Providing a Bridge Out of Sex Work

Jabez House

They say “don’t judge a book by its cover” and it’s true. I found this out a few years ago as a volunteer with Youth with a Mission (YWAM) as I worked in Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District. The ‘ladies behind the windows’ were our clients whom we visited weekly. My perceptions of them changed after a couple conversations with them. After a few months, I came to the conclusion that these ladies often ended up in the sex industry because of their vulnerabilities. Many were immigrants who shared their stories of why they were in Europe doing what they were doing – to be able to feed their families or repay loans. Back then, I was disturbed, often wishing that there was more being done to offer these ladies an opportunity to earn another source of income.

In 2012, Shamelle Rice did more than wish.  She started a charity in Barbados to ‘do good’ to sex workers when she founded Jabez House to meet the needs of vulnerable women in the sex industry. Jabez House offers services such as housing, food, toiletries and clothing, business and vocational training (in areas such as cakes and pastries, nail technology, hairdressing and sewing), access to sexual and reproductive health care and general health checks. Shamelle’s vision is to provide a platform that provides alternative economic empowerment opportunities for the ladies she serves.

Getting started with Jabez House took courage and passion and Shamelle was able to convince friends and family to commit small amounts of capital on a monthly basis towards her vision and thus the dream was born. She cautions anyone with a vision and a passion not to wait until they have all the resources needed to get started, but rather to just start. Six years later Jabez House has assisted 300 female sex workers through their program.

If you visit their website www.jabezhouse.com, you will find an eye opening study conducted in 2017 on women engaged in transactional sex work in Barbados. Of the thirty participants who were interviewed, “all of the participants were poor, with the overwhelming majority living in abject poverty.  More than half of the participants reported challenges providing food for themselves and their children day to day.  A similar proportion of the participants owed rent or other household utilities.  Some of the participants were homeless at the time of the interview.  These participants were either living in charity shelter or living temporarily with friends or family.” This is the profile of many who work in the sex industry. The study also revealed that a variety of factors including poverty, limited education, sexual abuse, family instability and early entry into sexual relationships were the most common reasons why women entered the sex industry.

In light of this, Jabez House is playing an integral role in bringing hope to broken lives and to address some of their challenges. Shamelle recounts how a former client who was involved in sex work for 10 years had a transformational experience after enrolling in Jabez House’s program. This lady decided to leave the streets 4 years ago and with some assistance was able to start a small chicken business and other ventures. My guess is that had Shamelle not intervened to ‘do good’ this lady and others like her, would still be selling their bodies to put food on the table.

But what motivates a woman like Shamelle to do what she does with love and care that her clients note is characteristic of Jabez House? Shamelle recounts how she grew up in poverty and recalls hearing her mother crying at night when she thought the children were sleeping. This birthed her passion to reach out to other women who were in a similar state. But it has not always been easy. In 2015, a fire devastated their building and the charity lost everything they had worked hard to acquire over the years. But they didn’t lose their resilience which was tested in the days that followed.

In less than 2 months, Jabez House was functional again and the fire turned out to be a blessing as the charity received more than double the supplies that they had lost. The very next year Shamelle was awarded a Queen’s Young Leader Award by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for her pioneering endeavours. Talk about rising from the ashes!

 Shamelle partly attributes this to having a positive mindset. Her advice to those who want to ‘do good’ is to ‘get started, keep your head down and stay focused. Everything will not always be perfect. You will have to put in a lot of work; there will be lots of disappointments and frustration, but if you are really committed to it and continue working with passion and dedication you will reap success.’

If you are interested in supporting Jabez House, you can:

  • Become a monthly partner by taking up The $20 Challenge (or more should you choose)
  • Donations can be made at any Scotia Bank branch to account number 871341, or you can simply make an online transfer or mail a cheque
  • Adopt the charity as a company or family
  • Establish partnerships to provide employment and business opportunities
  • Make a covenant (tax claims can be made)
  • Donate food items and/or clothing

Be sure to visit them at www.jabezhouse.org or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jabezhousebarbados/. You can also call or whatsapp 256-4615 to get in touch.

 

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