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Social workers provided care when all other people gave up on dealing with me, Maria says

© UNICEF / UKRAINE / 2011 / V.Musienko
Maria communicates with a psychologist in charitable foundation “Unitus”

During regular field visits to women involved in commercial sex, social workers of the charitable foundation “Unitus”, based in Mykolaiv, noticed a young girl. She was pale and thin, had sickly complexion and despairing look. It was clear she was definitely in need of health care, yet she avoided any communication with strangers. Other girls revealed that her name was Maria*, and got seriously sick and lived in a crypt at the old cemetery, after her mother who was also a sex worker had deprived her of a home.

Social workers did not manage to reach Maria for along time – she distrusted everyone and did not let anyone to talk to her. When a social worker finally succeeded to make Masha to come to an office for most-at-risk adolescent girls at the municipal dermatovenerologic clinic, it appeared that she had a number of diseases and needed inpatient care. When the girl was staying at the hospital, specialists of “Unitus” came to visit her, and the psychologist gradually tried to overcome Maria’s psychological barriers. It seemed that aas Maria was receiving care and attention, she began to open up her soul little by little. After being released from the hospital Maria got a job selling fruits at the local marketplace, but disappeared again some weeks later she.

Social workers tried their best to find her, but failed. Nevertheless, some time later they met her again amongst other commercial sex workers. At first it seemed as if all their efforts were in vain, however, Maria did followed some advice, such as – in useing condoms when working with her clients. A psychologist managed to persuade her to return to the foundation, and Maria resumed attending classes, talked with social workers and even took part in a number of the foundation’s events. Unfortunately, she gave up everything once again and was referred to a hospital for a second time. During treatment, social workers and psychologists continued to support and take care of Maria. She appeared to take in all the advice she was receiving from the psychologist, but then suddenly ran away again. She returned to work as a commercial sex worker, followed by yet another hospital admission– and everything started all over again.

Specialists of “Unitus” report that even though all clients of the foundation have serious difficulties in their lives, Maria is a particularly difficult client. The only life that Masha saw was a life filled with alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and prostitution with her mother from her childhood – she was a girl who did not even know that another lifestyle was possible.

After Maria’s ran away yet again, even the most experienced and optimistic social workers started to consider that all their endeavours had been unsuccessful, but they did not lose heart and went on trying to reach the girl. “After all, I succeeded to persuade Masha to undergo rehabilitation in a special centre. I was so happy when she became the one who contacted me by her own during our long years of communication!” says Valentyna, social worker of charitable foundation “Unitus”.

Masha’s story inspired project partners to set up a youth-friendly clinic in the city. It is an institution that provides consultations on HIV and risky behaviour issues and reproductive healthcare, and cooperates with local social service providers. The clinic and “Unitus” are preparing for the opening of the clinic with the support of UNICEF and the Ministry of Health of Ukraine. They will closely cooperate in future.

Specialists of “Unitus” report that Maria is gradually taking control of her values. Nowadays, she tries to develop longstanding relations with a regular partner, and continues to see a psychologist and take part in the foundation’s classes and events for girls. Maria greatly appreciates the patience and support that social workers provided her when everyone else, including herself, had given up on her.

* Name changed due to ethical considerations.



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