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Sex Worker Embraces Savings Culture Learned at Drop-in Center

After completing the MARPs peer education session, Meskerem Gobe, 21, started saving for her future.

Meskerem Gobe had been working as a commercial sex worker for just five months when a peer educator from EngenderHealth’s Most at-Risk Populations (MARPs) program invited her to a group discussion at the drop-in center.

The drop-in center is located in the center of town, and the compound is outfitted with mattresses, televisions, DVDs, shower and a kitchen for commercial sex workers.

“At first I came to the DIC every day. Now I’m coming at least three times a week,” she says.

Meskerem is from the city of Shashemene in central Ethiopia. She finished fifth grade and her parents separated, leaving her to live with an uncle. She married at 16 and had one child during two years of a broken marriage.

Her husband disappeared and Meskerem’s friends convinced her into join the commercial sex work industry. In mid-2011, she moved to Aletawondo.

Aletawondo, a MARPs project site, is a small town on a dusty road connecting central and southern Ethiopia. A steady flow of truck drivers pass through the town daily, and due to its location between major towns, Aletawondo has become an overnight stopover for many.

EngenderHealth opened a drop-in center in Aletawondo in November 2010 where it provides various services for the commercial sex workers. In the first year, the MARPs program reached some 780 commercial sex workers through 41 peer educators or sex workers trained in mentoring others.

The MARPs project implements combined HIV prevention interventions with major emphasis on HIV prevention and safe sex through targeted behavioral interventions. The program works to bring change to the life of commercial sex workers encouraging them to save their money wisely. A small savings fund can often lead to independence.

Since joining the MARPs program, Meskerem has opened a bank account and saves nearly 500 birr ($30 USD) every week, far outpacing her colleagues who struggle to save 500 birr in a month. In addition, she and nine peers from the program have created a joint savings fund and each contributes 10 birr each week.

“I don’t want to continue this work. Once I get enough saved, I will move back to Shashemene and start my own business,” she says.

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