Global Grassroots 2011 Year-End Magazine - Page 31

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Global Grassroots 2011

“My closest brother – he died,” she says. She looks at the dirt.

“Oh,” I say. “I’m sorry.” I look at the dirt, too. Gyslaine doesn’t translate.

Mess-up number one.

We move on. “Before I came [to CVTS],” Rahema tells us, “life wasn’t easy. We just walked around, on the street. I could only buy something to eat after having sex with a man. When I heard that CVTS was teaching women skills … I decided to go back to my village to sell my land.” She started at CVTS in 2008.

The intensity of Rahema’s experiences makes her a challenging interviewee; I feel as if I’m tip-toeing the line between what I want to know and what I don’t want to ask. I learn why Rahema started prostitution (she felt she had no other choice) and why she stopped it (CVTS kept her too busy to return home and meet men, and she learned to fear HIV at the school’s trainings). I learn why she’s thankful to have a technical skill like sewing (she feels like a more powerful woman, with a belief or trust in her future). Because of the HIV/AIDS education she received at CVTS, Rahema got an HIV test last year. Her result was negative. “So that was lucky,” she says.

Rahema’s classmate Isabelle is tall and willowy with a calmer sense of movement. She smiles at me, and I feel her eyes settle softly on my face. She keeps her hair cropped close. Isabelle, too, was born in a village far from Kigali, in 1975. She tells us that

she didn’t like living there. “My parents sent me away, too,” she says.

Did her family turn her out because she became pregnant out of wedlock? Did she begin her career as a commercial sex worker in her village, then? I wonder these things, but I don’t ask. I guess you and I won’t ever know. That’s the thing about telling stories that belong to someone and somewhere else.

Isabelle talks about the things she has gained from her time at CVTS. “I learned how to create relationships with other people in society,” she says. “Because you know sometimes, when people are working as prostitutes, they are always having conflicts with other people in the community. Because you feel shame – that they are always saying things about you. So you become someone who is aggressive.”

Rahema expresses a similar sentiment. When you work and live with a group of women, she explains, “you learn from each other about love; you feel commitment to each other, and you feel compassion to each other.” The friendships she has built at CVTS have provided her with a model for positive relations with the rest of her community.

Isabelle found CVTS through neighbors who’d heard of an association that provides technical training to female prostitutes. She remembers the very date that she enrolled: March 4, 2010. “[Before CVTS], I was capable of nothing other than having sexual relations with men. But now I have my