How peer educators are changing lives in Mozambique

Stigmatised people like sex workers often find it hard to access medical care, which can have serious consequences. That's where peer educators come in. As community members they build trust and offer support, empowering people to take control of their health. Peer educator Domingas shares her story...

When I was younger, I lived with my parents near the border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe. I am the oldest in a family of six siblings. After my mother passed away, I moved to the city of Beira, on the east coast of Mozambique.

Not long after that, my brothers came to Beira too, because they were mistreated by my stepmother. That meant I had to take care of them.

I found work at the port, checking the cargo coming in from the ships. But it was hard: I didn’t earn enough money. I had two daughters and very big responsibilities. I had no way to support them. Their father still doesn't provide money for us.

That's when I started working as a sex worker.

The cough

I’d been doing sex work for a while when I got a cough that wouldn’t go away.

I took an HIV test. It was positive.

At first, I became very depressed. I thought I was going to die, and my daughters were going to suffer. But at last, I lifted my head up and accepted my HIV status as a reality.

Living positively

I first met Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) when I started using their services myself, but it was a bit late for me.

The teams here provide sexual and reproductive healthcare services for people including sex workers, men who have sex with men and at-risk youth.

I wish I'd had the chance to know everything I know today, then.

Nowadays, my daughters know I'm HIV-positive. They used to watch me take the pills, until one day I sat down and talked to them.

I said, ‘the disease that mum has needs pills every day, and with the pills I am okay’.

Now, sometimes, when I go out, I come back and forget to take my pills and they remind me, ‘Mum, you didn't take your medicine today’.

So, I'm living positively, I'm happy.

A new role

I now work as a peer educator with MSF. I go to the community, I identify the girls who are at risk, I talk to them, then I take them to the clinic.

At first people didn’t fully trust me, but nowadays, they see me with the uniform, and they respect me. I talk a lot to the girls about the importance of knowing their own health and the risks they are exposed to depending on what they decide to do. It’s really gratifying.

My work

From my experience, a lot of kids here are having sex for money. Men are looking for them or exploit them because they know they are desperate to get little things, like a phone or a dress. They charge very little and don't use protection. Most of the girls have issues with sexually transmitted infections. We keep telling them to use a condom.

The clinic also offers services like pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, care after sexual and gender-based violence, family planning and counselling.

Without a peer educator, it’s very hard to know who is at risk in the community. It's complicated, but I help a lot of people. Sometimes I can't believe I'm that person!


Read more: Stories about sexual health