Norah Caroline, a 30-year-old mother of three, is a client of Ugunja DIC where she also works as a peer educator for IRDO Key Populations program.
According to Norah, she decided to start working as a Female Sex Worker (FSW) because she felt she was capable. She also ventured into this lifestyle because she felt her family had given up on her. She was determined to prove to them that she could survive despite rejecting school. That she could provide for her children.
Norah was pampered as a child, having been born at a time when the brother she follows had already joined high school. Coupled with the fact that she was the last born in a family of four. According to her, all the pampering worked against her because it made her stubborn, leading to the bad choices she made later on in life.
Norah’s family was well off. Her father was a landlord to some rental houses in Nairobi’s Mathare North area. It is in this same neighbourhood that Norah was born and bred. She would be given some money whenever she went to school.
Everyday Norah left home for school only to take a detour to Mathare Valley. There she went to her favourite joint to indulge in alcohol and marijuana smoking (or “ndom” as she calls it using they street slang). She used the school money to fund her new lifestyle.
Norah hang out with people older than herself, indulging in drugs and substance abuse till evening. When evening came and her fellow pupils were getting out of school, she always changed back into her school uniform and joined them in walking back home. This trick ensured that her parents were kept in the dark about her skipping classes.
Norah’s parents only came to discover their daughter’s well-kept secret when Norah’s teachers paid them a visit at home. The teachers were concerned with the constant absenteeism of Norah (Or “the polite girl” as she was known in her school) and sought an explanation for this. By this time, Norah had become a drug addict and an alcoholic.
“My parents and siblings never saw me smoke or take alcohol because I was always careful and operated undercover,” says Norah. In a bid to save their daughter, her parents decided to relocate Norah to their rural home in Sidindi, Ugenya Sub County in Siaya County. She was accompanied by her mother and was enrolled in Sidindi Primary School to continue with her education.
Soon after the relocation however, Norah found another drugs den in Sidindi and became a frequent visitor there. Realizing she continued abusing drugs, Norah’s Parents decided to relocate her once more to her grandmother’s place before giving up efforts to save her. She returned to Sidindi where she schooled for a short while before dropping out of Sidindi Primary school at class seven.
“At some point my mother thought I was bewitched and would take me to various places to be prayed for by church people,” says Norah.
Norah confesses that being a drunkard and marijuana smoker made her have little to no control over her own body and actions. To make matters worse, Norah was unaware of condom and its use. Hence she had unprotected sex with multiple partners who included her boyfriend and some of the men from the drugs den.
It is not until a team from IRDO visited Ugunja; her town of residence, that Norah realised she belonged to the Key Population. From her first IRDO KP encountered, she learnt what it meant to be a KP, HIV/AIDS Prevalence among Key Population and how to protect one’s self against infection and reinfection. After the training, Norah decided to enrol as a client at IRDO Ugunja DIC. “Before joining IRDO I didn’t know my health status,” recalls Norah. “Right now I know my HIV/AIDS status and can better plan for my future. I go for HIV/AIDS testing after every three months because I understand being an FSW puts my health at risk,” she adds.
Despite choosing the life she has now, Norah sometime wonders what it would have been like, living a different life from that of an FSW. She knows the business she is involved in is a risky one, without guarantees. Norah at one point tried stealing as an alternative source of income to selling her body. This was not for her and soon she was back to her old job. “I thank God I have never encountered a violent client like most of my fellow FSW,” sighs Norah.
Norah still works as a FSW, though she states that she is ready to leave her FSW life behind if offered another job that pays better. She currently schools her children by adding what she earns from her IRDO peer educator job to what she gets from her FSW job.
When at home with her children, she says she becomes a totally different person. None of her family members know she is an FSW. She is a strict mother. Having been brought up in a staunch Christian home, Norah has inculcated the culture of pray together at night whenever she is at home. Her children also read the bible during this time, including her last born who is in class one. Norah continue to advocate for safer sex by distributing condoms whenever any of her fellow FSWs are in need. Her motto is always this: “WITHOUT CONDOM NO SEX”
She encourages other FSWs to enrol at the DIC. Here, she says, they can learn life skills, reducing their chances of being victims of violence, as well as reducing their risk of HIV/AIDS infection. Her advice to fellow FSW is to constantly strive to stay healthy by always using protection.
“I am number one at counselling my peers. Most of those I talk to have stopped living the FSW life. However, there is none who has managed to do the same for me,” reveals Norah towards the end of our interview. Perhaps a distant cry for help.