Today, I bring you the story of a wonderful young girl I discovered very recently. She is into a lot of things. The part, however that drew me to her is the art of curbing our society of prostitution. Please enjoy part of my discourse with her..
Do tell us about yourself and what you do?
My name is Chiamaka Jacinta Umeukeje. However everyone knows me as Empress Marky. I am the founder of the NGO called THE EMPRESS LADIES FORUM. In my NGO, we are into prostitutes' rehabilitation. We're also into hawkers' back-to-school programs. We give them a new life. According to a research we did in Awka and Nnewi, we discovered that, apart from students, 70% of the prostitutes we have here are people who used to hawk one item or the other on the streets. When we tried to talk to them, they explained their pain to us. They talked a whole lot about the pain of being born into poverty which led to them hawking on the streets and subsequently being exposed to all sorts of sexual harassments and abuses. They talked also about being raped at some point. Yes. Some guys would lure them to the back of their shops in the name of trying to buy their commodities, but end up raping them and giving them tokens that range between N500 and N1000. You can imagine a hawker who finds it difficult to make a thousand naira in one week and someone sleeps with her and gives her that amount. It gives them room to ask themselves why they should suffer when they have such an option. So, you see, they automatically go into prostitution. Prostitution is one of the oldest professions in the world. It dates back even to the ancient Egypt, but funnily enough it's a profession that nobody has ever dared to try to stop. I was however moved to take up that apostolate because of what my fellow girls are passing through. I really feel for them and I'm deeply committed to the cause of helping them.
So, how has it been like, working with these kinds of people. Was it easy to get them to be a part of your NGO?
It hasn't been easy. It's a part of my membership drive to get these hawker and prostitutes to join us. Yes. I mean, getting them to be members of my forum. Most times, if you talk to them, the first thing they tell you is, 'You're coming to judge us' or, 'if we stop this, what other options do we have. Again, you know that there are classes of girls. There are those of them who manage to earn between N1000 and N2000 per day. Those ones are easy for us to get. There are other ones that are called CALL GIRLS. Those ones make between N500,000 and N1,000,000 per night. So, what kind of empowerment do you want to give to those people? What we do, however is to try as much as possible not to hurt them by judging them with our words. That was why we propounded what we called THE DIVERGING PRINCIPLE. This principle is what we use in working on their psychology. For instance, we show you your back by showing you also, your front. We appreciate who you are, but at the same time, show you what you look like out there. It is a tactic we use. Again, sometimes, we make use of guys who go to pick them up and in exchange, get their phone numbers and fix a meeting with them. At some point we have to meet with their union, because they sure do have their union, so on the days of their meeting we can go and identify ourselves to them, that's how we are able to make them members, for those of them that are willing enough to trust you, but this is system or principle is very much effective o those of them that earn less than #50,000, but those who earn more than #50,000 a night it has been difficult, but I would and I can empower them but I do not have what it takes to do that so I have not been able to.
Ok, so how long have you been doing this?
Well, I started this NGO just from my hostel in school as a studen . I studied at Abia State University. I started with my roommate and those my roommates I really wanted to work on. They bought it though it was difficult for them. At first, they made jest of it but the good news is that they bought it. From there we moved to our courtyard where we invited our hostelmates . it was like a hostel girls' gossip thing, where we come to talk about the girls who goes for what we call “ Akiroro” , what we call “ girls who never return this night” and then we try to talk to them and from there it becomes a functional NGO and we went ahead to incorporate it and am happy that today, it's getting to 2 years now even though at some point we stopped because I lacked the finance to carry on the NGO but am happy that today we are back again and we are functioning and doing what we are supposed to do for the society.
I was about asking how you get the funds to run that kind of NGO because I know it is capital intensive
It is highly capital intensive but for now, I'm just trying to see how I can convince them to agree to be sent to some of my friends who are farmers. I am a farmer too. I want to send them to some of my friends' farms and for those of them who earn N500 per day, to see if they can get a work where they earn like N30,000 per day, then we try as much as possible to keep in touch with them and counsel them but currently, we don't even have an office because we lack the funds. So, if we can get the government to support this dream, this vision, I would be very glad because it is something that would help both the rich, poor and needy. Our children are going out there to school and in school they meet these girls and become their roommates and hostel mates. This reminds me of what is happening in Anambra state currently, where Governor Obiano burnt the chalets. The police took them, but they were never empowered. They were all left to go back to society. Now, to be frank with you, they are everywhere in all the hostels in UNIZIK, COOU Igbariam and even all those hostels in the Temp Site in Awka. Instead of where they used to live in secluded places, they are now dispersed into society. So, now children from good homes go out there to become their friends and roommates and subsequently get influenced by these girls. This has increased the high rate of prostitution in Nigeria, especially in Anambra State. I remember the story of Miss Anambra. These things are things that we can recall. For the hawkers, we try to protect their interest and so, send them back to school by sending them to learn skills. When they learn these skills and start working, it would help in going a long way to better their lives. Then, the reason why this back-to-school program is very important for hawkers is that based on the research we conducted, the ages of hawkers in Onitsha and Nnewi precisely is plus or minus 13years which means, when you go into the streets, you'll see a little girl of 8years hawking goods and of course, undergoing several sexual harrassments that you can ever imagine. That is why it is very important that this dream is supported.
Are you fulfilled so far?
I'm not. I wish I could do more because it's a dream, a passion burning in me. I wish I could effect this change. This is like the oldest profession in this world and nobody has ever dared to put an end to it. All we have ever done is just try to avoid it. I want to look get these ladies, look into their eyes and tell them what they have inside of them. I want to show them the embedded talent God has given them. I want to show them that the world can be better. I want to show them that they can actually make this world a better place. Our lecturers also in a way, promote prostitution among students. Yes. You would see a girl sent to school by her parents. Her parents might give her a phone of about N15,000. When she goes to school an sees her friends with bigger phones of about N200,000, they would want to do everything to meet up. So, if we can be able to correct this, it would be great. If our lecturers can start teaching the students more and start marking the scripts of students according their grades, I think we would have less cases of prostitution in our society today. Our politicians can try to make judicious use of tax payers' money. Prostitution can be curbed in Anambra state. In Italy and so many places in the world, the latest now is that girls are selling their kidneys for money. We can stop all these things if we can come together and work as one and if I am supported. In my group, I have ladies who are ready to work with me to make sure that this vision is achieved. If I can be supported and put heads together with them, I think we're good to go.
Does your NGO cut across any gender?
We have both male and female members, although it was just an only-female thing initially. Currently we have males because we noticed that it's difficult for a girl to approach a prostitute, but a man can easily go and pick them up and then we have a platform where we talk about what is involved. Our media consultant is a guy. Our graphic designers are guys. We definitely can't do without our guys. Right now, we are accepting guys as members but the major membership drive we have are ladies, male hawkers themselves and prostitutes as much as we can and students who are our major targets.
So, what message do you have for young girls out there?
The message I have for young girls out there is, be who you are. There is nothing you want to do that you cannot set out to achieve. Just be content with whatever you have because, from what I know, back in the days, poor families were the ones who produced the best doctors, best lawyers and accountants. As a matter of fact, the best in every profession. So, you have no excuse whatsoever to do the wrong thing because you think you want the right thing for yourself and meet up with the social standards. It's not necessary. The most important thing is for you to know who you are and discover that quality God has blessed you with. When you discover it, bring it out and let's bless this world together.