Feature

Desperate for Change

Finding refuge from the storm

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They come from all over West Africa, each with a dream, drawn to the glamour and promises of success in the capital city. Others have been tricked by promises of work or abandoned and left to fend for themselves. The only job available to them? Prostitution.

Most of their dreams have long been forgotten, replaced by the simple need to survive. Until a couple of years ago, more than 120 women lived and worked out of cramped 8×10-foot windowless cubicles behind the crowded Sogoniko bus station in Bamako, Mali. The women rent the cubicles for $8 a day, hoping they will have enough clients to cover this basic cost. Some are obligated to join with others to split the cost of housing. Drugs are often used to fend off the cravings of sleep because nighttime is when the work is the most profitable. Nutrition is not a high priority, and health is rarely considered.

HIGH RISK

This description fits professional sex workers in just about any capital city in West Africa. Many of the young girls are simply looking for quick cash since their families aren’t able to help them. On the other end of the spectrum are the widows, completely abandoned by their extended families yet responsible for raising a number of children. With nearly 70 percent of Malians living in poverty, desperation plays a major role in prostitution.

Unfortunately, all of the women are exposing themselves to the AIDS virus, an epidemic throughout Africa that has significantly increased the risks of their profession. It is believed that 25–40 percent of prostitutes in this part of Africa are infected with HIV/AIDS.

Together with a small team of people, I visit the ladies at their workplaces and share the love of God with them. But this is not enough!

These women see prostitution as a business, a way to earn money, so we needed to come up with a good business program to help those seeking freedom from the bonds of prostitution and seeking to start a new life—spiritually, socially and economically.

SAFE HAVEN

In 2006, we opened the Rahab Center in Bamako. Rahab Center is a drop-in place for the ladies, where they can stop by to talk, to pray or to watch a Christian movie. As we develop relationships with them, we find out which ones are serious about leaving prostitution.

At the center we interview them and offer a training program in making soap or tie dye (painting material). We have a partnership with the Bamako women’s prison, which has a training center set up for these two workshops. By offering the ladies this opportunity, we teach them skills and give them jobs at the same time. At the end of one month of training, we give them a small salary so they can pay rent and feed themselves and their families.

During its first year, Rahab Center partnered with the prison to train 20 women. Twelve were prostitutes, five were ex-prisoners and three were widows. Each weekday, they came to make soap. The women also learned to do embroidery or crochet.

In Rahab Center’s development program, Friday is a special day, just for education. The women are taught from God’s Word, and special speakers are invited to cover other important topics. For example, a doctor often comes to explain the facts about HIV/AIDS.

Since it opened, more than 150 women have visited Rahab Center, and a dozen have made decisions to follow Jesus. Nearly 40 have participated in our training program, learning to make soap, crochet, tie dye material and embroider. We praise God that many have accepted Jesus as their Savior.

As we talk with the ladies at Rahab Center and share God’s love with them, please pray that those who want to give their hearts to Jesus and stop prostitution will enter our training program.

To learn more about the Rahab Center go to www.cmalliance.org/video and click on Mali:“Not My Destiny.”

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