FOR many years, the area commonly referred to as “Pa Booster” at the heart of the sprawling suburb of Epworth in Harare hogged the limelight for the wrong reasons.

Some called it Sodom and Gomorrah, as commercial sex workers, including under-age girls, made the area their sanctuary to solicit for clients.

The area also gained notoriety for harbouring criminals, drug dealers and all manner of miscreants.

However, a ray of hope is shining through Epworth following the intervention by the Government, the First Lady Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa’s Angel of Hope Foundation and several donor agencies

Much of the area surrounding “Pa Booster” is undergoing a renaissance, with newly built market stalls now in place and a host of community projects that are lifting residents out of poverty.

The Government of Zimbabwe, the European Union and the United Nations, together with authorities in Epworth recently launched vending markets dubbed Epworth Safe Markets to empower the community.

According to the Zimbabwe Poverty Altas report, the poverty prevalence rate for Epworth is 63 percent, meaning most residents live on less than a dollar a day.

The Epworth Safe Markets, which facilitate women’s economic empowerment, comprise well-lit stalls, a children’s resting room as well as ablution facilities.

In partnership with Amai Mnangagwa, the Zimbabwe Open University introduced short courses for open learning to help the community with skills that help them fight poverty and create employment for themselves.

Some of the self-help projects that have become popular among the women include detergent-making and trading at the vending stalls.

When Amai Mnangagwa launched the programme to help the people of Epworth on September 13, 2021, over 3 000 women were registered.

During a media tour to Epworth a fortnight ago, councillor and Epworth Local Board chairperson Mr Gift July said about six vending markets had been constructed so far.

“We have built different markets in each and every ward so that the beneficiaries, who are mostly women, can be accommodated. Each market accommodates 68 people.

We have built approximately six markets and the other one is 75 percent complete. So from this you can see that hundreds of people are now making a living out of these ventures,” he said.

“Amai Mnangagwa has implemented programmes here trying to stop all the bad things that we had become accustomed to.

 “The Zimbabwe Open University helped young girls that were into prostitution with skills to start various projects. The successful attendees were awarded certificates to empower them.”

Zimbabwe Republic Police officer in the Victim Friendly Unit department, Constable Judith Mukewa, said interventions by the Government, the First Lady and other stakeholders have significantly contributed to a drop-in crime in the area.

“After the involvement of stakeholders, we have witnessed a decrease in crime in the area. We are hoping to eradicate child prostitution and child marriages in the months to come.”

Beneficiaries of the new ventures that are changing the face of Epworth include commercial sex workers, orphans and people living with disabilities, among others.

Marange Ndayiziya, a former drug addict who operated around the “Pa Booster” area, said her life will never be the same again.

“I would like to thank Amai (First Lady) for changing my life. After enrolling for the ZOU short course, I learnt so many things. What I learnt has helped me to be a volunteer here in Epworth. I help a lot of other people by encouraging them not to take drugs.

Drugs almost killed me and I did many bad things to get money to sustain the habit. It was very hard to leave drugs. However, when the First Lady’s programme came, it was easy to quit because I became occupied with learning new things and becoming a better person.”

A former Epworth sex worker said she has been empowered and had no intention to return to her old life.

The lady, who asked not be named, said: “I really appreciate what the First Lady has done for us. I have been enlightened to learn that as a lady, I can do better with my own hands rather than selling my body.

“I used to operate at “Pa Booster”, but my life is far better now because I can put food on the table.”

One of the gloomiest sights at the “Pa Booster” of the old days was that of young girls, barely in their teens, soliciting for men.

The Junior Mayor for Epworth, Desire Nyagura, said they had embarked on extensive campaigns to educate young girls on sexual exploitation.

“We carried out a number of site visits to the “Pa Booster” area to address the vice of young girls that engaged in prostitution. Some of them were as young as 10 years old.

“It is good that some of them have since left the practise and they have found a new lease of life. Most of them said poverty drove them into prostitution.

“The empowerment programmes that have been introduced have helped them engage in activities where they can earn some income while others have returned to school,” he said.

SOURCE: The Sunday Mail

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