Africare News Release
Beneficiaries during a catering practical session at the Vision Hopes Catering Institute, in the community of Kubwa, Nigeria.
Graduates of Vision Hopes Catering Institute with Africare/Nigeria Country Representative, Mrs. Wangari Mwangi (standing, center, light-colored dress).
Getting WISE About HIV/AIDS
Africare Reaches Out to At-Risk Women Through Sex Education and Economic Empowerment Initiative
WASHINGTON, DC, April 2007 — Kelechi, a 17-year-old young woman in Abuja, Nigeria, was faced with a decision of immense difficulty: stay in school, or drop out. School fees were adding up; and Kelechi’s parents, well-to-do only a few years prior, had become unable to fund her schooling past the primary level. Determined to move forward, Kelechi took a job and began working herself through school.
“I got a job as sales girl,” notes Kelechi, now age 23. “I was able to save some money and go back to school to start from S.S.I in boarding school and finish my S.S.III.”
Kelechi successfully funded her way through the equivalent of grade 12 in the United States as a vendor — selling, not food or clothing, but her own body. Despite its illegality, transactional sex is prevalent among many young women in Nigeria.
Recent statistics from the World Health Organization estimate that 29 million individuals in Nigeria are living with HIV/AIDS. Since testing and surveying of the virus among sex workers in Nigeria first began in the late 1980s, it’s been thought that anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of female sex workers in the population carry the HIV virus.
An unsettling statistic noticed by Africare’s East and West Anglophone Regional Director, Dr. Chinwe Effiong. In 2002, Dr. Effiong ventured out to several “red light districts” in Abuja to survey women engaging in commerical sex in order to understand the root of the problem ? and in order to explore ways to provide alternatives.
“Most of the women I met were school dropouts,” began Dr. Effiong. “Many were university students, some employed full-time elsewhere. All, however, were desperate to be heard and understood.”
Dr. Effiong went on to note that the common theme among all the sex workers she interviewed was a desire to break free. Her studies gave birth to the WISE project: the Women’s Initiative for Sex Education and Economic Empowerment. It’s a $1.8 million project implemented by Africare to educate and empower women who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation resulting from social, cultural and economic factors.
Project activities include self-esteem building exercises, providing the women with social support networks, and lessons in how to protect themselves from mental and physical abuse. Additionally, project beneficiaries are given access to reproductive health training and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Finally, each woman is trained in the alternative vocation or career of her choice.
“This includes training in non-traditional vocations like computer technology, in addition to traditional vocations like hairdressing or baking,” noted Effiong. “The goal is to give these women alternate means of income. Each woman is trained in business management and given the necessary equipment to start her own business.”
The WISE program trained just under 2,000 beneficiaries in 2006. Graduation ceremonies are held every six months upon a class’s completion of its vocational training. Most recently, 126 women graduated on December 1, 2006: that is, World AIDS Day 2006. As a result, 126 former street-children, child brides and sex workers are now equipped with the tools necessary to provide a steady income for themselves and their families without having to sell their bodies and thereby put themselves at risk of HIV/AIDS, among other dangers and indignities.
“When given the opportunity and resources, there’s no end to what these young women can and will accomplish,” concluded Effiong.
Africare’s WISE project was launched in December 2004. The project aims to reduce the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS among vulnerable women within Abuja FCT and neighboring Nassarawa and Niger states, all in Nigeria. The success of the WISE program inspired DC-based Celebrating African Motherhood (CAM) organization to launch its own “WISE UP!” campaign to raise awareness and funds for the development of a vocational training center in Abuja. The center will be constructed on 12 acres of land granted by President Olusegun Obasanjo and is hoped to be a prototype for future centers around the continent. For more information on how you can contribute to the CAM campaign, visit http://www.camotherhood.org/beneficiaries.html.