream of becoming a doctor. “I have always wanted to be a lawyer but after coming face-to-face with the issues of HIV and Aids, I have since changed my mind to want to become a doctor.

“Through the sessions that I have had with CeSHHAR and my exposure to DREAMS, I have been empowered on how to negotiate for safe sex so that I keep myself HIV-negative. Basically, no condom no sex for me, even if the client is offering a premium. It is my life that matters the most.”

Tasha, who maintains her sex work to keep her young family going, goes to school in the morning till mid-afternoon, after which she undertakes motherhood chores, before taking on her night-time duties.

“No-one at my school knows that I live three lives, being a mother, a student and a sex worker and I hope no-one finds out. For the time being I am coping with the demands of the three roles and come November, I hope to do well and proceed to A-Level.

“Everyone deserves a second chance in life and now that I have had my second chance I wouldn’t want it to go to waste. The next time you are going to be meeting me, I should be changing someone’s life, helping someone get their second chance.”

Getty, apart from her ravaging beauty, is a bubbly character, two characteristics that she maximises in her sex work.

“I got into sex work by a making which was not my own. After experimenting with sex at a very tender age, I was left to fend for my baby as the father ran away and I don’t even know where he is,” she started off her narration.

Dropping out of school in Form 2 to fend to the baby, Getty has since returned to school and passed her O-Levels and proceeded to a polytechnic college where she qualified as an auto-mechanic.

But why would she still bother with sex work when she is a qualified auto-mechanic? “I don’t have my personal tools as I cannot afford to buy the full set. And even if I do have the set, I am yet to be established to run a commercially successful enterprise, what I am doing in mainly part-time auto-mechanics, which cannot meet my young family’s financial needs.”

Her son is doing Grade 3 and FACT pays the fees.

“I am a DREAMS ambassador and my personal dream is to see girls who find themselves in circumstances similar to mine emancipated, they need to be empowered to make safe sexual decisions. As a DREAMS ambassador I reach out to the sex workers and teach them on the virtues of negotiating for safe sex.”

Whilst Tasha and Getty have been fortunate to be HIV-negative, the script changes for 42-year-old Mona who has been trading her body for the better half of her life.

“I am HIV-positive and this is information that I openly share with my clients. I know that the drive has now moved to 95-95-95 and this is a target that I want to be part of, I am playing my part.

“As much as I am HIV-positive, I don’t engage in unprotected sex, I know that the risk lies not only with my client but with me as well, as I can get re-infected. So I will be protecting both of us.”

FACT is also paying fees and buys uniforms for Mona’s child, for which she is grateful: “Besides helping me with my child’s education, we get invaluable sex education through the DREAMS initiative and this is information that I am always keen to share with my peers and clients.

“As Tasha told you, if there is no condom, there is no sex, no matter how much the client is prepared to pay. There is value that one can put to life”.