The Pioneers of Change programme (initiated by the McConnell Foundation in 2017) developed from concerned community leaders and families approaching Chance For Change asking for our support in helping to prevent their daughters from becoming involved in prostitution. The final straw for them was the rape of a primary school girl in our area; they were desperate, and they needed our help. They couldn’t trust the police, and they had nowhere else to turn.
After a period of research into the problem, the pilot was commissioned and it was agreed that initially we would work with 12 girls for six months. The first 12 girls brought their friends, they in turn brought their friends, and before we could draw breath, we had 40 girls, then 70, and so on. We currently have 290 Pioneers
Apart from the formal workshops, we offer art classes, a girls only gym, football, netball, drop-in counselling, girls only social events, and medical support (including HIV and pregnancy testing). The idea is that once graduated from the formal workshop programme, girls can either run their own peer support groups at our centre, or take part in our social programme in order to stay within the support network of the programme.
Graduates from our first groups now act as informal outreach workers in their communities identifying participants for the programme and supporting them. They also have a relationship with our staff and police victim support staff, whereby they identify very vulnerable girls in their communities that require direct and swift intervention.
These girls also assist the Chance For Change facilitators in workshops and share their experiences with new participants. Their experiences of being involved in prostitution and suffering abuse are a key element in the tenuous first weeks of a new participant’s involvement and engagement on the programme; a time where trust and the generation of hope are crucial. Their advice is often of significance in enabling other girls to manage a safe exit from the situations they are in.