Liberia: Former Sex Worker Explains How An Empowerment Program Changed Her Life

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MONROVIA – Mary Mary (not real name) explained about her experience as a street worker in a form of prostituting; her story is no different from the many stories of prostitution that have been told. For her, she met her life changing moment when she encountered Facia Harris who encouraged her to take advantage of the government-UNDP fund skills program for underprivileged young people.

According to her, she did all the bad things expected of a street girl including sleeping with men for money, taking in narcotic substances and smoking as a habit. She explained how reprehensive she was when she was approached by Facia to participate in a life change skills training program.

She was among 181 candidates who graduated with skills in, plumbing, tailoring, hair dressing, soap making and many other skills.

“I was living with a friend. I used to smoke, drink and even go the streets to cut ‘jor-bu’ (prostitution). I am so happy today to be among decent people graduating with a skill in hair dressing. My life has been a challenge until I met sis Facia who promised to help me without giving me money.

“I was apprehensive from the beginning, but later I saw it necessary and took the bold decision that has changed my life and made to become who I am today. I am so happy today to be with you. Thanks to the Socio-Economic Empowerment Disadvantage (SEED) project who helped us.”

Like her, there were many others who graduated with similar stories or even worst stories. These underprivileged youths are the main target of the SEED projects, according to Mrs. Roseline Toweh, head of the YWCA. According to her, the UN funded project is under pillar one of the government Pro-Poor Agenda for transformation.

Madam Toweh said: “I want turn over 281 youths that have been rehabilitated from substance abuse and now mentally stable to contribute to the growth and development of Liberia.”

Mr. Zoegar James, Minister of Youth and Sports who represented President George Weah at the event promised on behalf of the President to ensure that he works with other ministers of Government and businesses to ensure that the graduates are properly placed in employment positions.

Minister Zoegar encouraged graduates to form themselves into cooperatives and seek support from their leaders and not to depending on government to employ everyone.

Under the SEED project under privilege youths commonly referred to as Zokos were recruited from ten communities to participate

The SEED Project through CAFOD and its partners aim to support the disadvantaged youth by overseeing two of the critical components: technical skill-building and business development and establishing strengthened linkages for job creation.

The implementation strategy focused on ensuring targeted disadvantaged youth are properly equipped to identify relevant training opportunities that are both engaging, while also offering sustainable livelihoods. Technical training was hands-on and experiential, with a priority on small groups for easier management and personalization.

Groups of 50 youth each were trained in business development, planning, and management, entrepreneurship, as well as financial and adult literacy skills. These same groups were trained simultaneously on the Village Saving Loan Association (VSLA) model and formed into VSLA Groups.

By using the same groups for various capacity-strengthening activities, group rapport and cohesion were built for solid support networks and sustainability.

 While the technical components were ongoing, activities were also focused on building networks between disadvantaged youth and potential employers and/or markets for enhanced opportunities. In order to strengthen engagement and sustain youth wellbeing, a 2-week cash for work (CfW) activity was implemented, focusing on waste management and city beautification.

Trained youth who successfully completed the technical training were provided start-up kits and organized into cooperatives for engagement in small enterprise development. Ongoing monitoring, paired with refresher trainings and technical support, ensures that especially those youth who are struggling or falling behind can receive the advice and mentoring that they require to move off the street, create successful livelihoods for themselves and reintegrate into mainstream society.

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