Women given new lease of life

nlc_promoOnly 100 metres from the biggest red-light district in Johannesburg, the New Life Centre helps prostitutes quit their death trap existence for a better life.
(Pictured: Promotional material used by New Life Centre to raise awareness about prostitution)

JOHANNESBURG Blurring sounds of Afro-pop music pound your eardrums and half-dressed women, some as young as 13 and others as old as 50, deliberately bump into you to grab your attention.

From a curt and choreographed conversation taking place between one man and a woman within earshot, you sense that they hardly know one another, but in no time, they ascend the steps, arm-in-arm. A business deal sealed in seconds.

Welcome to Johannesburgs Hillbrow suburb, the bastion of prostitution, where an estimated 70 per cent are Zimbabwean women, trading their bodies for a quick buck.

This prostitution has to stop now before these people carry diseases to Zimbabwe and kill a lot of people, complains Joyce Dube, the Director of a humanitarian organisation the Southern African Womens Institute for Migration Affairs (SAWIMA).

A new beginning

A solution lies just 100 meters from this red-light area, in the nearby Berea suburb. A non-profit organization – New Life Centre (NLC), rehabilitates former prostitutes and sexually abused women.

Our aim is to give them a new beginning by teaching them new skills, says Babalwa Makhawula, the NLCs Project Manager.

The non-profit organisation, which was formed in April 2005, is sponsored by various South African companies. The NLC provides psychological, technical and monetary support to about 100 women every month.

Most of our clients are from Zimbabwe. Some are victims of rape in the hands of human traffickers, but most are former commercial sex workers who would have just escaped from the embarrassing life of brothels and street corners.

On arrival at the centre, those with no proper accommodation are offered a home that the NLC rents in the city, plus food and clothing, until they have learned skills to make them independent.

First they undergo a month of expert counselling to re-boost their battered egos and give them renewed poise to face up to the challenges of life.

After counselling, we train them in self-help courses like craftwork so that they later become self-employed, adds Makhawula. That way, we relieve them of the frustrations of failing to find employment, which led them into prostitution in the first place.

More than 5 000 women have graduated in courses on keeping poultry, knitting and tailoring, over the past five years and are now self-employed in producing kitchen linen and clothes for re-sale. Others have been turned into home decorators.

Successful co-operatives

We have quite a number that have formed successful co-operatives here in Johannesburg and created employment opportunities for those who would have just graduated from courses held here. Some have come back to donate money to the centre in appreciation of the good work we have done for them. With this dignity, others have returned to their home countries to begin a new life away from the embarrassing world of prostitution.

During the course programme, which takes between one and six months, the NLC officers identify special qualities in each woman and make sure that each specializes in what they are good at when they leave the centre.

The centre has also transformed some of the former ladies of the night into goodwill ambassadors in its fight against prostitution, women abuse and human trafficking. They have become motivational speakers who carry the message to other women.

They visit schools and night spots to give advice to girls on the dangers of prostitution as a way of life. We also target those women that solicit on the streets and have managed to convert a favourable number of people, said Makhawula.

In recognition of the centres work, some of the re-branded NLC women have been hired by the South African health ministry to assist its staff in carrying out Aids awareness programs in the country.

Due to its status as Africas economic powerhouse, South Africa remains the Mecca for African migrants from poorer neighbouring countries, but job opportunities are rare and Makhawula would like to stop the flow.

We will soon expand to neighbouring countries in a bid to stop women from being tricked into crossing the border unless they are sure they have a job waiting for them.

Many unsuspecting women still continue to be brought here by human traffickers under the pretext that they will easily secure jobs in the hospitality industry. We want to prevent a situation where they will continue to be deceived like this.

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