Nkoko Iju Africa is a community-based organisation in Mombasa that primarily advocates for the rights of sex workers in the surrounding community.
This group forms an important part of our ecosystem of pharmacists, shopkeepers, doctors, community-based organisations, and Tiko users who all work together to connect young women to healthcare and other services they need.
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Chickens scratch the ground below their coop, pecking at the morsels they find. ‘These will grow up to be good for the market,’ comments Marilyne Laini, founder of Nkoko Iju Africa (NIA), a community-based organisation in Mombasa that advocates for sex workers in the area. We stand together among the clucking birds as Marilyne explains, ‘Sex workers also need economic empowerment. They have no other alternative – it’s not what they want to be or do, so there’s a gap for economic empowerment.’ Hence the chickens.
Along with raising poultry, Marilyne’s approach to seeking and establishing alternative income streams with the members of NIA are ingenious. In particular, she teaches women to make charcoal from charcoal dust and sand. Mixed with water and left to dry into chunks, these pieces are bundled together and sold in the surrounding community. ‘I am also a victim of violence myself,’ says Marilyne. ‘Because it’s my passion and something I went through, I don’t want anyone else to go through that – it’s the driving factor for this work.’ Together, these women pursue economic opportunities alongside sex work and share the proceeds for the betterment of all in the group.
Triggerise’s digital membership platform, Tiko, is the hub from which our users access our services. Young people sign up (most often through community mobilisers like the ones in NIA) and are immediately eligible for free healthcare services in their local communities. ‘When Tiko came on board, we got another platform to support women from,’ says Marilyne.
Our partnership with NIA began in January 2022. Together we offer teenage boys, girls, and women mental health counselling, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), antiretroviral treatment, and family planning methods. Across Mombasa county this year, nearly 60,000 services have already been accessed by over 23,000 young people. Community-based organisations like NIA are responsible for enrolling 10,943 people onto Tiko in 2022. Other enrolment pathways include peer-enrolment and self-enrolment.
In Mombasa, a lack of economic opportunity and support can lead young (often single and alienated) mothers to sex work, which exposes them to health risks, as well as pregnancy, increasing the need for income. About one in ten female sex workers in Mombasa are HIV-positive, and NIA creates a safe network of medical and emotional support that steers sex workers away from life-threatening risk and offers an opportunity to access alternative income streams. Building relationships is also a key part of how NIA operates. Group discussions and information sessions, one-on-one mentorship, and HIV-positive treatment accountability partnerships are crucial to the success of NIA’s intervention in this community. In 2022 to date, over 10,000 HIV tests (both self-administered and performed at clinics) have been accessed via the Tiko platform in Kenya.
Two friends and NIA peers, Emily and Lyce, support each other as young single mothers and sex workers. ‘My friend Emily introduced me to Tiko’. She said, “I have something that will help you a lot and you can get free services, medication, and even condoms,”’ says Lyce, a 24-year-old mother of three. Over a year ago, Emily was beaten by one of her clients. She was advised to seek out Marilyne, who has a longstanding reputation for championing the rights of sex workers and gender-based violence survivors. ‘I access PrEP through Tiko and counselling and emotional support through NIA. I need both; this life is tough,’ says Emily. ‘When I joined Tiko I got Miles and could go to the shops. I’m so happy with it.’ By accruing Miles through accessing Tiko services, Emily has been able to buy essentials at local shops, steadily decreasing her dependence on sex work as the sole source of support for her three children.
‘Violence and vulnerability are reduced when women are empowered,’ says Marilyne. Alongside economic and emotional support, mental healthcare is an important part of what NIA offers to the Mombasa community. Tiko mobilisers and NIA staff members, Everlin and Elizabeth, have recently completed an eight-week course for Interpersonal Psychotherapy in Groups (IPT-G), in line with the WHO’s mental health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP), which addresses mental healthcare in countries like Kenya. ‘We are proud of Triggerise for initiating this,’ says Everlin. ‘We are ready to go!’ When women and mothers are in good mental health, it is not only them who benefit, but their families, friends, and communities as well. Improved mental health contributes to healthier and happier societies, and in this Mombasa neighbourhood, the staff of NIA are equipped to guide women into holistic empowerment. Through Tiko, members are guided to local counsellors who will support them in seeking treatment for mental health issues.
Now in its fourth year, Nkoko Iju Africa has become a haven for the people who need it most. We are pleased to be in partnership with Marilyne and her team, and look forward to supporting NIA in its pursuit of improving the lives of women and vulnerable teenagers in Mombasa.
11 November 2022