Leslie Ibeanusi

Leslie Ibeanusi (Transnational AIDS Prevention among Migrant Prostitutes in Europe Project – TAMPEP): Leslie earned her BS in biology at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia (2001-2005). In 2005, she was crowned as the inaugural Miss Nigeria in America, where she represented young Nigerian women of the diaspora. Since then, she has become passionately involved in global health and social justice issues affecting women and children in African countries. She had also co-founded a nonprofit called Making Noise Inc, which uses the arts and media to raise awareness of social justice issues in Africa countries. At the time of her fellowship, Leslie had just graduated from the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at the George Washington University in Washington, DC, where she received her Master's in public health with a concentration in global health promotion.

Working in the Corn Fields: Juliet and Sylvia

29 Jun

Working in the Corn Fields: Juliet and Sylvia

My little naive eyes are seeing much, and my heart wants to break each time with each new discovery. There are things you see that leave you speechless…experiences that show you that people are in bad situations. You know this…you read it everyday… but when you see it, you’re numb because somewhere deep inside of you didn’t believe it could be true…or that it couldn’t be that bad…but it is…For some people everyday, it is that bad. Perhaps my shock is simply personal…maybe I’m just too naïve to believe that girls are struggling like this everyday. Despite my naivete, why should anyone be used to hearing this or seeing it… The title says its all…


On Wednesday afternoon, I went with two of the cultural mediators, Laura and Collete, to do the street units, or unita d’strada as they say in Italian. Basically this means we go in the handy dandy TAMPEP van (I feel like its going to break down every time we hit a pothole in the road) and we drive around the city and the outlying areas to distribute HIV/AIDS prevention materials to the sex workers there. I’m kind of nervous you know…so like I’m a pretty open person, love talking to people…but its not every day you pull over on the side of a deserted road to talk to girls about prostitution.

We proceed to drive…rather bump along… outside of Turin. Now this is country if I’ve ever seen it…there are beautiful houses in the mountains, the roads become narrower, and green fields stretch for miles on end bursting with every kind of crop you can imagine. Its beautiful, I tell you- a place for a picnic, a place to ride horses….not a place where you’d expect to find sex workers. Laura was driving and telling me how many girls they usually saw during the week and explaining the literature they gave them. I tried to listen…I did, but my eyes kept darting to the sides of the road, bracing myself for what I was going to see. I’m thinking, “Girls couldn’t possibly prostitute out here.”

We turn down a small road…and bam…right there were two Nigerian girls…sex workers. Seeing them there seemed so normal, like they were waiting there because they’re car broke down or that was their weird hangout spot to chat…but it was all sooo very wrong. They were sitting under the shade of trees, playing cards. One was on the ground while the other sat in a little chair…kind of like the ones you’d see in a classroom. Thinking we were perspective clients, what looked like the younger of the girls, stood up and flashed us her backside. I turned away. As we pulled in next to them, the TAMPEP mediators rolled down the window, and greeted them, “Ciao bella!” Laura leaned close to me and whispered, “ We’ve met them here many times before. This will just be a follow up.” Really?…I began to wonder how many times they’d met them there.

Seeing that we were girls, they immediately began tugging on the few clothes they had on to cover up what they could. Laura started asking them questions- how were they doing? Had they visited a clinic? What were the results of their bloodwork? I kept staring at one of the girls. She was pretty, probably around 19 or 20. She had a nicely done weave- a fiery reddish, orange natural twisty afro that interestingly complimented her shiny brown skin. Her skin…was beautiful. Having had skin problems in the past, I marvelled at how clear hers was. I started thinking about what product she must use. Many of these girls spend lots of money on skin creams to maintain their “market” A lot of Nigerian girls, specifically, use skin brightening creams. Maybe their clients like lighter skin….I don’t know…

I reached out to pinch her cheek like I would do with any of my friends and said, “Look at your skin- its sooo clear- so pretty!” She smiled a big grin, exposing the little gap between her front teeth. “Thank you,” she replied. She quickly flipped back, “Are you Nigerian?” (Ok, so I was used to this question, as many people I’d encountered were curious….they thought I was French and that I had a different look than the other Nigerian girls …. I hadn’t heard that before). I told her my Nigerian name and she said, “Oh Oluchi! So you’re Ibo? What state?” I tensed slightly. Collete, the TAMPEP cultural mediator told me earlier that when Naija girls here see that you’re not from Edo State…rather you’re from Imo or Anambra state, they think that you’re trying to show them up or something).

I said, “Imo State.” Her eyes looked down…and I changed the topic quickly. I started asking about the other girls name and age (TAMPEP-style: get key info through basic conversation). She was 23. Gosh.
As we were talking to them, a van drove by with a man leering out the window. One of the girls quickly hopped up, and acted like she was bending down to pick something up. She hadn’t dropped anything. It dawned on me. She was sill working. Even as we’re talking to them, they still had to look out for the next job. As this guy drove by again, it took everything in me not to run up to the car and shake him. Didn’t he see these were young girls? Didn’t he care how they got there? ….of course not, Leslie…Why would he?

I turned back around and we began explaining to them about Project Turnaround, a TAMPEP project that helps girls that have been voluntarily or forcibly deported to make a new start in Nigeria. The girls listened politely to all the info. At the end, we left, hoping that at least one of them would come by the office for help.

We drove off slowly. Having to turn back around to get to the main road, we passed the girls again. They were smiling and looking a few feet away from their spot on the road. They had a client- a really old guy, standing furtively by his car, under a bridge. Seeing how old he was, I thought I was going to be sick. Despite our words to them, they still had to do this…If they didn’t bring money back, they faced a madam at home that could beat them, or risked being turned into the police, or the “threat” of the consequences of juju rituals that said they and their families would die if they didn’t do this.

To them the obstacles to turn away from this were too big. This was life or death.

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Posted By Leslie Ibeanusi

Posted Jun 29th, 2007


  • Z-Connie

    July 5, 2007


    Dear Leslie,

    This experience may be very tough on you emotionally but remember how strong your are to help these sex workers. They look up to you for help and support. Even if you don’t think so they are.
    Keep up the good work, I look forward to hearing more soon. I have copied your blogs to other Zontians and they too are speechless.

    Take care and be safe,


  • Mendi

    July 9, 2007


    Naija girl wetin you gon’ give us a sad-sad story like that-o? Wow! That’s just sad.

    Are the Johns held accountable for soliciting the services of these women? I’m so saddened by the limited options that these women have– how do you go around to changing the situation for these women and other potential victims unless you improve the economic situation in Edo State? Are there any short term fixes I wonder?

  • leslie

    July 10, 2007


    Great question Mendi! You’re right- In my opinion the only true solution is to have a major impact on the econoomic situation in Edo State Nigeria. The short term fixes (that arre proving helpful) are programs like Turnaround and groups like TAMPEP. They’re taking girls after they’ve been affected by the system and helping to give them other options.

  • Marie

    July 10, 2007


    Hang in there! You are making a difference with these women- even if they keep doing the same thing- how important it must be to know that someone cares about their health and well-being.


  • Demola

    January 21, 2008



    I commend you for your work, someone has to do it. However, majority of these girls you are trying to save LOVE what they do…. contrary to popular belief, many of these females are not being forced to be prostitutes, they just love being prostitutes…. I want you to keep that in mind as you do what you are doing out there in Italy and I wish you the best…

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