Monday, June 17, 2013


It has been a very long first week. The definition of an emotional roller coaster. I have attached the finished Newsletter that I have written for Salvando Corazones. Some of the parts have been taken from earlier blogs, but it might give people an update on what has been happening. I will plan on updating more once I finally have some free time. Opening up a safe house is a lot of work and I am glad to have a good group of people to work with so that we can try continue to stay positive and work to complete the mission.

History Has Been Made
June 10th 2013

The Girls Have Arrived

After all the preparation, the first day has finally arrived. In a country where sex slavery and child prostitution have been so prevalent for so many years, there is finally a place for these girls to get help.

After only one day Salvando Corazones is already making an impact in the lives of the first two girls to enter the program. It was a long first day for both girls as they drove several hours to arrive at the safe house. Making things even more difficult one girl lost her belongings during the transitioning and arrived with nothing expect for the clothing she was wearing. At first, they were not excited about their new accommodations. A new room, new clothing, and most problematic, new rules were not easily accepted by the girls.

By dinner time, almost magically the tough outer shells were beginning to fade. The girls and volunteers sat down for a wonderful meal of spaghetti, soup, and salad.

Even after initially being persistent that she did not eat vegetables (“I am not a rabbit”) by the end of dinner both girls had sampled the soup and the salad and seemed to enjoy the spaghetti.

These girls who at first were unsure if they would be able to accept the rules of the safe house ended the night helping with dishes and playing Connect Four with several of the volunteers. It is exciting to see these girls opening up after having been through a life that required them to build so many emotional barriers for their own protection.

Week One

The first week has been a learning experience for everyone involved at the house. Both volunteers and the girls have had to adapt to the new stresses and rules of living together under the same roof. Maria’s (Salvando Corazone’s director) mission in the house is to create a family. A family that lives together, works together, and grows together. Families do not always see eye to eye and these issues, normally involving mutual respect and equality, (especially when dealing with locked cabinets, limited clothing, and shared cleaning duties) have lead to several house discussions. Even with tensions high, the longest and most emotional house meeting, occurring Sunday night, still ended positively with everyone at the table apologizing and going to bed less angry then they were before. Unlike other shelters, the girls at Salvando Corazones have the opportunity to express their opinions and be the owners of their own house rules. Group talks and the sense of family that Maria continues to add to the house, have forced the girls to change their view on authority and finally begin to have control over their own lives. After the first Sunday night house meeting, the girls wanted more trust. The volunteers agreed and new policies with less locks and more freedom for free time were changed and will stay that way until that trust has been broken. The give and take from both girls and volunteers has created an equality that is rare in Costa Rica. Even equality among genders is being addressed, as we have a male volunteer working as a teacher for the summer. They were very surprised to see him cleaning, cooking, and (most shocking to them) sewing.

There are so many important things that need to be taught to these girls. One major task for the volunteers is working on healthy eating. Neither girl has any real experience with healthy diets. Sadly their health problems require us to talk to them about these issues and start enforcing strict diet policy. The lack of fruits and vegetables as well as the excessive amounts of sugar contribute to both of their intense stomach pains. The volunteers had to put together a class nutrition and health. Healthy eating as well as other healthy habits dealing with cleaning, washing, and table manners are all things that we may take for granite, yet these girls have never had anyone explain to them. Along with healthy eating, excise has also been included in the daily routine. The new healthy initiative included their first morning run where all the girls and volunteers went for a run in the surrounding hills. Even after a bit of complaining about the exurbanite number of steep inclines, the girls seems to enjoy this new healthier lifestyle and are feeling better about their bodies.

Week two becomes more structured as everyone begins to settle into a routine and feel comfortable in the new house. After a week of Karaoke night, Lacrosse games, and spa night (which included facials made from a random assortment of oatmeal and garden vegetables) both volunteers and girls are ready to get into a normal routine. It has been amazing seeing how these girls truly want to be part of the Salvando Corazones family. Both girls are very excited about learning English, and have been practicing flashcards during their free time. The variety of languages mainly including Spanish, English, and Dutch makes daily conversation very interesting. Dinner conversations are in Spanish, along with various English phrases to continue to teach even outside the official “school time” hours.  

Even with all of these positive aspects, it has still been a difficult first week. It is important that individuals keep everyone at Salvando Corazones in their thoughts and prayers. It is very difficult overcoming disorders such as depression and reactive attachment disorder. Each day is a new struggle wearing on both the girls and volunteers, and together we all do our best to improve the situation for everyone around us.    

The house has been full of visitors during the first week. Two groups of volunteers came to Salvando Corazones from Menlo Park, California. First was a group of girls who came for the week to build a chicken coop. After hours of hard work including laying cement, painting, and assembling walls and a roof, Salvando Corazones have finally eaten their first batch of fresh eggs from their own chicken coop. The girls build an amazing hen house and stocked it full of eleven gallinas. Apart from their manual labor, they also were great helping the girls settle into their new house. They made sure to incorporate the new girls at every opportunity and lasting frendships were created between everyone involved. A second group of boys contributed their physical labor as well on Sunday. This Lacrosse team, who were teaching and playing Lacrosse across the country, stopped by Salvando Corazone to help around the house. After eight hours of laying cement for stairs to the garden, painting roofs and walls, as well as planting over 150 trees to act as a wind break, the girls came down to thank them for all their hard work to make the “nest” that they now call their home. The experience was life changing for numerous boys to meet the girls and try to come to grasp the problem of human trafficking and prostituting that is occurring in Costa Rica and in the United States. The great work of both of these groups is appreciated and goes along way to help support Salvando Corazones in their mission to help the girls of Costa Rica.

Embassy Visit
Thursday, Maria and a volunteer traveled down to San Jose to visit the American Embassy. We had a meeting scheduled with the new Political Officer that is in charge of how the US embassy deals with Human Trafficking in Costa Rica. There is a lot that the US Embassy is able to do to help combat Human Trafficking and it is important that Salvando Corazones as well as other NGOs work with the US government to stop the abuse of child sex slaves. Getting to meet the new individual who is in charge will hopefully create a successful relationship for the next year while he is stationed in Costa Rica to work together against child sexual exploitation and trafficking.

It was a very successful meeting and everyone is excited about working together. The Embassy already has plans in motion to work on the problem with prosecution of sex crimes in Costa Rica, which is a great start. There are many laws in the Costa Rican legal system against child sexual abuse and child prostitution, but the laws are not enforced. American offenders can not be extradited and the law enforcement does not follow through on enforcing and prosecuting the law. Just recently in Quepos the mayor was arrested twice for trafficking children across boarders for prostitution and child pornography and all charges were dropped both times. The ease of escaping any consequences is shocking and must be changed within the law enforcement side of the government. The lack of prosecution condones the child sexual exploitation and makes it a safe place for individuals to sexually abuse these young children.

This is an extremely important issue for the Embassy, because US citizens are the major consumer. Around 80% of the Johns are US citizens that come to Costa Rica for Sex Tourism, which sadly is not uncommon. Hotels specialize in sex tourism and even the cruise ships offer sex tour packages. The fact that prostitution is legal only acts as a gateway drug for sex with younger and younger children and draws men to Costa Rica to have sex for money without consequence. With such a high demand and poverty, it is very easy for children to enter the sex industry. American tourists sadly only fuel the problem that brings in so much money for so many criminal individuals.

There were several main goals for the future that were discussed at the meeting. Salvando Corazones want to push for a round table discussion that includes all the NGOs, the US embassy, as well as other embassies of other countries. All these groups are doing such great things, but there is little cooperation. Only when all groups can come together and share their knowledge and materials to accomplish manageable tasks can lasting changes be made. There are also many amazing training programs in the United States for government officials, or social workers, or teachers. Salvando Corazones also wants the Embassy to bring more of these groups like the group, Tapestry, to help educate both Americans and Ticos in Costa Rica to deal with the problem of the sex trade. We are very excited to be working with the US Embassy and hope that our meetings can lead to a unified front as well as working together to bring some of the great organization in the states to help with training and education within Costa Rica.

Community Education Project

With the house finally open, Salvando Corazones has also begun to work on community education. On Friday, Maria, along with a new volunteer Matthew Villemain, taught their first class on Personal Body Safety. This class is a Child Abuse Prevention class which they have titled “Yo soy el dueƱo de mi cuerpo”. The class focused on defining good touching vs bad touching, good secrets vs bad secrets, and then what to do if you feel uncomfortable 1) Say no 2) Find a safe place 3) Talk to a safe adult. In a classroom of 18 children, nine individuals came to talk afterwards, discussing anything from bullying, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. The class was taught twice to two different age groups and had positive feedback from the students as well as the teacher. One child confided that he was glad that we talked to his class and he was going to talk to his entire family especially to try to help his cousin who was being abused by an uncle. Simply affecting this one child gave purpose to all the hard work that has gone into planning and teaching the new curriculum.    

What Must Happen Next?
We need your help. Now that Salvando Corazones is officially open, there is no time to rest. It is imperative that doors stay open and more girls continue to arrive. Everything from food, energy, water, and (finally after a lot of hard work) a house payment, requires funds. These girls need a safe place to rebuild their lives and the combination of structure and love provided by the amazing volunteers is the key to help these girls survive. It takes a village raise a child, and sadly even more help to repair a child after the damages of sex slavery and prostitution. Fund raising continues to be the key to allowing the work done as Salvando Corazones to continue and affect the girls who need a loving and caring home so badly.   

Also, please like us on Facebook and continue to read the vast number of updates and news articles that are being posted. The only way to stop sex trafficking and child prostitution is to increase awareness, especially in the United States.

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Salvando Corazones
303 Oakwood Avenue
Menlo Park, CA 94025

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