News | 6 Dec 2018
By Leora Casey, Sex Work Specialist
The Sex Work Programme provides tailored peer-centred support to sex workers across South Africa. This includes providing health and human rights information to sex workers and mobilising sex workers for services. Peer educators are the centre of the Sex Work Programme, developing and maintaining relationships with the sex workers. They are truly the unsung heroes of the programme so we wanted to profile a few very special peer educators that are doing an excellent job.
Slindile is one of our stars! She works as a peer educator with Lifeline Durban in Ugu, Kwa Zulu Natal. Slindile is an active sex worker in Ugu and has three children that she cares for, one of these children was abandoned by a member of the community. Slindile loves teaching sex workers how to behave, how to treat clients and keep safe. She teaches sex worker safety tips such as standing in a group on the street and looking after one another, limited use of alcohol, as well as consistent condom use. Slindile believes in encouraging sex workers to improve their lives and look at what they can offer others – one of the sex workers she looks after is now doing volunteer work at the Frail Care home in Bethany. Slindile says that it makes “me feel good that the sex workers can talk to me freely and honestly. I had the same challenges as them before and I am now in a position to help them to get out of their negative space.” Slindile also relaxes by cooking for her children and reading Zulu novels.
Slindile is most happy when she checks her children’s schoolwork and is able to help them. “Seeing sex workers I have encouraged to get services from our nurse also makes me really happy and makes me feel useful.” Slindile would like to be a teacher one day, as she loves teaching others and feels that her facilitation of small groups comes naturally.
Khanyisile works as a peer educator for Centre for Positive Care (CPC) in Rustenburg, North West. She was born in Soweto, Gauteng and has two beautiful children that she looks after. She is an active sex worker and peer educator. To relax, Khanyisile reads a lot of books to gain knowledge.
Khanyisile’s favourite thing about her job is being able to make a difference and assist sex workers with challenges and motivate them to take up services. Khanyisile says that the most important tool in her work is to be open and honest about her own challenges to the sex workers that she is supporting. She likes to accompany the sex workers to the clinic and enjoys being able to advocate for sex worker rights to health and safety. Khanyisile also enjoys building their capacity to advocate for their own rights and deal with the daily challenges of being a sex worker.
“It makes me happy waking up every day knowing I have a job to go to and that sex workers who test HIV positive are being initiated on ART and adhere to their treatment, this really makes me happy because it is the sign that my effort is important, not in vain, and I contributed to make someone’s life better.”
Khanyisile wishes to work hard and become a site coordinator one day so that other sex workers will learn that they too can improve their lives – coming from nowhere to somewhere.
Patricia is a peer educator in Soweto and Lenasia for PHRU. Patricia is also an active sex worker and looks after three boys, which is no easy job! Patricia works a lot as she needs to provide for her family but tries to relax in the middle of each month when it isn’t very busy by hanging out with friends over a few drinks, catching up and having a good laugh.
Patricia is inspired by the work she does. She says: “I love sharing challenges with fellow sex working sisters on knowing their HIV status and how to defend their rights”. When she sees positive changes in the lives of sex workers she helps, she knows she has done some good by seeing them help one another and build a community. Being able to identify with her sisters helps in the work she does as she knows the lives they lead. Assisting sex workers to take control of their health and claim their space makes her feel impactful.
She says that she feels she is making an impact when she can see changes and progress in sex workers lives. Patricia says that being formally employed, earning a decent salary to take care of her boys, makes her proud and happy. Patricia would love to study further to be a paramedic to help more people out there when they need it.