Sex workers have been working together to fight for their rights, in what they call “umoja ndio nguvu” (unity is power), a popular slogan in KASH.
‘Sote Tupambazuke’(Let’s all arise) is one such group who work together to help each other live positively. “When I tested HIV positive in 2005, I told myself that I wouldn’t die”. Said Sylvia chairlady of the group.
Sote Tupambazuke was formed and registered in 2009 to offer support to HIV positive sex workers after Sylvia and a few others realized that there was need to reach out to HIV positive sex workers.
The group faced challenges at the onset and their number has reduced from the initial twenty members to nine. “We are comfortable with this number. We would rather have few but committed members.” Added Sylvia
In 2010, with the help of KASH, Sote Tupambazuke got funding from AMREF which they used to buy chairs and a tent which they hire to empower their group. They hold health talks every week focusing on behavior change and offer home based care to their sick counterparts. The group has been trained on table banking, under the Care Kenya program where members make weekly savings, and give loans to each other at low interest rates.
Sote Tupambazuke had applied for the women enterprise loan, which they are repaying at no interest. Through these loans, each member of the group runs a business. Sylvia says that these businesses support them and they do not fully depend on sex work for a living.
In addition, they have maintained the ‘no condom, no sex’ KASH policy in efforts to fight HIV.
‘Sote Tupambazuke’ aims to buy a plot and build rental businesses premises. ‘Plans are underway’. Said a confident Sylvia. They have refused to let the society deter their efforts and strong will for a better life.
‘Cool ladies’ is another sex workers group. They come from Otonglo an area that is densely populated, has numerous pubs and youthful girls working as sex workers. This area is also known for the track drivers who stop by while on transit to have sex making HIV prevalence high.
After training with KASH ‘cool ladies’ was formed in 2011 to support sex workers who were harassed by police and today has a membership of 14 young, energetic and dedicated ladies.
The group is led by KASH trained peer educators and conducts health talks weekly. They also make referrals and do outreach during which they distribute condoms and lubricants to sex workers and MSMs.
They received funding for salon equipment, under a UNDP program. They now run a thriving salon business which they say has helped them keep off risky sexual behaviors. However, it was not easy for their business to pick up because of the ‘bad’ name they had been tagged by the community.
Today, they offer hairdressing training to locals and have employed an MSM in their barber shop. They plan to build their capacity and get a proper curriculum for their hairdressing training school. They also wish to grow into a rehabilitation center where they will offer hairdressing training for the underage girls’ who are sex workers and those who don’t go to school due to poverty.
‘Cool ladies’ say they want to be a source of hope for the hopeless. “Because we believed, we are here today”.