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“Mwanamke Mwenye — Superwoman”, said the 18-year-old holding her young baby; the rest of us replied, “Superwoman — Mwanamke Mwenye.” Chris Rose writes about his recent visit to Amos partner Cheka Sana Tanzania and an update from their StreetBorn programme, working with young women on the streets of Mwanza.
Stories of Hope
Doing Hope in... Tanzania
“Mwanamke Mwenye — Superwoman”, said the 18-year-old holding her young baby; the rest of us replied, “Superwoman — Mwanamke Mwenye.”
I am sitting in Mwanza, Tanzania, with 10 young women. Each is sharing about themselves, and before they do, each one repeats this expression, and we all reply. “Superwoman” is not quite the right translation, as it refers to someone who is robust and strong, and whatever happens, they will get up again and battle on; it is a name they chose for themselves.
Each of these young women is not only a teenage parent; many were also previously involved in commercial sex work (some having contracted HIV) and had faced the struggles and dangers that go along with having to become involved in that trade. However, if you sat here with them today (and I had the privilege of sitting with three of our partners, Cheka Sana Street Born groups for young women such as these), you would never know that that was where they came from.
There are hundreds of young girls there engaged in the sex trade who have been forced there through poverty, domestic abuse and neglect.
They are playing some simple group word games and discussing the challenges and successes of their microbusiness and of looking after their children. As a group, they have made a remarkable and so often seemingly impossible journey from the streets to now, feeling confident of their future and recognising something of their worth, value, and potential. They talk about how much they value the support they receive from the group and the Cheka Sana staff.
Remarkable journeys: Young women play group games with Cheka Sana’s staff and discuss the challenges and successes of their microbusiness and of looking after their children.
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The night before, on street outreach, we had walked around the Mwanza football stadium. There are hundreds of young girls there engaged in the sex trade who have been forced there through poverty, domestic abuse and neglect. They are selling their bodies to the boat workers and migrant workers who come through the lake port city of Mwanza, and they get just a few pence each time. Walking around the stadium is an overwhelming experience, which leaves you feeling hopeless about the future for girls like these. Yet Cheka Sana has shown these girls and young women that this is not the end — that they have so much worth, value and potential.
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Another member of Cheka Sana’s Streetborn group is Josephine (name changed).
Josephine shared: “I’m 19 years old and the fourth child in our family.”
“Before I met Cheka Sana, my life had been very hard. I was in the street, and I was involved in commercial sex work to survive. I often faced problems with the police. I met Cheka Sana last year when one of their social workers met me on the street.
“I decided to join in with Cheka Sana because I wanted to change my activities. I’ve learnt a lot of skills since being involved with Cheka Sana. I’ve been able to create my own self-esteem in my life. I was even elected as a group leader in Cheka Sana among other youth members.
“I started sex work when I was very young; to get to learn about STIs and prevention methods is important beyond anything else. Sex workers need to learn how we can protect ourselves. I am HIV negative, and Cheka Sana’s workshops and training encouraged me to stay negative and to keep on protecting myself.”
Cheka Sana supports young women to pursue alternative income-generating activities.
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Josephine shared a difficult account of a moment whilst she was still engaged in sex work when a client threatened her with a knife and sexually assaulted her. She resisted and escaped the situation using skills she had learned through Cheka Sana’s young women’s self-defence programme, which promotes physical self-defence skills and awareness of young women’s rights to bodily autonomy and safety.
She also reported the assault to the police. However, she was met with indifference and a lack of assistance. Young women like Josephine are routinely dismissed, stigmatised or worse by law enforcement; organisations like Cheka Sana provide a vital lifeline of care and support where other systems may have failed.
“Before I met Cheka Sana, my life had been very hard. I was in the street, and I was involved in commercial sex work to survive. I often faced problems with the police.” Josephine (name changed)
The Streetborn programme supports young women like Josephine to pursue alternative income-generating activities of their choosing, whether starting their own small business or finding an apprenticeship or a job to develop their skills. With Cheka Sana’s support, Josephine was linked with a decorating business, where she learned decorating skills by working on dressing events such as weddings. This has provided her with a new source of income, and she is ambitious to pursue this in the future, dreaming of having her own decorating business.
As well as training in new income-generating activities, Cheka Sana supports around 35 participants a year with group and individual support, self-defence skills, access to sexual and maternal health services where needed, and much more.
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