When I arrived in Kenya in January, I was intrigued to learn about a monthly Salvation Army program called “survivors’ meetings.” Initially, I thought it must be a program for widows who had survived the loss of a loved one, or for people who had survived a serious illness. But to my surprise, Survivors is a group of women who meet because they share one thing in common—they have all survived working in the sex trade. With the help of The Salvation Army, they are building new lives.
The program, which began three years ago, provides social, psychological and spiritual support for the women as they share their stories, pray for each other and worship together. They also learn life skills and receive training on how to start and run small businesses to support their families.
At each meeting, they are invited to contribute a small amount of money, and are able to take out loans to help with their business ventures. They are all single mothers, and are discovering new ways of caring for themselves and their children.
More than 50 women, from young to middle-aged, are enrolled, with an average monthly attendance of about 40. They have built meaningful relationships with each other and the leader of the group, Captain Leah Kitaa, a member of the territorial women’s ministries department.
This program is an excellent example of the value of ministry to women. To date, I have attended two of their monthly meetings and plan to keep attending as much as my schedule allows me. I look forward to becoming more familiar with the impact it is having on women like Hellene Makokha. Here is her story.
From the Street to the Market
I am 23 years old. I am the only daughter in a family of seven. I was brought up by a single mother who put food on the table and paid our school fees by washing clothes, working in other people’s gardens and running small business ventures.
Life was tough. I finished high school, but didn’t do well academically. I looked for something to pin my hopes on, and came to realize that being a commercial sex worker was an option.
At first, I thought it was a source of income and protection from danger, but all was in vain. Life became more miserable, with police harassment and health problems. When things started going horribly wrong, people urged me to seek the survivors’ group at the Salvation Army church.
I joined the group and slowly my life started changing. Now I earn an income by selling fruit in the market. I spend most of my time building my business—I have no time to dwell on failures that could make me feel like going back to the streets.
During our monthly meetings, we receive biblical teaching about being wonderfully made. My body is the temple of God—I respect myself and protect myself because I am worthy of it. Because I have changed so much, many women, girls and neighbours have asked for advice about how they can maintain themselves and start running a small business, as I do.
Some of the sex workers have been infected with different diseases, but thank God, I am safe and healthy.
During our meetings, we do table banking. All survivors contribute a small amount each month, and are able to receive small loans. This has helped me expand my business.
—Report by Captain Leah Kitaa, director of specialized programs in the Kenya West Territory.
Lt-Colonel Wanda Vincent is the territorial secretary for women’s ministries in the Kenya West Territory.