Interview with Andrea O’Donoghue
There are two types of people in the world: those who prefer to be ignorant and live unconsciously, and those who choose to be conscious. Andrea O’Donoghue, a 32-year-old graduate of the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP) in Cape Town, has chosen the conscious path.
Andrea works within the lesser-known and stigmatised community of sex workers in South Africa. She holds a position at the TB/HIV Care Association, a major funder and strategic partner of the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) in Observatory, Cape Town. She chose to become a counsellor at SWEAT and is the link between the two organisations.
Andrea develops and oversees the drug and alcohol programmes. The mandate of the group is “health and human rights for sex workers”. SWEAT (and its partners) is not trying to rescue sex workers or challenge the way they make a living; it is simply working towards the recognition of sex workers in the bigger picture – as fellow citizens with rights.
Andrea holds a diploma in a short counselling course from SACAP as well as an undergraduate degree in psychology from UCT. Her experience ranges from drug and alcohol counselling to HIV counselling, which has led her to the specialist field of addictive-substance management within the sex worker arena.
The drug and alcohol department associated with SWEAT launches programmes and distributes information that supports the safe use of drugs (such as clean needle use, as well as constant referral to drug rehabilitation facilities in Cape Town). In doing so, SWEAT creates a safe, nonjudgemental space for its affiliates that also extends to its staff.
Asked what she enjoys about her job, Andrea’s response is unequivocal: a workplace that allows its members to express themselves and learn in absolute honesty.
The skills Andrea acquired at SACAP have enabled her to manage the more challenging aspects of her job. The fluidity between theory and practice during her psychology studies ensured she was job-ready when she started her career in counselling.
The contrast between the well-resourced SACAP campus in Claremont and Andrea’s office at SWEAT is immense. So how did she manage to bridge the gap between her training at SACAP and the reality of her job? The fieldwork and time spent as a volunteer prior to formal employment prepared Andrea for what she knew she would be exposed to.
Like most of us – no matter what line of work we are in – Andrea admits it is a challenge to separate her workday from her private life. But, she adds, it is a distinction that is important for both her personal and professional lives.