A Rev Sister and Onitsha commercial sex workers' journey to redemption
Images of Rev. Sr. Dorothy Okoli and the sex workers her foundation has rehabilitated.

By Chimaobi Nwaiwu, NNEWI

Prostitution by young girls and ladies has become a thriving business in Onitsha, the commercial city of Anambra State, and its environs. The hot spots are Nsugbe, Obosi, Nkpor, Ogidi, all in Idemili North Local Government Area; Nkwelle-Ezunaka and Ogbunike in Oyi Local Government; Umueri and Aguleri in Anambra East; Oba, Umuoji and Akwaukwu, in Idemili South, and Okpoko, Odoekpe and Atani in Ogbaru Local Government, all in Anambra State.

One common and striking thing about the communities mentioned is that they are all suburbs of Onitsha, the commercial city of Anambra State, where business activities thrive. As a result, the commercial activities and developments that made Onitsha a town everybody wants to come and settle to do business or learn trade, are fast affecting the communities with development and a vibrant social life.

As this happens, people with good intentions and determination to work hard and earn money through trading, and other business activities, also troop into Onitsha and these developing suburbs to earn a living through genuine and fowl means.

READ ALSO: Bauchi govt begins headcount of commercial sex workers

Many of the people who troop to Onitsha and these developing suburbs to settle are girls and ladies who use their body to earn money from traders, artisans, businessmen and public servants, whom they feel can easily part with money for their body.

This development has not settled well with some people and they are determined to change the dirty narrative among these young girls and ladies. One of such change agents is a non-governmental Catholic Church organisation— Save Young Girls Motherhood Foundation, SYGMF, founded by Rev. Sister Dorothy Okoli of Missionary Sisters of St John Paul II of Mary. The NGO swung into action to check the increasing rate of young girls and ladies finding jobs in prostitution, with visits to some of the brothels to counsel the inmates.

Speaking with Vanguard, Rev. Sister Okoli said that commercial sex workers can be rehabilitated to be responsible citizens, adding that the aim of setting up SYGMF, was to rehabilitate and empower commercial sex workers. She said the ladies went into the trade due to lack of care and assistance by their families, government and the society.

She said: “We are a non-governmental organisation with a view and aim of assisting our young girls who, on receiving counseling, decide to pull out from the trade for us to help them realise their worth in the society, gain confidence in themselves to enable them get rid of all insecurities they might have about themselves.

“From our discovery, most of them are dropouts from various schools due to their poor background and poverty of their parents, who cannot afford to give them basic education that would have projected their future.

“We wish to reintegrate them back to the society and to engage them with meaningful skill initiatives that will sustain and project their futures.”

Visibly sad Rev. Sr. Okoli alleged that in the cause of her interactions with the ladies, she discovered that some men use fake promises to deceive and have some of them, thereby destroying their future and destiny.

Reminded about the danger involved in visiting brothels and interacting with the inmates, due to the unruly behaviours and violent activities of some of them, who are also drug addicts, she said that she receives inspiration through prayers before she embarks on visiting, speaking and convincing them on the need to quit the trade.

“First and foremast, as we all know, this job we are doing is a risky venture. It is not an easy job. But because of our approach to them and even the people housing them, the brothel owners, we get their attention. I am a teacher; we apply different methods and approaches, we know they can be wild sometimes.

“However, this project or job is a passion to me and my team. I have been dealing with them and as a result appreciate their experiences. I take courage through prayers before I decide to visit any of the brothels, coupled with the acquired tactics, and approach as a teacher.

“First of all, I make them friends, and I make sure that I do not just go there preaching to them or telling them their sins. I always go as friend with food, snacks and other gift items and we exchange banters and that is why whenever I enter into those houses, it must always be with smiling face. It must be with gifts and food to entertain them and they joyfully welcome me.

“With that they get attracted to me and I will explain my mission and reason for coming. We talk like sisters and relations and they open up to me on their problems and challenges and sometimes we talk to the point that they begin to cry and some will be begging to go home with me and never to go back to the trade,” says the nun.

Rev. Sr. Okoli disclosed that they have been able to convince 70% of the girls and ladies to quit prostitution, but funding them in keeping their training and empowering that were promised them, and getting start-up funds have always been the greatest problem of SYGMF.

She, however, disclosed that it has becomes very imperative to discourage prostitution because apart from the sexual immorality they promote, there are equally security threats because violent criminals visit and stay with them.

“We need government intervention because their number keeps increasing due to hardship, and we also need the assistance of well-placed individuals with milk of human feelings. This is not what we can do alone; we need all hands on deck to assist in rehabilitating them. They are our sisters and they come from homes. Yes, they live in the brothels and we live in homes, but they can be threat to us.

“If we help them, they will contribute positively to the society and the people will benefit from them. But if we neglect them, they become a threat to the society and involve in other inhuman and heinous activities that endanger the society.”

According to SYGMF Founder, “to realise the goal of making the girls and ladies to quit the trade, they need money for their skill acquisition programmes and other related vocational training; N150,000 each to about 50 commercial sex workers we have convinced, to enable them join a any trade of their choice, to be supervised by the foundation.

“We also need tailoring equipment, computers and accessories, communication equipment and scholarship award for continual educational pursuit of some intelligent and bright ones.

“Whoever wishes to help in achieving our dreams should reach us at St. Stephen Chaplaincy Nkwelle Ezunaka, Anambra State,” she urged.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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