Living library project on AIDS Memorial Day where the ‘books’ were real people with stories of their own to share © 2008 Alliance Ukraine Participants in the Photovioce project, India © 2006 Jenny Mathews / Alliance / Photovoice

“I am a person and I should protect myself” - sex work and self esteem in Barbados


Donovan at work as a peer educator (c) CHAA / The Alliance
Donovan is a community animator who works with male and female sex workers in Barbados to help them take steps to improve their lives, and reduce their risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

As a peer educator, being a former sex worker has enabled Donovan to inspire other sex workers to change their lives. “I can understand and relate to them because I’ve been there,” he says. “They tell me what’s really going on, and what help they need. Being who I am, I can reach the groups that won’t talk to anyone else.”


Donovan explains that low self-esteem is one of the key factors which make sex workers vulnerable to HIV. “Sex workers don’t see their self-worth so they get into situations that put them at risk of violence” he says. “If they are helped to feel more positive, they might think, ‘well I am a person and I should protect myself’”.

Many sex workers lack the skills to negotiate safe sex with their clients, meaning condom use among sex workers is often inconsistent.

Working as a peer educator has made a “tremendous difference” to Donovan’s life: “The education I have now helps me in negotiating to use a condom. It also showed me a lot of self-worth, self-preservation and self-love. It gives me a sense of not only being here, but being responsible and accountable for what I do with the groups I work with.”


Donovan has also been able to have a positive impact on those around him. A friend was getting very ill, and Donovan thought it could be related to HIV. Without preaching, Donovan approached his friend about getting tested and said he was there to support him. “So I took him to get tested and then when he tested positive, I took him to get treatment. I linked him up and now he’s on treatment and doing very well,” Donovan explains.

Seeing people in his community able to negotiate better makes Donovan happy. He explains that people say to him “I have learnt something and I intend to negotiate condom use, as at the end of the day I have a responsibility to take care of myself”.


Donovan is one of many community animators who were part of the first stage of the East Caribbean Community Action Project (EC-CAP), a three year programme funded by USAID through the Alliance Secretariat and the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Alliance (CHAA).

All of the community animators were drawn from and work with marginalised populations who are at higher risk of HIV. Animators have reported a reduction in the number of sexual partners among their clients, more effective referrals to support services for people living with HIV, and distribution of condoms and lubricants.

A five year continuation and expansion of EC-CAP is now in place, expanding the work from four to seven countries across the Eastern Caribbean. This follows the successful completion of the first project, and builds on the successes of work by community animators like Donovan. You can read more about the project in this evaluation.

Althea is another community animator who works with migrant sex workers in Antigua. Read her story here.