From sex workers to beauticians

Across 13 districts, Tamilnadu AIDS Initiative helps them change their lifestyles

Staff Reporter

CHENNAI: In 13 districts in the State, 100 qualified beauticians and photographers/videographers have set up shops and set examples for others like them. The budding entrepreneurs — former sex workers — are beneficiaries of Tamilnadu Aids Initiative (TAI), a project of the Voluntary Health Services, which was begun a year ago.

The project aims to reach out to all commercial sex workers in the State, including in its ambit transsexuals and their clients. Project director R. Lakshmibai said it had covered about 32,000 men and women sex workers, of which 11,000 had enrolled for treatment in TAI's specialised free quality STD care clinics.

On Thursday, about 300 peer educators of TAI participated in the first State-level convention in the city and resolved to carry forward its developmental programmes. While earlier the project targeted intervention and prevention messages, the current aim is to enhance the quality of life to improve the marginalised community's self-image.

"Penngal Day"

The community has decided to observe January 18 as "Penngal Day" in Chennai. Through peer educators, the project has succeeded in reaching out to the sex workers community for the first time.

"The developmental programmes will teach the community to say `no' to unsafe sex," Dr. Lakshmibai said. Most members were humiliated because they were illiterate and unaware of avenues to improve their lifestyles, she said.

Some 2,000 members of the community will learn to work on computers, fashion clothes, catering and folk arts. Already the community has made three films on its lifestyle. TAI is also working with doctors and nurses in treating the community members.

Transsexuals who participated in the convention said in a couple of years they would be empowered enough to carry on the project without the help of VHS.

"We have the confidence that we can do it. Our members talk more freely with us than they would with representatives [social workers or NGOs] or Government officials. We are using this [to get across the message]," said one of them.

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