Hillbrow is to Johannesburg what Kings Cross is to Sydney - except much, much worse. It is one of the most densely populated places in South Africa and is known for violence, crime, extreme poverty and – especially – enslavement of women. Unless paying a visit to one of the suburb’s many brothels, locals and visitors alike avoid the area at all costs.
Most of Hillbrow’s 74,000 residents don’t have the luxury of avoiding the area. They are recent immigrants to Johannesburg from either rural South Africa or surrounding African countries. Many have immigrated illegally and therefore receive little protection from South African authorities. Some, mainly women, have been lured to South Africa by human traffickers promising employment. Their passports have been confiscated and they have been forced into prostitution.
Amidst the crime and chaos, members of Christ Church Hillbrow are seeking to meet the great needs of their community. Through the Umthombo weMpilo project (which means well of life), Anglican Aid is partnering with Christ Church Hillbrow to enable them to reach out to women involved in Hillbrow’s booming sex industry, a program initiated in 2005.
The project aims to meet the immediate needs of sex workers and provide them with opportunities to leave the sex industry. Through a support group program overseen by a social worker and run by trained staff, Umthombo weMpilo educates women about their rights and offers them places in skills-based workshops and women’s shelters. Women who wish to return to their country of origin receive assistance with travel arrangements and documents. The safety of staff and participants is ensured through ongoing relationships with police and other agencies.
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