Getting WISE about HIV/AIDS
If I wasn’t doing this with Africare I would be selling corn under the sun. But Africare came and I’ve engaged myself … and I will never sell corn again.
“It’s not easy being a girl,” says 19-year old Queen Ogor behind a smile and a soft giggle. Her face quickly hardens and her smile fades into a serious gaze. “And it doesn’t get any easier once you have a baby of your own.”
Queen Ogor is from Cross Rivers State, Nigera. She and her mother moved to Abuja when it was time for her to start primary school. They sold yellow corn on the streets under a hot sun to make ends meet until Queen completed secondary school. Shortly after, she was sent back home to her village.
“Then I met my boyfriend,” Queen recalls. “He is the guy that gave me belly (got me pregnant) because I didn’t know how to use condoms.”
Queen’s boyfriend soon rejected the responsibilities of being a new father, leaving Queen to face the challenges of parenthood alone. After her baby boy was born, she was sent back to Abuja to sell corn on the street in order to support her new son. It was a “red light” street with a reputation for converting many young girls into a new line of work, one that required the sale of their bodies.
It was here that Queen was approached by Africare staff representing a program that aims to empower young girls who are less privileged … especially those at risk for HIV/AIDS. That program was the Women’s Initiative for Sex Education and Economic Empowerment or WISE. It is a $1.5 million project implemented by Africare to educate and empower women who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation resulting from social, cultural and economic factors. The WISE program has trained over 6,200 beneficiaries in reproductive health and business management since 2004.
“They taught me how to use condoms to protect myself—I had never seen a female condom before. They taught me about HIV— before I didn’t know my status because I was afraid to do the test.”
In addition to health education, the project includes self-esteem building exercises, provides women with social support networks, and lessons in how to protect themselves from mental and physical abuse. Finally, each woman is trained in an alternative vocation or career of her choice.
The vocations range from hairdressing to computer technology, baking and bead-making. In addition, each woman is trained in business management and given the necessary equipment to start her own business.
“I chose tie dye,” notes Queen proudly. “If I wasn’t doing this with Africare I would be selling corn under the sun. But Africare came and I’ve engaged myself … and I will never sell corn again.”
Queen is now able to support her son, help her mother, and even serve as a peer educator to give young girls and boys in her community the knowledge she never had when she was young. She represents thousands of women around Abuja … women who have talent but no opportunity.
WISE is making a difference in their lives, and so can you by keeping their message going.
Pass It On! for Africare.