My Journey from a Sex worker to Training faculty

‘As a child I am a mother of two children and as a sex worker I am sister of thousands of sex workers’. My journey from a sex worker to Traing faculty Afsari Begum

I am Afsari Begum aged 32 years sensitive but courageous and I live in Peddapuram town known for traditional sex work in East Godavari town. I live on the earnings of sex work. I come from a traditional Muslim family with 2 brothers and 2 sisters. Being the youngest one I was pampered by my parents and sisters.

I studied up to 8th class and had an ambition to become a police but early marriage at the age of 13 made me to suppress all my efforts to fulfill my dream. I became a mother at the age of 14. Had two children by my 15th year. Both my children were adopted by elder sister as she did not have children after marriage. My husband is a drunkard and sold all the gold my parents gave me and mortgaged property to buy a taxi (car) on loan.

He could not make big money out of it, whatever he made out of running a taxi was just sufficient to meet his fancies and drinks. He was least bothered to look after the family and repay the taxi loan. Bankers came to threaten to sell the house that was mortgaged against the loan to purchase the car. Ashamed by frequent visits of bankers and money lenders, I fought with him and left to my parent’s house.

In the male dominant society, husband had every right to behave the way he wants hence I was humiliated by mother for raising a voice against my husband. I was furious about the humiliation by my own mother went back to my house sold TV and went straight to advocate for taking help to get divorce. Trying to break the marriage resulted in further anguish on my parents and brothers and they have beaten me and abused me very badly.

After 8 years of troubled marriage, as I began to find alternative living, I found an elderly woman who induced me to get into sex work. I left my home town and was in sex work trade for about six months in a brothel house at Chirala, Guntur district. Broker ran away with the money I earned, clients forced me to have unprotected sex but it didn’t stop me to continue in sex work trade.

I came back to my home town and lived with a man I loved. When my lover came to know that I am a sex worker, he abused me and left me too. I continued to do sex work to earn my food. One fine day I noticed few women dressed in a common attire of green sarees with a bag, passing through the street. And the sight of it made me curious about what they do. I learnt that they belong to a group of sex workers and working as a Peer Educator in an organization called CHANGES for prevention of HIV/AIDS. I came to know about HIV/AIDS through these Peer Educators.

I was eager to know my HIV status and got tested for HIV with lot of fear and I was shocked to find that I am positive. After several days I went to the office premises of CHANGES and met the Project Manager and disclosed my identity and willingness to work in the organization. A few days later impressed my gift of the gab; Project Manager called me and appointed me as a ‘PEER EDUCATOR’ to sixty sex workers in a colony in Peddapuram. Since then I never looked back, the company of so many sex workers made me feel so happy and the freedom to go around talk to many of my peers about HIV/AIDS gave me immense satisfaction to me.

My daily routine job was to identify sex workers, impart knowledge on STI/HIV, and motivate my community to access services. As a Peer Educator, I reached over 200 sex workers in four years time and enabled them to get STI treatment and use condoms. My niche to attract sex workers helped me to reach out to many sex workers in the town. My lonely life further helped me to make many friends.

As a member of a ‘Godavari Mahila Samakya’ CBO promoted by CARE, I attended one of the CBO get-together initiated by CARE at Rajamundry in the year 2005. I have expressed my strong views on the need to collectivize sex workers into a formidable group to address issues that a sex worker faces in her daily life.

Impressed by my courage to express boldly, CARE identified me as a community trainer and trained me on several issues surrounding HIV/AIDS, Community led Advocacy, Peer Education System, Community Mobilisation and Crisis Management. My openness to learning, passion to training, appreciation and recognition that I received as a trainer kept me motivated to go around places to meet many of my peers in the sex work profession.

My life changed drastically after several inputs by CARE team. I became a national level trainer and involved in several trainings facilitated at district, state and national level as well. One of the proud moments of my life was when I trained the police personnel on HIV/AIDS. Though I could not fulfill the dream of becoming a police, I was in a position to train more than 200 policemen in East Godavari district. I raised a strong voice against the inhuman behaviour of police towards sex workers. Police got sensitized and started respecting sex workers after several trainings and protests made by our collective.

I have two existing moments which are significant in my life… “When I was sex worker, at times I was even beaten by the police and I was compelled to give free sex and money to the police. But as a state level trainer, I have trained 207 police personnel on HIV/AIDS/STI and problems of sex workers, during the workshop, I have presented the problems of sex workers community to the police superintendent. I am proud that though I could not have fulfill the dream of become a police, I could train so many police on HIV/AIDS. Another important moment in my life is when I got first prize in the workshop conducted by UNFPA for making best power point presentation.

Every representation as a trainer made me feel proud. The applaud that I received after every session kept me motivated to give several trainings to different people. My positive status was never an hindrance to go around train people. Auto drivers who called me as a prostitute now call me as a madam. In the process I had become a role model and many of peers call me sister zubeda with lots of affection. I continue to represent sex workers at national level forums to voice the opinion of my community. I participated in workshops facilitated by UNAIDS and UNFPA at Delhi in 2007. I am now a member of National Network of Sex workers. When I look back at my life and the progress made in a short time, I feel proud that I have made difference to many of many sister’s life.

Now I am capable of training on several topics such as ‘Leadership and decision making process, Peer led outreach planning tools, Advocacy, Community Led Advocacy tools, HIV/AIDS, STIs and Community Mobilisation.

I am still associated with CARE in SAKSHAM-2 project as a Community Faculty. I have great respect for SAKSHAM team for the change and the meaning that they gave to my life.

I have two ambitions to reach,

First ambition is to clear graduation (BA) and speak English very fluently. I also started attending Spoken English classes.

My second ambition is to support several CBOs of sex workers community to manage their lives, issues by themselves. I firmly believe that only sex workers can play a major role in HIV prevention strategy.

Thanks to Afsari and Changes for sharing this story.

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Comment by Peninah Wanjiku Mwangi on October 16, 2010 at 7:18pm
Thank you for your story of determination, courage and you are an inspiration to us in Africa.Sex work organizing is quite new here in Africa, and we gain alot from brave women like you who are paving the way for us. Thank you for sharing. Peninah Mwangi-Kenya
Comment by Maaike van der Velden on October 14, 2010 at 2:32pm
Dear Afsari,
Thank you for sharing your story. You have been an inspiration for many sex workers, I'm sure! You believe in their strengths and you believed in your own strengths. I appreciate you non-judgemental approach, your respect and your community work.
I believe sex workers have equal rights as everyone else, they are human beings!
My wish is to learn more about your experiences and that you will inspirer many more people!

Thanks Anthony for communicating this story with us.

Best Maaike
Comment by Laurence Gilliot on October 14, 2010 at 1:53pm
Dear Anthony,

Thanks for sharing this beautiful story of change, growth and discovering strengths. It is amazing how believing in someone strengths and acknowledging these strengths can help someone to grow.
I'd love to meet Afsari and to go her a big hug.

Laurence
Comment by Jean-Louis Lamboray on October 14, 2010 at 10:53am
Dear Anthony,
Please convey our congratulations to Afsari!
Afsari believes in her strengths to fulfill her vision.
I will tell her story in the many countries I visit.
All the best wiht her BA and her English studies: I look forward to the moment when she will share her experience by herself, on Ning and in face to face meetings...
JL
Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on October 13, 2010 at 11:31pm
Dear Anthony,

Thanks for this inspiring story.

Rituu

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