Redefining my calling: Big Joy’s Experience with the SHiPS programme
Big Joy (not her real name) is a sex worker and a single mother of five children. She relocated to Lagos in search of better opportunities to enable her take care of herself and her children after a difficult divorce which left her the sole parent to her children. Big Joy left her children with her mother and relocated to Lagos in search of greener pastures but on arriving Lagos the greener pasture she expected turned out not to be very green. She found it difficult to feed herself and put a roof over her head. While trying to put her life together in the aftermath of her divorce; she met some girls from Benin in Lagos who introduced her to sex work. She has since made enough money from sex work and has relocated her children to Lagos to live with her.
The Strengthening HIV prevention Services for Most-at-Risk Populations (SHiPS for MARPs) project encountered Joy in April 2013 at the location where she practices sex work when the first phase of the project’s behaviour change intervention commenced. This phase aimed to improve the adoption of healthy sexual behaviours and provide opportunities to acquire income generating skills. Joy was recruited and trained as a peer educator. She showed outstanding performance as a peer educator because she was able to mobilise sex workers in her brothel for sessions and she able to satisfactorily transfer knowledge. As a result she was further engaged by the project when the behaviour maintenance intervention phase began.
Her commitment to ensuring success and ownership of the project led to her selection as a lead facilitator in the second phase of the intervention. She dedicates her time to work as a facilitator reaching her peers in the brothel with HIV prevention messages during the day and as a venue outreach staff at night to reach her street-based peers. With Joy’s continuous involvement in the project her self-esteem improved greatly such that she is considering quitting sex work to become a full time facilitator advocating for behaviour change among female sex workers, encouraging them to adopt safer sexual practices that will ultimately lead to the prevention of HIV transmission. Big Joy quips, “For someone like me to become a community based facilitator without certificate, makes me feel so good and accepted by my society.”
The Strengthening HIV Prevention Services for Most-at-Risk Populations (SHiPS for MARPs) project is a five year project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and managed by a consortium of partners. The project primarily focused on populations vulnerable to HIV and AIDS; MARPs and their clients works to prevent new infections by promoting behaviour change through education to increase accurate knowledge, create demand for HIV counselling and testing, consistent condom use and develop appropriate communication intervention to reduce stigma and discrimination.
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