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Peer Educator Promotes Responsible Condom Use in Women’s Group

“Before our training, many girls didn’t know where to find for free or how to properly use a condom. Now we see great changes in condom use from beginning to end.”
– Lemlem Woldegebriel, 28 years old

Lemlem Woldegebriel was born to Ethiopians but married an Eritrean when she was 15.  When the Ethio-Eritrean war broke out, and her parents were forced to return to Ethiopia, Lemlem stayed in Eritrea with her new husband. 

When she was 19, her husband lost his life fighting against the Ethiopians, and she was widowed with two small children.  She packed her things and moved to Ethiopia to find a new life.

When she was 24 years old and living in Mekele—located in Northern Ethiopia— she joined a hotel as a commercial sex worker and sealed her fate.  “My parents are poor and my mother is very old. I couldn’t depend on them for support,” she reasons.

In late 2010, an outreach social worker from EngenderHealth’s Most at-Risk Populations (MARPs) program approached her in a local bar and asked her if she was interested in learning more about the prevention of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Over the next year, Lemlem excelled as a peer-educator, embraced her role as leader, and formed a women’s group to provide health and psychological support to others like her.

“Before our training, many girls didn’t know how to properly use a condom or know where to get condoms for free,” she says.  “Now we see great change in condom use from beginning to end.”

The group, consisting of ten sex workers, has begun a group savings fund hope to open a shop in the city in the future.  Thanks to the group’s solidarity, the three women who are HIV positive are currently being referred to other programs offered by the city’s health department.

Despite the hardships, Lemlem continues life as a commercial sex worker and makes between 1000-1200 birr ($65-75 USD) every month.  “I have to support my two children and pay rent, the money I make is still not enough to cover all my expenses,” she says.

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