AN international aid worker is using her experience of transforming the lives of deprived communities in Africa to support vulnerable families in Stockton.

Genna Wilkinson has taken over the helm at A Way Out, a charity reaching out to victims of poverty, abuse and addiction in the town.

They may be thousands of miles apart, but struggles faced by people in Uganda where she lived for seven years are shared by those on Teesside.

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“I met a girl in Uganda who was sleeping with soldiers in exchange for food. I explained to her that she was at risk of catching HIV but she said she would rather die of AIDS in two years than of starvation in two weeks.

“Coming here I have found that girls are working on the street for survival sex from the age of 15. I feel that there is more of a need than we can cater for. It is so hidden behind the scenes we have to really invest a lot of time and finances to get there.

“When parents are trapped in poverty and lack love in their own lives, whether it’s in Uganda or Stockton, how easy is it to love your own child? And if they are not getting love at home they will look elsewhere,” added the 33-year-old, who is also development manager at Christian group, Alpha International.

Originally from Devon, Miss Wilkinson has spent 10 years rolling out programmes on a global scale working with street children and girls in prostitution.

“One of the things I shared in my interview was that what really drove me to go out there was a desire to work with children on the streets. My life’s aim is to make sure there are no children on the streets by the time I die.”

Miss Wilkinson, who took over as chief executive officer from the charity's founder, Jessie Joe Jacobs, last month said she was impressed the charity had 100 volunteers on its books but was keen to recruit even more ambassadors and fundraisers.

A Way Out runs several initiatives including ‘community hubs’ in Stockton town centre, Port Clarence and Thornaby where nutritious food parcels are distributed. It also runs the Liberty Project to help women escape sexual exploitation..

“I invested in local communities in Uganda but I had never done that in my own country so to work with a community here is really a privilege," she added.