While working with the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), a human rights NGO in Cape Town, South Africa, I collaborated with my fellow ISMMS student, Vivian Nguyen, to create “I Am A Sex Worker.” Over the course of 9 weeks, we interviewed and took photos of 85 male, female, and transgender sex workers. Each has agreed to share their stories, portraits, and “I Am A Sex Worker” statements in hopes of combating the dehumanizing, sensationalized media representation of the sex work industry and those who participate in it. Through this project, we hope to spark a dialogue about the shared humanity in all of us.
Included here are 7 entries from “I Am A Sex Worker.” The full project can be viewed here.
It was high-pitched and rose to reach a crescendo before giving way to racking sobs then slowly built up into the crescendo all over again. The research assistant came over to me looking extremely shaken and close to tears. This is what she narrated to me:
It was the second week of administering our Needs Assessment Questionnaire. My two research assistants and I had arrived at the Radiotherapy department of the Korle Bu teaching hospital at 7:45am to begin seeking the consent of caregivers of cancer patients. We would ask them if they would be gracious enough to spare a moment to answer questions pertaining to their role as caregiver.
At 11:30 am, I decided it was time for a new strategy. The university students and I had been shuttling between a canteen and the department in order not to take up the limited space in the waiting area. At the canteen, we went over the process of seeking consent from our caregivers a few more times. On my sixth trip to the Radiotherapy Department where I was hoping to gain the sympathy of a nurse to inquire about anyone else in the department who I may be able to speak to about the project, none other than the Head of Radiotherapy appeared from a room.
Today was quite the day!
At dawn, I made the trek from my house to the main road in order to hop on a local bus (a trotro) to begin my 3-hour commute to the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. I engaged in conversation with the driver on the fourth (and last) bus I was on and he told me his sister lived in Connecticut. He was thrilled to learn that I had spent four years in school in a state whose existence many Ghanaians were ignorant of. We exchanged numbers and he promised to put me in touch with his sister. The taxi driver and I had found a personal connection!
Kamini Doobay, Class of 2017, wrote this mix of poetry and prose after joining the treatment team for a 10-year-old boy with cancer.
His parents called.
They called every now and then –
to share new stories, to ask about fundraising events
they could attend, or simply to say thank you again
and again for saving their son.
They often sent fruit baskets, holiday cards and photos
of Joe playing ball, winning awards or just giving us
that innocent smile – one we know so well,
one that barely left his face,
even when he was going through hell.