On the International Day of Dance, we want to share a story of one of our grantees who incorporates dance into the work that they do. Love Prize, based in Rwanda, uses Zumba dancing to inform the community about their sexual health information program. This is the story of ‘Vava’, a former sex worker who became involved in the organisation.
Valentine, also known as Vava, is a 24 year old single mother from Rwanda.
Vava grew up in Kigali-Nyamirambo, Rwanda. While she was in secondary school, her parents divorced and she lived with her mother and her little brother. While in the third year of the secondary school, Vava’s mother was not able to provide basic financial support and struggled to pay her school fees.
Finding it difficult to keep up with school fees, Vava agreed to date a taxi driver. After dating for six months, she fell pregnant. Her boyfriend abandoned her, so she had to drop out of school. Her mother, who was struggling from financial difficulties, declined to help her as well.
Living on her own, Vava asked her friends for financial support but ended up following the path of prostitution. She decided to move to Muhanga Town where she was a new comer, and less likely to be recognized. As a young and beautiful woman, Vava got several clients and was making more money than any other sex-workers in the town. Jealousy from others turned into a very real threat on her life. Other female sex workers hated her, and they considered her as a stranger who had come to steal their regular clients.
One day, Vava met a young boy named ‘Jimmy’ who promised to give her a lot of money, and asked to stay with her for a week. One day, Jimmy told Vava that it was his birthday, and wanted to celebrate it with Vava. Jimmy invited his friends to Vava’s place. They drank beer, smoked tobacco and cannabis. Vava, who was not previously exposed to drugs or alcohol, became drunk in the first minutes of the party.
That night, she was raped by almost all the males who attended Jimmy’s party. She woke up the next morning very sick and found all her money was stolen. She could not remember how many men raped her or whether they had used a condom.
She stayed at her home for three days without anyone to help her. Feeling desperate, she sent her young son onto the street to beg, so that she could find a way to go to a hospital for help. After three days of begging, her son brought 1,500 Rwandan Francs (approximately £1.50) and she used this to visit a hospital.
During her time working as a sex worker, Vava often tried to find clients at night clubs, this was when she realized she enjoyed dancing. During the interview with one of our Love Prize volunteers, she mentioned that she could restore her sense of hope and self-esteem through dancing. She wished to get involved, and participated in a Love Prize recruitment event and joined the project as a master dancer and educator. Supported by the project coordination team, Vava was able to get a job as a waitress at a well-known restaurant, and can now live a life without drugs or sex work.
Vava encourages her peers to get HIV tested and adhere to safer sexual behaviour, and looking ahead, she dreams of launching her own restaurant.