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Tasintha sets Zambia's sex workers on a better path

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Sarika Bansal

(Read caption) A Tasintha member models a necklace she created. Tasintha helps young women in Zambia learn trades from tailoring and catering to jewelrymaking, giving them a way out of the sex trade.

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“I never thought I would become the woman I am today,” says Constance, as she slowly beaded a necklace. “I was a bad character before.”

Constance (a pseudonym), aged 24, speaks matter-of-factly about her teenage years as a sex worker on the streets of Lusaka, Zambia. She entered the world through peer pressure and remained in it for several years. “I would see four, sometimes five clients a day,” she says. “It’s difficult unless you also do some drugs.”

Soon after Constance’s 18th birthday, in 2006, a representative from Tasintha visited the street where she would often pick up clients. Tasintha, which means “deep transformation” in the Chewa language, is a nonprofit organization that helps prostitutes reform their lives. The organization started in 1992 with the hope of curbing the HIV pandemic. Since then, it has touched the lives of more than 6,000 sex workers in four locations in Zambia.

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The first step in Tasintha’s approach is recruitment. Volunteers – many of whom are reformed sex workers – visit the bars and streets where sex workers
often line up for clients on weekend nights.

Conversations start casually. “We don’t tell the girls that we don’t like what they are doing,” says Clotilda Phiri, the organization’s coordinator. “And you usually have to go back several times. Some of them can be quite nasty. Over time, some will start to tell you that they’re not happy.”

When Tasintha first approached Constance, she was skeptical but intrigued.Several days later, she decided to visit the office to find out more. She learned that Tasintha offers psychological counseling, spiritual healing, educational support, and practical trainings in a range of income-generating activities. International donors, including The Global Fund, provide anti-retroviral drugs to women living with HIV.

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