My name is Esther, I’m 27 years old and I live with my son of 12 in Mombasa, Kenya. I’m a sex worker. When I started this work at 18, I didn’t like it. My dream was to go to school, but because of lack of money I had to change my plans. In my country sex work is illegal and punishable by law. When you are a sex worker, people will always discriminate against you. Even my own relatives turn their backs on me and are constantly nagging me to quit this work and find an alternative source of income. Being a sex worker has enabled me to support myself and my child. Yet, everywhere I’m confronted with disdainful looks and stigmatisation. Other challenges that sex workers are facing include rape, clients who refuse to pay for services, verbal abuse, and police harassment.

All this made me feel depressed most of the time, but nowadays I’m stronger and I can better stand it. I was in a group of sex workers and we used to meet frequently to gossip and share stories about how clients were mistreating us, and to comfort one another. One day, we got a call from a voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) person based at the Mombasa Roadside Wellness Centre, who requested us to visit them for a chat. This was the beginning of a good story!

It is up to you to build a strong self-esteem

I could participate in a training of the North Star Alliance (NSA) and I became a peer educator. My motivation for the educational work is that I myself found it very dangerous that I lacked safe sex techniques. I want to teach other sex workers that they can lead a disease-free life, and don’t have to die of AIDS. The Wellness Centre is situated along the corridor route in Mombasa and offers affordable health facilities and free medication to truckers in particular. Truckers generally sleep with a lot of different women and practice unsafe sex. I inform sex workers and truckers about safe sex behaviour and I mobilise my colleagues to access health services at the Wellness Centre. Sometimes they go there in groups, sometimes they have individual talks. Whenever my peers face challenges, especially when they are beaten up by clients, I support them and sometimes I have to take them to the hospital.

Moreover, with a group of colleagues I produce and sell soap, so I am also involved in finding a good market for our products. Nowadays, I have better control over difficult situations. When you are a sex worker people will always discriminate against you, but it is up to you to build a strong self-esteem. A sex worker is a worker like any other person. My dream is to lead a good life and give my son the love and attention he needs. Being a sex worker cannot stop you from achieving your ambitions in life!

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