Imagine you are a teenager under the control of a pimp.
He drops you off at a corner and picks you back up at the end of every night. He takes all your money.
Imagine no freedom.
Imagine not being able to go to the store by yourself—if at all—use a telephone, or walk to school without being followed. Imagine being stolen or sold from your family, crossing the border to a foreign country.
image via CC Flickr
This is the life of many girls in Costa Rica right now.
I once thought all these girls could choose another lifestyle besides working the corners until I saw this presentation:
A man stood still in the front of the room. A rope bound him. The rope was not all that prevented him from moving. Soon, emotion after emotion covered him to show each thing the prostituted people feel.
Worthless. Broken. Hopeless. Empty.
They value their bodies for nothing, and society does not accept them. They face hate, judgment, sadness, loneliness, and desperation on a daily basis.
image via CC Flickr
These things will keep the prostituted peoples on the street. It is not that they do not want to go anywhere else in life. It is the thought that they do not have what it takes to go anywhere else in life.
Before I came to study abroad in Costa Rica, I did not think much of prostituted people. I have occasionally seen them downtown but never had interactions with them or even thought of having interactions with them. I thought they were all there by choice because they wanted to earn some money rather than work another job.
I judged, yes. I judged without knowing some of the men that control their every move. I judged without thinking about the emotional toll that binds some women and men to the street because they feel they are not good enough for anything else. I judged using the word prostitutes without thinking they are still people too.
I came to Costa Rica through Veritas Christian Study Abroad program not only getting to study, but also participating in missions as well. This weekend, I had an all-day training to learn about prostituted peoples in Costa Rica, what binds them to the streets, and how they are still just normal people too. It sounds so obvious after hearing it, but society is quick to judge by looks that most do not give a thought to what is behind the situation—at least I did not.
After my first time on the streets in San Jose, my eyes opened and my old view shattered.
Image via CC Flickr
Twelve of us in a van stopped at a park and got out in groups of three. We walked together to strike up conversation with women on the street and offered them coffee and cookies. We ended our conversations with prayer.
It might not seem like much, but sometimes we are the only people in their lives who make conversation with them. A simple act of conversation, coffee, and cookies shows them there are people out there who love and care for them. It was intimidating to walk up to them and start conversation, but it did not take long for me to see the eagerness in their eyes or how much they longed for a simple talk.
Yes, it was hard to hear them talk about their need for work tonight because of the bills due tomorrow. I hated to turn around and see the person I just talked to gone. However, we still cared for them and prayed for them.
After the first night of this ministry, I returned to my room drained.
Drained of all the information that had been thrust into my brain that day. Drained with the stories of women who had committed suicide because they felt they had no other options and stories of kids who were there illegally and under a pimp.
But I was alive.
Alive with the knowledge that these people do not always want to be on the streets and there are people and ministries trying to rescue them. Alive with the thought that I have three more months here to participate in this ministry and see what amazing things can happen within this time period. And alive with a new perspective about a topic I had no right to judge on but still did, and thankfully can now do something about it.
I had never given prostituted peoples much thought. You may not have either. I challenge you to think about why these people are on the streets, and if you are near them, go out of your way to simply have a small conversation. You never know what is going on in their lives that puts them on the streets.
Sometimes, a simple act of love and kindness is all it takes for some to know there is hope.
Kari Kviten is studying and serving with Veritas Christian Study Abroad in San Jose, Costa Rica this fall semester. She is a student at Berea College in Kentucky.
Join students like Kari whose expectations are being shattered and lives are being changed. Engage in international social justice ministry and help victims of trafficking and abuse find worth and freedom. Go to Costa Rica this spring, summer, or fall. See the other Christian study abroad programs Veritas offers in locations in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Talk to a Veritas rep.