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Drop-in Center: Experiences from Macedonia

“You need to answer the following questions: will you need space for the toilets, shower, laundry, kitchen, or just a meeting room with basic equipment and furniture for group meetings/sessions/education and small kitchen? Maybe you need to plan space for children as well, or maybe even space for basic gynecological mobile checks/tests?

When a basic plan is prepared, you need to start thinking of fundraising.

We applied to GFATM and they approved our proposal. The application was for three years funding, and the first plan was to rent the premises. But than we calculated that with total amount of money for rent we can buy small house and secure sustainability forever :)

It took us some time negotiating with GFATM, but at the end they approved buying property in Skopje.

Than we started searching for appropriate premises which was the hardest and longest procedure. The drop-in center needs to be easily accessible to those whom you are targeting as visitors.

We decided to settle the drop in near the street scene or a Roma community because services provided in the drop in were most likely to be used by the people working there. But the dilemma was to whom to be closer, and how not to exclude some groups which are in need.

After one year of searching and talking to sex workers we found a compromising solution. We remodeled the house in order to built separate shower, kitchen, etc, then equipped the premises and in January 2006 finally started working.

The center is promoted as center for women, and from the early days we started building good relations with neighbors.

During the remodeling phase, when the neighbors thought it would be only an office, we slowly started promoting our work and sensitizing them by inviting them inside to have coffee or tea. We focused more on explaining the need for services than the target group itself.

Although with most of the neighbors we have built great relationship, we can not deny that some small incidents happen from time to time - like sending the police to check out what is going on inside (the police wasn't allowed to enter, I went to see an inspector in his office), or gossiping against us.

I’ve almost forgot to mention - we engaged a sex worker to help running the center and develop the activities which will be held there. Although we theoretically knew that the outreach work and services provided on the street are something totally different from providing services within a drop in, we were still surprised when we faced that in reality.

Than, the hardest thing was to give life to the drop-in and avoid seeing the huge investment standing empty with one visit per day. Sex workers were used to our outreach services, and in the beginning they thought it was meaningless to go to drop in when they can meet and talk to social worker at the outreach spot, get an appointment to a doctor there, get tested there, talk to legal advisor also. To think of taking shower or doing the laundry in the drop-in was a bit strange for them at first.

We started organizing workshops for sexual and reproductive health and hygiene, and provided a hygiene packs for every participant. In addition to that we developed beauty workshops where sex workers got free hairstyling, makeup, manicure, pedicure, and started to organize social events like quizzes with awards, educational games etc.

And when people come for one thing they would use some other services too, and in time would ask for more.. The main thing is to make people feel this place is their place, really friendly and comfortable. So now they cook there for each other, give ideas what to do, peer educators have a place where to organize sessions and meetings. Sex workers usually come with their kids, so they asked for some activities with kids too: like learning to write, help with homework, etc..

I hope this helped. If you have any other questions, please write, I am here to help you” – says Marija Tosheva from HOPS, Macedonia.

More about HOPS
Contact: Marija Tosheva, marijat@hops.org.mk