Banker gives up high life to help Africa’s sex workers


By Rory Reynolds

A HIGH-flying finance executive has quit her lucrative job to lead a project helping stricken sex workers in South Africa.

Ellen Crabtree, a senior marketing manager at Scottish Widows, left her successful corporate career and pledged to dedicate her life to helping those in poverty.

The 50-year-old, who also ran her own consultancy in Edinburgh, says she’s using her business skills to make a difference in one of Johannesburg’s worst districts.

She intends to help woman leave the world of prostitution – which is expected to boom during the World Cup this summer – and set up their own catering, sewing and beauty businesses.

“Not satisfied”

Ellen, who has a master’s in business administration, said that she became disillusioned with her career.

The mother of two said: “I had a great lifestyle, my own hours and lots of flexibility but I felt I was helping rich people get richer.

“I was not satisfied. It was economically great, but it was not aligned to my values.

“I waited until the time was right to look into volunteering as a way to change my life.

“In some senses, my current role is not that different to corporate life, meetings, managing staff, organising events, but the content is different and the empathy needed is different.

“On a daily basis I hear stories that would break your heart if you let them – that didn’t happen in corporate life.”

World Cup

Ellen made the life-changing decision after meeting orphans whose parents were struck down by Aids, while on holiday in Cape Town.

She joined the Voluntary Services Overseas organisation, and as well as setting up businesses in South Africa, she will be giving advice on STDs to thousands of football fans at the World Cup.

The country is the centre of the HIV/Aids epidemic, with more than five million adults infected.

Last year about 250,000 people died from illnesses related to the disease, often due to lack of medication.

Ellen said: “There has been a lot of hype around sex work and the World Cup.

“Sex workers themselves are split in their expectations; some think they are going to get rich and leave sex work based on the earnings from foreign visitors.

“On the other hand there is a fear that they will be rounded up and thrown in jail for the duration of the tournament, to clean up the streets.

“Our concern in public health and HIV prevention, so we will be support any efforts to provide information and education and condoms to visiting clients, and will be working hard with sex workers, as always, to provide them with the support they need to access healthcare services and prevent the spread of HIV.”

“Really great”

Judith Brodie, director of VSO UK, said that having someone like Ellen onboard was a huge boost to the project.

She said: “It’s really great to see someone from such a high-powered UK job finding a career path by volunteering with VSO.”

Ellen left home last year to become co-ordinator at the community centre in Hillbrow, Johannesburg where she helps around 500 a month.