From vulnerable sex worker to empowered young adult

The story of Sara

unicef Liberia
vulnerable_sex_worker
UNICEF Liberia/2018
16 January 2019

Sara is from a rural area in Liberia, sent by her parents to live with an aunt and pursue her education in the capital Monrovia when she was 14 years of age. She and her parents had big dreams of Sara thriving in a way that her parents never had. However, her dreams were soon shattered.

“When we arrived in the city, my aunt made me work in a petty trade business and I was never able to go back to school. I became frustrated and very angry with my aunt. I started spending time with friends who were involved into bad behaviour like smoking and commercial sex work,” says Sara.

She lived without any parental guidance and supervision and had to fend for herself. She began taking drugs, got involved in street fighting to defend herself and also began to sell sex for survival.

“I risked my life every single day. I did not have the slightest thought that my life could be positively transformed the way it is today,” adds Sara, as she speaks about how she was encouraged by some community leaders to join a UNICEF-supported programme that provided vocational training in hospitality and hotel management, and life skills to prevent gender-based violence, HIV infection, early marriage and teenage pregnancy.

“Two female social workers were assigned to provide counselling services to me and the other girls who were also as vulnerable as I was.  A few weeks later, I opened up to the social workers and began to tell my story. The social workers told me about the various opportunities the programme was offering and I became very interested.”

The UNICEF supported ‘Be a Change Agent Adolescent Development Project’ (B-CAP) was originally a three-year pilot project, now extended for an additional three years to 2021. It provides life-skills and vocational training opportunities for some of Liberia's most vulnerable adolescents and youth.

 “I began to actively participate in all of the programme activities. I want to improve my living conditions and become somebody who contributes to society. I stayed with the programme till I finished high school. I was a team leader and helped to raise awareness on how to prevent the spread of Ebola in my community, where we reached out to more than 5,000 households. This was the beginning of me as a change agent”.

Sara enrolled in a hospitality service course under the vocational training programme of B-CAP. She selected for an internship at a leading hotel in Liberia.

“I now work five days a week at one of the major hotels in Monrovia, and with my savings, I managed to complete a computer course.”

Sara is one of 500 girls and 30 boys between the ages of 10 and 21 who are taking part in the B-CAP initiative. All of the adolescents taking part in this initiative live in the two most populated and deprived slum communities of Liberia.

“I never thought I would reach this level,” says Sara. “I am so grateful for this opportunity. I pray that all girls out there who are faced with similar situations can be motivated by my story and make a difference in their own lives too.”

NOTE: All identifying details, including her actual name and photograph have not been provided on purpose.