Meet Rose Syotini, a lovely 30 year old lady, fair skinned with beautiful alluring brown eyes. Her sweet voice, a voice that would make someone stop to confirm its owner is by no fault her enchant! Her physique coupled with her smile is what many would consider hypnotic! Besides her beauty, Rose doubles up as one of the most hardworking employees at Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme (BHESP). This single mother to a 9 year old girl resides in Dandora phase 1 and juggles both as an amazing employee during the day as well as an occasional sex worker by night at various hotspots in Nairobi.
Before she joined BHESP in 2012, Rose was a full time sex worker, working in Korogocho slum and its environs. She got to know about the organization through a self help group called ‘Night Nurse’. A group that she was introduced to by a certain lady named Mary Mugure. Mary was by then the chairlady of the group and knew about the services offered by BHESP. She brought together about 20 sex workers for a workshop at Kasarani (former BHESP offices) where they were taught about safe sex through condom use, lubricants, how to negotiate for payment and sexually transmitted diseases among others.
After a few workshops, Rose decided to start her own self help group called ‘Ladies of Hope’ in Korogocho, a place she lived and worked. The group that comprised of 15 sex workers grew to 20, then later 30. She saw the need to disseminate the information that she had acquired during the workshops to her colleagues. She invited BHESP to come to the area and educate these girls.
She agrees that she learnt quite a lot and mostly things that were oblivious to her. ‘Before, I did not care about condom use but nowadays I always insist to my clients that we use protection’ said Rose. Asked what she would do in the instance a client objects to condom use or says he does not have one? Rose affirms that she always carries both male and female condoms with her, and if the client is adamant about the use then she is obliged to turn down the service. ‘Better safe than sorry’ insists Rose. Her colleagues too appreciated the fact that they knew about safe sex, HIV and Aids pre-exposure and post exposure, their rights as sex workers and how to pursue for justice in case of violence. They too leant about risk reduction by managing the number of clients whilst still making a good income.
In 2012, while working to empower her fellow women, Simon Mwangi, currently the Programs Officer at BHESP noticed her potential. He invited her to Kasarani offices to occasionally give a hand in filing records and drafting a few reports at a small allowance. Rose agreed to the task and worked to her best ability.
Soon a project by Liverpool VCT to distribute condoms and educate sex workers from different hotspots in the country came up. She was incorporated into the project as a peer educator at a monthly stipend. Still, she autonomously exceeded expectations.
The project by LVCT aimed at enlightening sex workers on health talks, using protection, Using PreP (Pre-Exposure prophylaxis), a new HIV prevention method in which people who do not have HIV infection take a pill daily to reduce their risk of becoming infected and PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) taking antiretroviral medicines (ART) after being potentially exposed to HIV to prevent becoming infected. PEP is be used only in emergency situations and must be started within 72 hours after a recent possible exposure to HIV.
In 2013, Rose was fully incorporated into BHESP Projects as a programs officer where she still currently works under Simon. She is in charge of peer educators. She has so far undergone over 20 courses while working. The courses meant to best equip her include;
Micro planning and mapping out of hotspots
Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV)
Sexual Reproductive health (SRH)
Prevention with positives
Human Rights/ Sex worker rights
Violence against sex workers
Monitoring and Evaluation
Paralegal Training (laws around sex workers)
Rose who has been in the profession for over a decade was first introduced to sex working by her peers in primary school. She wondered how they catered for their personal effects when she couldn’t since they were very poor. They lacked basic needs, lived too many (her 5 sisters and other relatives) under one roof, lacked school fees as well as school uniform. Her mother’s grocery business brought in too little to fend for the many mouths. Her alcoholic father never cared about them. According to her, they lived miserably.
She decided to join her friends. She started off quietly, under the radar, lying to her mother about her occasional disappearance. She was able to raise money that put her through both primary and secondary education.
She was loved by her teachers and performed well as a prefect all through her schooling years. As a result her tuition fee area was waived off just before she sat for her final exams. She performed well attracting a well wisher to put her through college education. She studied computers, fashion design and hair dressing. Being a second born somehow overwhelms her for she stands in as the family’s breadwinner now that her parents relocated to upcountry.
The more she wanted to get out of the business that has taken her this far, the more she is sacked in by her peers and unending family woes. She still does sex work though not quite often since she now has a job.
Rose is now a safe sex ambassador at her night ‘workplace’. She advocates for consistent and proper use of condom. As a matter of fact, she goes with boxes of condoms which she says the girls scramble for and within few seconds they are all gone. This makes her happy as she now sees the changes in attitude by her colleagues; that they are ready to take care of their health.
She is forever thankful to Simon who discovered her and Peninah Mwangi- BHESP Executive Officer whom she says has been like a mother to her. She too thanks BHESP staff members for being quite supportive!