Championing healthy relationships
and sexual wellbeing

Hope in the face of desperate circumstances

Anna Strain (International Support Officer) and Sarah Smith (CEO) have recently returned from a trip to visit the Shining Star Project in Zimbabwe, run by our partner The Nehemiah Project. Here, Anna provides a short summary of the trip.

The warm breeze blowing through the dancing bright flowers which line the quiet streets of Bulawayo, and the kindness and warmth of the people, can easily mask the very real disappointment that lingers from Zimbabwe’s recent elections.

Dig a little deeper, however, and the impact of political turmoil is all too clear. You see it in the eyes of the woman who sells her body to buy food, hear it in her voice as it breaks, feel it by the presence of young girls on street corners at night.

A cash shortage, hyperinflation and high unemployment in Zimbabwe means people are turning to more desperate measures to survive. Tragically, for many women and girls, this means sex work. Girls as young as 12 are selling their bodies for as little as a dollar a night, to pay for food, rent and school fees.

Through acet UK partner, The Nehemiah Project, and their Shining Star Project, however, these girls and women are being offered a second chance. Forty girls and women engaged in sex work aged 14 – 65 years old have joined the Shining Star Project this year to be trained as peer educators, sharing vital sexual health messages with other sex workers. In addition, they learn vocational and business skills to provide them with the opportunity to exit sex work if they wish. All of those we spoke to wanted to be able to leave sex work, so are very grateful to have these opportunities.

The girls and women received training at the beginning of the year, and we were able to observe and participate in the refresher training in September.

It was challenging hearing the stories from the women and girls about the nature of life in sex work, and some of the feedback they’d received from friends about the struggles of leaving. It was also a privilege, however, to witness the positive and encouraging conversations between the trainers and the peer educators.

We observed training on counselling, leadership, sexual health, as well as discipleship. Sarah was also able to run a session from our Esteem programme, talking to the women about STIs.

These girls and women have worth and value which is infinite. The Shining Star Project recognises the potential in each of them and offers vocational skills training including hairdressing, beauty therapy, peanut butter making, tailoring and floristry.

We visited the Ithemba Centre (Ithemba means joy), in a deprived area called Cowdray Park, one of 4 sites where this training happens. After a 3 month hairdressing course at the Ithemba centre, the women can do a 6 month placement at a salon.

We interviewed one of the women who was in her second month of hairdressing training. Beaming, she said, 

‘I’ve learnt so much about sexual health, as well as lots of skills. I no longer do sex work. I dream of starting a salon to keep women and girls off the streets and create a new future for Zimbabwe.’

acet UK works with key international partners who equip the local church, and the Nehemiah Project is a good example of this, running the Shining Star Project through a church, and providing training to other churches who also have a heart for girls and women in sex work. We were able to see this first hand by taking a trip to Hwange, a mining town near the Victoria Falls. The transient nature of the town means it is a hotspot for sex work. The church here (Trinity Pentecostal Assembly) is keen to respond to this need through the Shining Star model.

After a 5 hour drive (!), we were introduced to a room full of women who had gathered for the outreach. Sarah answered many of their questions and ‘busted some myths’ about sexual health.

The women were then taught tailoring and peanut butter making by Shining Star staff and peer educators. Through support from the Shining Star Project, Trinity Pentecostal Assembly Church will continue to work to help women in Hwange transition out of sex work.

We were so privileged to meet this year’s cohort of peer educators and hear about the amazing transformation. ‘It’s like I’ve been given a second chance at life.’

read more about the work of shining star