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Unique Savings Scheme Aids Sex Workers

Chennai: A health-linked savings scheme has given a new meaning to life for thousands of sex workers, members of the transgender community// and HIV positive people in Tamil Nadu.

The scheme by the Tamil Nadu AIDS Initiative (TAI) and the Voluntary Health Service (VHS) aims at educating the marginalized communities about the benefits of saving. People are encouraged to drop their meagre savings in hundis (mud pots), take them to TAI centres and later open bank accounts.

Said Geeta, a commercial sex worker: "I have been in the profession for 10 years. It was only recently that I learnt how to save." Geeta is also a member of the Association for Rural Mass, an NGO that has introduced hundreds of commercial sex workers to anti-AIDS initiatives.

"I saved in a small hundi for the last three years - just Rs.3,750. At the end of January, I started another (hundi). I never had comfortable savings. But this scheme has given me the opportunity to do so," she added.

The scheme, launched in October 2006, was initially for only three months. They have now continued it among TAI and VHS' 50,000-strong community of high-risk groups like sex workers, transgenders, HIV positive and the destitute.

"Marginalised women and members of the transgender community are unable to protect themselves from violence and infections because of their low negotiating skills. We are working with communities that have no idea what it means to save or open a bank account," says TAI director Lakshmi Bai.

"Once we initiated the process, we were shocked to find that within three months hundreds of bank accounts were opened," she exclaimed.

At present, over 6,000 women and transgender people have savings accounts negotiated by TAI.

They take their hundis to the TAI centre and deposit their savings in their respective bank accounts when they go for their monthly health checkups. There are community
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