Guyana: "Keep the Light On" Project Helps Guyanese Woman Turn Her Life Around (April 2009)

Evan grew up on the small island of Wakenaam in Guyana's largest river, the Essequibo. Her family was poor and her father's alcoholism, which often led to both physical and verbal abuse towards Evan and her mother, made her living situation unbearable. At the age of 19, Evan eloped to escape her life at home, but she quickly found herself in a similar situation when her husband's abusive, alcoholic and womanizing ways surfaced.

Evan bore four sons during their 14 years of marriage. But those 14 years were too much for her. After years of abuse, Evan could no longer handle the burden, so she left her husband and children for a life of commercial sex work and alcoholism.

Her drinking habit and new work life left Evan uneasy and unhappy. But this would change.

Evan was invited by individuals working with commercial sex workers in her area to attend a workshop on HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention supported by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR.) Evan attended the seminar and found the visit to be both compelling and profound.

Evan was an active and engaging participant at the workshop and was soon approached to become a Peer Educator for the PEPFAR-supported "Keep the Light On" project. The project is aimed at building the capacity of commercial sex workers to provide HIV/ AIDS education to their peers and to teach them safer sexual practices. Evan eagerly agreed to be trained.

Since becoming a peer educator, Evan has stopped commercial sex work and no longer drinks alcohol. Today, Evan speaks openly about her past life and is widely respected by her community for her candor and knowledge regarding HIV/AIDS. She has remarried and reconnected with her children, who are excited to have her back in their life. They regularly remind Evan that they are proud of her.

Now, Evan is truly happy. She said that she feels like she has been given a new lease on life. Asked why she agreed to tell her story and have her picture taken, she said, "I was a commercial sex worker. That was a part of my life and so I have no problem having my picture taken. It was who I was, but [that's] not who I am today."

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