Fénix Blog


Yesterdays's Multi-service session was excellent - we are steadily improving and polishing the model and the method.

The core is free HIV, syphilis and pregnancy testing for the most excluded, high risk and and multi-problem people from our priority zones (the Mariposa prostitution square, and the Calle 18 and other streets northwards in the Santa Fe area) in a friendly atmosphere with other services, like brief training workshops on using female condoms, women's rights, and health care access. We are usually supported by a psychologist from the City Women's Department and teams from either the main central hospital or the Planning Department who can deal with public health insurance affiliation and problems.

Recently we have also been aided by Oriéntame, a medical foundation providing birth control and legal pregnancy terminations, and young lawyers from Los Andes University working in human rights and prevention of abuse by police.

The additional services offered vary according to the needs expressed by the girls and women: we are getting lots of requests for pap-smears - so now we have to arrange that for next month, which means careful pleading with the city health department and the main cancer prevention organisation for their help.

The organisation of these sessions is quite complex, right down to arranging and transporting supplies of tests and condoms, designing and printing invitation leaflets and posters to spread around the streets in the preceeding days, putting pints of coffee in thermos flasks to be able to offer the essentail 'tintos' to those waiting, coordinating the different services, volunteers, Fénix members and interns, and additional counsellers and testers from other organisations, filling in the excel attendance sheets and post-test reports and, inevitably, arranging health care and follow-up for those who test positive for HIV, syphilis or pregnancy.

HIV testing requires lengthy pre- and post-test counselling: we have found we have to keep the numbers limited to the twenty or so that can be tested in a four to five hour session without a long wait - and without it getting too exhausting for those of us trained in counselling and testing.

It all helps generate a self-care consciousness, awareness of risks and rights, and a sense of other options in life -- that prostitution isn't inevitable and eternal.

But the biggest pimp is poverty and the most painful part of these sessions is the frustration at not having enough possibilities to offer to the wail of "I want to get out and do something else but I never went to school after second grade so what I can I do?"



From 2013

Some of the developments in the Wednesday psychotherapy and support group are important: more and more chain referrals are bringing in new girls who want help. There is a distinct clustering effect, which causes lonely and resourceless young people to group together for support, and when one of them finds she gets useful and constructive counselling, that she feels better, she is cared for and is offered ways to find solutions in Fénix then she invites her peers to come - and they bring yet more.

P. for example, has brought her younger sisters to meetings. One, E., on her third visit arrived with a friend, A., 18, orphaned, living with an exploitative boyfriend, depressed, rudderless and desperate. A. came week after week, for company, to chat, eat lunch, and eventually to burst into tears, to describe feeling suicidal and to ask for psychological support, and for help to find a job and become independent.

Rosie has started English tutoring and 'big sister' support with A.

A few days ago E. arrived with no less than four friends and explained that all needed contraception counselling. Two already had children, tthe other two, both 18, were not using birth control and had no idea about contraception. So we sat in a small circle and talked about how to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

Providing immediate opportunistic advice and information, and sometimes referrals, in a friendly welcoming atmosphere for whoever arrives is something Fénix has discovered we can do well, and is clearly a badly needed service.

And in a parallel step, Fénix now has sub-units: Rosie is inviting A. and another needy girl to her apartment for English and exercise classes and supportive 'befriending', while Amy and Hannah have two other girls to their apartment for meetings, lunches . . .  and a baby shower.

We had been discussing a project to expand the Fénix model in drop-in day centers. But they would risk becoming institutional, inflexible and clinical with professional staff. Perhaps the best way forward is through the volunteer members turning their own homes into mini-Fénix centers, to preserve the personal and informal quality of attention that is producing real change and growth in these girls.