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40 Former Commercial Sex Workers Benefit From Grants To Start Own Businesses.

There is a common argument those women and girls who indulge in prostitution do so by choice with some people even arguing out that it is a female sexual liberation and a way for women to give full expression to their deepest sexual fantasies. However, there is another school of thought who say that some women become involved in prostitution due to homelessness, child sexual abuse, trauma, previous sexual violence, drug and alcohol misuse, money pressures and poverty.

The church in Kenya is known to condemn and castigate these group of people and at no given time are they welcome to be among the congregation due to their ‘sinful’ nature. Majority of our people too perceive commercial sex work to be a disgraceful act that takes away the meaning of s3x. It is believed that these girls are primarily the reason for the rampant sexually transmitted diseases.

In Kenya, it is generally considered a taboo and despite being illegal, it still thrives.

Anyway, studies have shown that about 70% of these women seek to exit prostitution, often taking several attempts to do so. However, exiting is dependent on the consistent support they receive across the services and accessibility of those ‘helping’ services, in maintaining that departure.

One church, New Hope Church International, through their involvement with Wapate Initiative, heard the cry of these commercial sex workers who were going through hell in the streets of Thika and decided to offer hope to them and their families.

“When we heard their heart-breaking stories during our first meeting with them, we just felt moved to do something. And I believe that is what the church is all about. The church is a healing centre that should be engaging the community where it hurts to bring about healing and hope,” said Gloria Azikiwe, the lead pastor.
Pastor Azikwe talking to the press during the Launch of  'Street Off Ministry'.
 At the YMCA Grounds Thika, New Hope Church launched the ‘Street Off Foundation’ that seeks to empower ex-commercial sex workers who want to leave the streets and get alternative means of income. Each group of these reformed commercial sex workers will undergo a one-year programme that will see them go through spiritual nourishment, counselling, business training and actually running their own businesses.

“For the last six months, we have been in the process off empowering them in diverse ways, counseling them, walking the journey of transformation with them and finally we are today launching this initiative to see them walk through their new life in legitimate business. There are those among them here who also would want to go back to school,” she said.

According to Pastor Azikwe, the journey has not been smooth sailing for majority of these new converts. Many of them were really broken and into drugs when they came to the session. But with time, they went through counselling sessions, helping them heal from the trauma and experiences into accepting themselves.
She said that many of these women would receive business grants averaging sh. 50,000 adding that they were doing this in phases so as avoid overwhelming these new entrepreneurs into failure of making it in business.

“We want to walk with them all through their journey. Basically, we probably won’t be handing them direct money but we will be taking them to the source, help them buy the goods, rent out business premises for them so that they can eventually begin their business. We want to avoid a situation where one is tempted to spend the seed capital and eventually finding themselves back to the streets again,” said Azikwe.

Emmy Linn Kelly, an American pastor in Carolina said that it was a privilege to be in Kenya to celebrate the launch of ‘Street Hope Ministry’ and to see the beneficiaries of their initiative start a new life.
Pastor Emmy from New Hope Church in America.
“We understand that there is such a large need to empower women and a few men who are on the streets but really need to start a new life. We are here today to celebrate as they begin their journey in entrepreneurship and provide for their families in a healthy safe and positive way,” said Pastor Emmy.

Unfortunately, majority of those who had resolved to quit the trade were the older ladies who had seen it all and were only looking for a way out of the streets. The young commercial sex workers were still feeling that this was just an alternative means of livelihood.

“Many of the young ladies still feel not ready to get out of the trade. The majority of those who have come here are those who stayed in the trade for years and have seen the worst of experiences and came to a point where they have reached the end,” said Azikwe.

Elizabeth Wanjiru from Kiandutu slums was all praises as she recalled her previous life and the new hope that the church had brought into her life. She said that during her previous life, she had seen the best and the worst of this trade.

“I am happy that they have helped me reform and get to the church. Previously, it didn’t matter to me what or who I slept with as long as they had the money. It is hell out there. At times these men use you and instead of paying for the services I had offered they would attack you and beat you up. I have seen so many of my friends get killed or died of HIV/AIDS,” she said.

She appealed to those who were still in the streets to come and join them as there was hope in this new life.

Another beneficially, Catherine Muthoni, who has been in the business since the year 2013 agrees with Wanjiru that commercial sex workers undergo very many challenges in the course of their work. She thanks God that she is now out of the streets.

She begged all those who were about to indulge with this trade to think otherwise as this was like booking a ticket to hell.

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