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When Elena not her real name arrived in Malaga ten years ago for a holiday, taking a break from her Law studies in her native Bulgaria, she could never have imagined that it would end up as a one-way journey. A casual meeting with a childhood friend while she was here marked a before and after in her life and meant that her future would be very different from the one she had planned. She was persuaded that independence was desirable, and in pursuing it she destroyed all her dreams.
She was working as a live-in home help and told me life was much better in Spain," says Elena, who is now 37, "but I regretted it almost from the start. Even after things went wrong, going home was never an option for Elena, who had left her parents and sister back in Bulgaria. Her family has no idea what happened to her after the crisis began. Elena lived in Torremolinos, "where you get to know a lot of people," and things became very desperate for her financially. In the end, she decided her only option would be to sell her body.
Strangely, neither Elena nor the other girls who took part in this report used the word 'prostitution', although that was their common destiny. Elena refers to it as "doing that"; Gladys, beside her, only says that yes, she also used to hang out on the Guadalhorce industrial estate to make a living; and Cristina tells her story of real hardship but only refers to "the other.
But "the other" is what led these women to the Mujer Emancipada Emancipated Woman association in Malaga, which tries to help women who have become involved in prostitution on the industrial estate and have voluntarily taken the decision to change their lives. In other words, that is what the women want to do and the association gives them the tools to do so, as part of the 'Kapaces' project. The Arrabal association also plays an important role in this project.
The initiative, which was the idea of the Citizen Participation, Immigration and Cooperation for Development Department of Malaga City Hall, has been operative for three years and during that time it has assisted 45 girls. About 20 per cent of them have found work after taking part in this programme.