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SURABAYA - Evi, not her real name, fell down the stairs. Or, maybe she was hit by a motorbike while crossing the street. Her claims, however, cannot hide the fact that the young woman now lying in a clinic's examination bed was badly beaten by somebody.
She has been losing blood for almost a week, probably because the blows to her stomach caused a miscarriage. Maybe it is now too late to save her life. When she was beaten one week before, there was no doctor who would help her, for Evi is a sex worker.
"Either they don't dare to go to the doctor or the doctor rejects them," said Esthi Susanti, 43, managing director of Yayasan Hotline Surabaya, one of two NGOs' in the city that care about the health and welfare of prostitutes.
Julius R. Siyaranamual, who founded the organization 13 years ago, added: "Obviously the officials don't recognize it yet, how important the health issue -- and especially the health of sex workers -- will become for this city in the near future,"
Surabaya is supposed to have the biggest red light district in Southeast Asia. Latest statistics from the World Health Organization reveal clear signs that East Java could soon become one of the next hot spots for AIDS in the Asia Pacific region.
The city government's first reactions in promoting the fight against AIDS were, among other things, holding official talks about new projects and the filling of Surabaya with posters and banners. But probably, it will take a long time before those concerned in the depths of Dolly, Kaliana or any of the other red light districts feel the benefits of the campaign or the new projects. In the meantime, it is up to the activists like Esthi and Julius to care about the health and health education of Surabaya's sex workers.
"We would like nothing more than the support of doctors and lawyers, but most of them don't have the spirit of activists. They are only interested in money," Esthi says bitterly. Although she has already experienced many disappointments, Esthi still has not lost her own activist spirit.
Adhering to the "do it yourself" approach, Yayasan Hotline Surabaya opened its first clinic perempuan (women's clinic) in the heart of Kaliana on June 25. With the financial help of the Ford Foundation, one doctor, two nurses and an analyst now work at the clinic five days a week. The clinic, which is next door to the local subdistrict office, is open to every women in the area and, to avoid unnecessary complications like in Evi's case, the clinic offers everyone regular health checks and first aid in case of emergency.
However, for serious cases, there is not enough equipment. When Evi was taken by her friends to the newly opened clinic, the nurses could do nothing except call a taxi (they cannot afford their own ambulance), and accompany her to the nearest hospital. They might have saved her life, though, by giving her oxygen during the trip.
Another big focus for the foundation's prevention program is counseling and health education -- a major percentage of sexually transmitted diseases can be prevented through better knowledge of the risks and how to avoid them. "Before I came to Yayasan Hotline Surabaya, I didn't even know how a woman got pregnant, not to mention about the way diseases infect people, like in the case of AIDS," said Nelly, not her real name, a 37-year-old sex worker in the Bangun Sari area.
Although she still works as a prostitute, Nelly is now starting to investigate other ways of earning a living. "I still haven't found another way to survive," she said, "but since I became aware of the risks, I have a constant internal struggle with myself about my work. And I've found that I want to help other people who are in a worse situation than me."
So Nelly became a member of the Kelompok Kerja Berdaya, or the empowered working group in English, which consists of the foundation's managers. The core group of 25 people, all of them sex workers, gather regularly to further the foundation's three main programs: health, education and information, and well-being and safety. "The most important thing is to build up their self-confidence," said Esthi, who works as a supervisor and counselor for the group. "Only if they learn to believe in their own skills can they make the first move to escape their plight."
One way of giving these women newfound self-confidence that has proved very successful is the group's theater project. Their pieces tell about their own life experiences. All the actresses are sex workers who have never been trained to act in front of the public. But acting on a stage seems to make it easier for these women to express all their fears and frustrations as well as their dreams and hopes. Last year's performances in Surabaya and Jakarta received rave reviews, so the project will be continued at the end of this year with planned performances in Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta and, of course, Surabaya.
One of the most passionate actors is Ria, not her real name. "Joining the Yayasan Hotline Surabaya was one of the best things I ever did," the 20-year-old woman said. Ria was only 13 when her family forced her to marry a man who could have been her grandfather. She couldn't stand the marriage, which she called torture, and ran away from her hometown in East Java to Batam, where she immediately fell into the hands of a pimp. After working as a prostitute for two years, she was then sold to a brothel in Singapore.
Seven years and a lot of bad experiences later, Ria has still not lost her infectious laughter and her overwhelming juvenile energy. "She is one of the strongest you can find in this area," Julius said.
Ria's dreams for the future are simple: having a loving husband and writing a novel about her young life. "Give her a chance and she will find her way," Esthi said. "She is living proof that the problem rests with our social system, not with individuals."

Christina Schott

Tags: culture, surabaya, prostitutes, sex, prostitute, prostitution, escort

Posted in Culture @ 29 July 2002 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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