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From Sex Worker to Car Washer: DREAMS Program Helping Young Women Live Empowered Lives

Published 11/30/2016 by Global Communities

From Sex Worker to Car Washer: DREAMS Program Helping Young Women Live Empowered Lives
This article first appeared on BBC Swahili |  By Idris Situma

Twenty-three year old Felicia Onimbo is a resident of a Majengo, a shanty town just outside of Nairobi, Kenya. Life in Nairobi’s informal settlements is fraught with challenges. These slums contain some of Kenya’s most at-risk populations due to high unemployment, cramped living spaces and marginalization from mainstream society; young women are especially vulnerable. Many of them, like Felicia, never complete school. Some fall victim to alcohol and drug use, and some are forced to earn a living selling their bodies to men. Felicia went down this path because she was unable to support herself and her son with the meager amount of money that she earned from doing laundry work.

As a sex worker, Felicia was paid around five hundred Kenyan shillings ($ 5). ”Sometimes clients would just use us and not pay at all or pay less than what we agreed. I had sex with men older than my dad, but they provided money to sustain my family. I did not use condoms for several months because most of the time I had no money to buy them, and other customers did not want to use condoms,” says Felicia. Fortunately, she was able to get assistance from Global Communities, which implements the USAID DREAMS program that helps girls in Nairobi’s slums to obtain services such as vocational training, job search support, counseling and classes in communications and other life skills. Project Director Betty Adera explains, “It is the responsibility of the DREAMS project to benefit girls in the slums of Nairobi and to give them a better life, and be an example in the community. Mrs. Felicia is among girls 200 who were brought from the slums and given lessons to develop. Through our organization Global Communities, we connected them with the business owner of a car wash and they hired four girls including Felicia, who works washing vehicles at the commercial hall of TRM on Thika highway.”

When Felicia first started washing her new job, she faced many obstacles. Some clients assumed that a girl cannot do the work usually done by men. She explains, “I was working with heavy equipment the first day, and I was not yet sure I could do the job of washing cars.” In other cases, some of the men she worked with felt like their jobs were threatened. Despite these challenges, she continues washing cars. She is now able to save some money with her new job and and hopes to one day to fulfill her childhood ambition of becoming an accountant.