Faces of Hope

Today was spent taking portraits of the women, girls, and children who live at House of Hope. They are each in different places, from anger, pain, terror, courage, strength, acceptance, even joy. Some told tiny pieces of their stories, some said nothing at all, and a rare few shared in great depth their painful paths that lead them to House of Hope.

These are a few of the women and their beautiful children who I am falling in love with each day.

forgiveness found its face

I don’t know where to begin. Today I sat on a rusty chair listening to women talk about their deepest wounds, watched them cry, heard their anger, hit the walls they put up. But in the middle of all the pain, fury, confusion and brokenness, forgiveness was given a face, a story, and breath.

What is the root of this problem? Why are thousands of women living a life of prostitution? Why are children robbed of their innocence before they’re old enough to go to school? Like all problems,

Estoy Yo

Yesterday we took portraits of the women and girls who live at House of Hope. Some welcomed us with huge smiles, others shyly smiled at the camera, some glared, and one very sad, broken girl, Alma, with a heart breaking story wouldn’t even look up.
Today, we were blessed to hand each girl and woman a beautiful portrait of herself. Their responses ranged from giggles of excitement and wonder, to silence and contemplation at seeing themselves. We had each one paste their photo to a piece of paper, and write words that described who they are. We encouraged them not to write things that others have told them-what men had said, or what the madams at the brothels said, but rather what they believed, what they felt, who they thought they were.
Afraid, Broken, Joyful, Saved, Sad, Beautiful, Angry, Confused, Betrayed, Hopeful, Ashamed, Healing
Then we encouraged them to describe what “God’s love is…”
Healing, Trustworthy, Rescuing, Powerful, Real, Strong, Precious, Forgiving, Perfect, Father, Merciful, Peaceful
Some women proudly displayed their work, some didn’t write anything at all, some wept. But at the end of the day, each woman and girl had been reminded, or perhaps told for the first time, that she was precious, worthy of love, and beautiful.
It is humbling and beautiful to have witnessed this day. I’m amazed and thankful to have been a few moments in these women and girls’ lives. There is a lifetime of healing and battles to fight ahead of these beloved daughters of the King. But we serve the only God who can change lives and mend the broken hearts. Praise God He is not finished with any of us.

Me and Valorie, one of the many precious girls who stole my heart.

the women of House of Hope

The following photos are of the women who come to House of Hope’s weekly vocational training and their children. Between 200-300 women come each Tuesday to learn how to make beads, cards, and jewelry, as well as hear and share their stories. Approximately 20-25% of the women who come are still working as prostitutes on the streets. The training to make and sell jewelry, cards, and sewn goods has created an opportunity for these women to have an income other then prostitution. Many women and girls were forced into prostitution at young ages through human trafficking or kidnapping, while others were sold into prostitution by their own family members. Other women begin because they have no other way to feed their families.

House of Hope

Tomorrow we visit House of Hope. It’s a vocational training center for women and girls coming out of prostitution. Sever hundred women come each week, 20-25% of them are still living and working on the streets. At the House of Hope, women are taught how to make earrings, cards, and beads in order to have an alternate income. They raise money to help put the women through school, provide uniforms for the adult womens’ children and uniforms for girls coming off the street so that they can go to school, as well as raise money for scholarships. A few times a year basic medical care and check ups are given, offering dental care, vision care, and STD testing.

As a part of House of Hope, different programs are offered, one of them being a class on Addictions. Some of the addictions these women and girls battle are alcohol, drugs, and glue. Many of the older women have a sex addiction, and there are even some who are addicted to garbage. This garbage addiction is like a gambling addiction. Many women and children have spent their entire lives hunting through garbage in hopes to find something good-letting this go has proven to be a big challenge for many of them.

There is also a Residential program in which about 40 women actually live at House of Hope. 10 of these women are mothers with a number of children. Many are girls coming off the streets, often times having been sold into child brothels by relatives at the young ages of 5 and 6 years old. There are also girls living in the dorms, and they range in age from 8-15 years old.

Each story is different, as I’m sure I will learn tomorrow, but today we met with April, the woman who runs House of Hope. As she explained what they do, she gave examples of different womens’ stories. One girl, named Hazel had her first child at the age of 9. Another women, Berta, who is now 24 years old, was first a victim of prostitution at age 6. And yet another, Alma, was kept in chains behind a building for 7 months; she is currently 11 years old. April explained how whatever age these women are first abused at, that is where they stop maturing emotionally. So you may find a woman who is in her early 20s who emotionally stopped developing at age 7 or 8.

There are three phases of recovering from sexual violence and trauma:
1. Sadness-feelings of betrayal and loss of innocence
2. Anger-mad at the situation, angry with the people who should have protected them and those who abused them
3. Frozen-this is the worst stage-they are numb, frozen, and in denial of what has happened, until they leave this phase it is impossible to move forward

I don’t know the heartbreaking stories we may encounter tomorrow- I don’t really think there is a way to prepare for it. As I sit typing this, processing through the things I was told today, I know that I’ve barely begun to grasp the depth and complexity of this monstrosity. It’s so easy to separate oneself from the issues, thinking they are worlds away. This is not reality; reality is that we are in and surrounded by injustice, abuse, violence, sex slavery, human trafficking and so much more everyday. These issues are not just in Nicaragua or developing countries. Coming to Nicaragua has shown me that it isn’t that far away; being here doesn’t even seem very far away at all.

It’s sickening that people, made in God’s image, struggle each day to eat, feed their children, and to find shelter. They fight for safety; they are victims of injustice and political corruption. Innocent children are the victims of our world’s greed and our world’s lust. It’s sickening that while half our world fights to survive, the other half is frozen in an apathy that blinds and cripples.

Why is it that it takes the disgusting, shocking stories of violence, injustice, and the innocent’s violation to arouse mild interest? This should not be.

I don’t know what tomorrow will hold. Certainly emotions will bounce from confusion to frustration to anger to joy to humility to sorrow and to things words cannot express.

I only wonder what my small part in this is. I’m here, for a fleeting time-why? Will God choose to use me in all this? We all want to change the world and leave an unforgettable mark, but perhaps we are asked to learn, to listen, to be quiet, to be available, and to surrender the tiny piece we are given that was never really ours to begin with.