Saturday dec 14
Dirt and filth, but somehow the most empowering environment to be in. Poverty in every direction you look. The sound of kids yelling, parents talking, dogs barking…all around me. Driving around and all my eyes see is people walking with no shoes on, barely any clothes. All the houses have gates and heavy duty locks, robbery is the commonplace. The stories I heard today were unbelievable.
A girl tied down to a bed by her mother and raped every day by an 80 year old man. A 16 year old boy sold by his mother for sex. An evil 69 year old woman who has dozens of daughters whom she sold all into trafficking. They’re known as prostitutes…here it’s the norm. Penny, the founder of Seeds of Hope was traveling here on vacation a few years ago when two American men from Colorado told her that they come to a town called Jaco because of the girls, a new one from a different country every night. The men were married with children and grandchildren and yet they were still open to telling this random stranger about what services they received from an underage prostitute and how much it cost. It’s just absurd…I don’t understand how it happens. I do understand actually…it’s because of the extreme poverty, that’s the root of a problem that can’t be easily solved. That’s why we teach the girls at the Seeds of Hope clubhouse that they are their own women and they do what they want with their body, not what someone else orders them to do.
We got home today and went out on the hammocks and laid in them and took a few hour nap. It was so relaxing…the simple life. I have to sit back and think here because I’m not used to it. Back home everything is so fast paced and go-go-go but here it’s just a different way of life, a completely different culture. My eyes are open wide now to the world, and I’ve only seen a tiny part of it.
Sunday dec 15
It’s early in the morning and I’m waking up to the sounds of the fan in my room and kids playing soccer across the street with people cheering like crazy. It’s a sound I’m not exactly used to, but somehow the sounds bring me a sense of comfort, a sense of relaxation and happiness. I suddenly realize that this country amidst the harsh world they live in is full of happy, appreciative people. It seems hard to understand at first…a community of prostituted and sexually abused children, unstable families, alcoholic and drug-addicted fathers…how can they be happy? It’s all about the culture. They assume that it is the norm since they have been raised this way. And this makes me think about the people in American who live an unhappy life when it doesn’t even begin to compare to this. It just goes to show me that life is subjective and cultures are so very different around the world. It’s shocking…
This morning I went to church. It was in half English and half Spanish. The pastor would speak in both languages, translating everything he said. His message today was about Christmas and simplicity. He told a brief overview of the story of Joseph and Mary and told us that it is most important to think about the gift of Jesus instead of material gifts. Even if we don’t receive anything for Christmas we received the gift of Christ, which is more than we should ever wish for. Jesus was born in the worst conditions, with absolutely nothing. The manger wasn’t as beautiful as it seems, it was a trough that animals ate out of. Disgusting! But yet that is how the King and Savior of the Christian world was brought into being. It’s a reminder of simplicity and humility. I was inspired to see how faithful these people were, from the Americans to the Costa Ricans, they had so much love and passion for God, it was absolutely incredible. It’s so difficult to imagine living such a simple life down here, but when I look at the people who are doing it I realize how happy they really are. They no longer care about the material things but rather the company of each other. The people here are so thankful for each other and for their relationships with God.
After church we drove to Parrita to pick up the girls and we drove through the projects. It was so sad to see how some of the people live, in the poorest of poorest conditions. When we drove up to the girls I just couldn’t believe my eyes. They were absolutely beautiful. And so young and innocent. Josué, one of the girl’s 2 year old son, was adorable! They got in the car and we drove to get milkshakes at a place in what I think was downtown Parrita. There was a crazy man that slapped his cane up against a telephone pole, grabbed his private parts and started saying crazy stuff. It was so sad to witness. Apparently he’s the crazy old man around and you see him everywhere…scary. It was the typical example of one of the men in the poor community that rapes young girls on a daily basis. I couldn’t stand even looking at him, let along could I imagine being raped by him! It sounds so disturbing, but it’s the reality there, which is just so devastating. Anyways, we got two girls, Jasmina and Maliana and Jasmina’s son Josué (names changed for privacy reasons). Jasmina is an amazing young woman who has been through hell and back. She is forced by her mother to prostitute herself to get money and she got pregnant by her “boyfriend” a few years back. A boyfriend in Costa Rica is someone who pays for sexual activities over an extended period of time, not the typical boyfriend we think of. Her boyfriend told her to get an abortion and she refused, he left her. What an inspiration! And ever since then she has done absolutely everything for him and she has raised him by herself. Her mother has 7 kids and the dirtiest house ever, which is totally unlike Costa Rican culture. It is common in Costa Rican culture to clean multiple times a day and keep the house absolutely spotless. But Jasmina lives in the worst conditions and she also has a stepfather that comes in and out all the time, on drugs. Jasmina has had to prostitute herself just to get enough money to buy diapers for her son, not even for necessities for herself, but for the love of her life that she had as a result of being prostituted. She wakes up early in the morning and does all of the cultural stuff, cleans the house, etc. Then she makes bracelets for Seeds of Hope to sell and then cooks her own food for school. At 5:30 she goes to school for the night until about 11:30 and Josué goes to a babysitter in the meantime. She then goes home and studies. She does it all…and she only just turned 18. She was never even taught to be a mother, but she’s doing it and doing an astounding job.
Then there’s Maliana, whose mom ties her down to a bed and forces her to have sex with an 80 year old mentally retarded man. It’s disgusting. The mom does this because the man supplies them with food, etc. Then she also forces her to go out and prostitute herself for money for electronics and material goods, not even for food. She’s an evil, greedy woman who sells her own daughter.
And yet if you were to look at either one of these girls you would just never imagine what they have been through. It is incredible, they are blessings on this Earth and I just know they will do amazing things one day. They know that they are better than this and that they can make their own lives. As a matter of fact Jasmina starts an internship at a salon in a week.
After picking up the girls, we took them to the beach for a little while and then we went to the shelter for a “slumber party”. The girls had been talking for weeks about how they wanted to have a slumber party like they saw in movies…with pillow fights. We made dinner for the girls and then came time for their surprise. When they walked in the room with all of the surprise, they seemed very skeptical, not really sure what to do with everything. I showed them that I had bought boas, tiaras, makeup, jewelry and fun hair accessories for them so that we could lay dress up. In their lives, this was such a significant moment because they never had the chance to be little girls with the freedom to feel beautiful. They started dressing up and putting on makeup and you could tell just by the glow on their faces that they loved it. And when they looked at themselves in the mirror, you could really see in their eyes that they truly felt beautiful. They are such innocent beautiful young girls who have experienced a broken life rather than a privileged childhood. I think one of my favorite parts of the night was when they saw the camera come out…and immediately they were posing left and right for pictures. They made “kissy” faces to the camera just like Americans do…it cracked me up! And even in this environment where they had the opportunity to feel and play like a girl, their “exploited” side secretly shined through. I would see them out of the corner of my eye taking a picture with their phone with a seductive pose and a “sexy” face…something that is just sad when you know why they are taking those pictures. They’re trying to promote themselves on Facebook and other websites in order to prostitute themselves and make more money. They are brainwashed into this cycle where they think this is the normal way of life for a girl their age. One other crazy thing I’ve noticed is that they all have cell phones and Facebook, they’re being prostituted in this culture for money for food, but yet their families have the money for material goods like cell phones or TV and cable. It’s a concept that to me just seems outrageous…but when I step back and look at the culture I realize that is the normal world for them and they don’t know any different. It seems so messed up from a logical perspective, but they obviously aren’t thinking logically in the brainwashed culture they live in. It’s a devastating reality, one that won’t be easy to change since it is a cultural difference rather than just a problem with a simple solution.
Monday Dec. 16
Wow, the only word I can use to describe those girls. Jasmina and Maliana are such incredible young girls with so much grace and love. They were such a blessing to be around. And Josué was beyond excited with the toys I bought for him, he played with them constantly and couldn’t get enough! At one point he saw a punching bag outside and he punched it…how does a 2 year old boy know instinctually to punch a punching bag?! So cute and so interesting to see the common human mal instinct even without the cultural differences. I took him outside at one point and started making noises as I punched the bag and he would copy me exactly the same…adorable! And so smart for such a little boy. We had a Costa Rican dish called gaillopinto for breakfast, which is rice and beans. It shocked me that when Rebekah asked the girls if they wanted pancakes or rice and beans, they immediately yelled gaillopinto! It’s so interesting that they really do love their food, even though it’s all they eat, they still choose that over anything else. And they are so thankful and genuinely excited for the simple things.
We took them to the beach for a few hours this morning and they looked like they were having such a blast, just enjoying themselves and nature, letting go of their lives at home for a day to just relax and be kids. It was incredible to witness their free spirits coming out for one of the first times ever. I saw wild horses running on the beach and they saw “una tortuga” (a turtle) in the ocean.
After the beach we took them back home and dropped them off in the projects, which was just devastating to be dropping them back off to horrible conditions. They said they were going to come to Bible class later but they didn’t end up going unfortunately. Anyways, I went to the clubhouse for Bible and there were 6 girls there. One of the girls in particular was absolutely beautiful, I couldn’t believe my eyes. And another little girl was just adorable and so full of life, laughing and joking constantly. By seeing this side of them, you would never guess what they’ve been through. Since it’s so normal for them, it’s easy to disguise. They talked about making 8 decisions to change something in their lives for the better. I understood a lot of what they were saying in Spanish, even the discussions about the Bible and making changes in their lives. Also the girls made jewelry and had some to sell. The jewelry was beautiful!
Then we went to Jaco for the evening with a few women from the surrounding community. Immediately when we walked into this restaurant, we saw two American men who were definitely here just for sex, they looked like pigs…such a disgrace. They asked us to join them…little did they know who they were messing with. The director of Seeds of Hope told me that these American men that come to Jaco for sex will go to restaurants and try to pick up American women who are touristing. They attempt to “wine and dine” them and then take them back to their room for sex that they don’t have to spend money on. If they get denied and can’t find the free sex, that’s when they’ll roam the streets to find a local prostitute or go to a local brothel to hire a prostitute. About halfway through dinner I noticed this little Asian girl sit down with an American man for dinner. Definitely a prostitute, I had my radar on full blast. The director looked over at me a few minutes later and gave me the nod, yes she was a typical prostitute. So so so devastating. The man was treating her to a nice dinner, but she was stuck in a world of prostitution and she didn’t know any better. We didn’t really see any others but apparently Jaco is the place to be for prostitutes for American tourists.
Tuesday, Dec. 17
Today we woke up and went to the shelter to clean up our mess from the party. We got a lot of cleaning done and the shelter looked beautiful. Here’s the background story of the shelter:
There were three girls staying at the shelter a few weeks ago, one named Estijana and two other girls and a woman named Claudia was staying there as the house mom. She lived a life of prostitution for years but finally got out of it and had such a great success story escaping a life of drugs and prostitution. Therefore, Seeds of Hope hired her thinking she would be a great role model for the girls. But, it turned out not to go as smoothly as they expected. One of the main rules of the shelter was no cell phones and no Facebook, absolutely 0, none! And it makes sense because in order to have full-on rehab you cannot have contact with the old ways that would continue to tempt you back into that way of life. Well, apparently Claudia allowed the girls to get on Facebook and send text messages on her phone. Two of the girls ran away one night, we think with the help of Claudia. Then they fired Claudia because she was putting the girls’ safety at risk. After that, the third girl ran away and the shelter was history for that time. That’s why my trip’s plan changed course. I was supposed to stay at the shelter with the girls, but since there were no girls at the shelter, I couldn’t do that. It’s just so sad to think that these girls were finally in a safe environment away from their cultural temptations with the addition of a great family and fun atmosphere.
While at the shelter, I also picked out tank tops for Jasmina and Maliana, one that would be appropriate for Jasmina to work in…she starts an internship next week at a salon. I gave Maliana the shirt and she said “que bonita” (how pretty) and seemed very happy. It’s so hard to connect with these girls that speak another language, but I feel so connected and close with her and I hope I can keep a strong relationship with her. Jasmina wasn’t there, but I’m praying that she comes to the Christmas party Thursday so that I can see her again before I leave, give her gifts and the ball for Josué and then give her a huge hug goodbye.
Then we went home and showered and got ready to go to the clubhouse, Casa Club. We drove out to the clubhouse and when we arrived, the “clubhouse mom” was the only one there sweeping in preparation for the girls’ arrival. Soon after, girls just came pouring in with smiles on their faces. A mission group from Texas came and they did some worship with the girls and then prophetic art. They played music and told the girls to draw whatever came to their mind, whatever God was trying to show them. It was very interesting to see that most of the girls drew hearts and crosses and talked about love and peace. One girl drew a tree with leaves blowing off of it, which was so powerful and could have had so many different meanings. Another girl drew a bright heart in the middle of darkness. The girl that was next to me drew a cross and wrote “libertad, paz, amor, dios” inside of it but then she ended up drawing over the words, which was striking. I wonder why and I wonder if that signified some part of her being. I met a girl today named Calita who was Jasmina’s best best friend in the entire world and they do absolutely everything together, even prostitute. When Calita was 7 years old, her mom dressed her up and sent her down the street to get some eggs from a man. When she arrived, the man attacked her and she resisted. She kicked and fought and did everything she could to get him off of her and then went home. But when she got home, rather than being comforted by her mother, she was severely scolded and punished for not letting the man rape her for the eggs. From then on, Andrea was forced to go to this man’s house each week to be raped to provide eggs and milk to her family. She has tons of siblings running around in the small shack they live in and her mom put the food responsibility all on her. So she was forced into prostitution and eventually her and Jasmina would walk the streets together as partner prostitutes. It’s just so hard to believe that young beautiful girls like that, that appear so innocent, have been through a life that we couldn’t even imagine going through. The director also told me that 99% of the girls in the projects have been sexually abused by either family members, a neighbor, or a random person. So even if a girl hasn’t been forced into prostitution, she had at least been raped and brutally exploited multiple times. It’s awful and no girl deserves it…it’s just purely ridiculous. There were a few girls wearing lace shirts with nothing underneath other than a bright colorful bra…so inappropriate for any age, ESPECIALLY a girl that is 10 or 12 years old! Just so sad to see them expose themselves like that, with no self-respect because they just never learned that and don’t know otherwise. They aren’t constantly told by their parents how to properly present themselves and respect their bodies.
We went to Jaco for tinner and about halfway through dinner, this young blonde guy came up and SAT DOWN at our table! He just sat down, without even asking! He said “Hola chicas” and started asking how we were. And the director just told him we’re having a girls night right now and you’re not welcome. And he left. But really?! How does anyone have the nerve to just sit down at a table of girls without even asking, pure disrespect. When we left, there was a man standing by the director’s car doing something with his genitals…gross. We walked up and he told her that he took great care of her car. They told me that that is so Costa Rican, men will just stand by your car until you get back and then they demand money because they feel they deserve it for watching your car…even though you didn’t even ask them to. Apparently they won’t let you leave until you give them money, so she gave him a few coins. Then as we were driving out of the city, we saw 3 prostitutes, walking along the street, dressed in really short shorts and tights revealing tops with high heels. So exposed and used, and yet so beautiful. The director told me that they were most likely from Nicaragua or some other country, which is really sad because they were probably sent down here to find good work and money and they were forced into prostitution instead.
Thurs, Dec. 19
This morning we woke up and went to the clubhouse. The mission group from Texas threw a Christmas party with more prophetic art and lots of worship, games, and fun. After the party, I gave four of the girls letters that I wrote to them. Maliana was the only one to read hers right then and there in front of me. She stood over in a corner and read it and when she finished, she walked over to me and hugged me really tight for a long time, nuzzled her chin in my neck and said “Thank you” in ENGLISH. It meant so much. She means so much to me. It was incredible to feel like I touched someone’s life and helped her to be an independent woman.
After the girls left, I took a long walk through the projects to take photographs for the video I’m going to make for Seeds of Hope. There families outside everywhere, sitting outside their houses, or sitting inside watching TV with the door open. There were kids running through the streets by themselves. There were girls walking alone down the street. One little girl saw me and followed me skipping right in front and looking behind to smile at me every few seconds. So cute! A few people waved and said hi. Some workers talked to me about taking pictures. Believe it or not it was a very safe area, despite the sexual exploitation that is going on. I passed by a house where a man was sitting in the doorframe drunk and on drugs, with alcohol in his hand. He looked horrible and disgusting…I thought in my head he must be one of the typical abusive fathers in the area. It was just heart-wrenching to see that right in front of my eyes. Every time I saw a father with his children, I couldn’t get it out of my head that he probably will rape them later that evening or already did that morning. There’s trash everywhere in that neighborhood, huge stacks all over the place. There are little children’s toys in the trash, right in the middle of the street. It’s such a different environment here and it’s the environment that creates this culture that creates monsters. These monsters are taking over the lives of princesses and ruining their lives one step at a time.