A side note: I can't believe that I haven't had access to a computer for the last week...and I apologize that these posts are so delayed. I will add pictures to all my posts as soon as I can. I hope to write one post a day for the next week to catch you all up on what I have seen and heard while in Nicaragua.
I had an exciting week at House of Hope and learned a great deal about the work of this organization (see last week's post). They have many activities throughout the week ranging from bible studies and card making at House of Hope to outreach and small groups with women in the various barrios of Managua. Because I lived at House of Hope during my first week in Managua, in a bodega that is home to a missionary couple most of the year, I had a front-row view of the various aspects of the organization.
While the children attend the school nearby, the women at House of Hope clean and do various activities in the morning hours. On Tuesdays, they host a group of ~220 women for a bible study and card/jewelry-making. They bring in 4 buses and 1 truck full of women (young and old) who are former or current sex workers. Some of the women work on the street and others in brothels. These appear to be the two major environments for sex work in Managua. Tuesday mornings represent an opportunity to earn additional income by doing these crafts (the women get paid a certain amount per card or earring).
It was interesting to see how the women worked together. At some tables they had an assembly line going where one person stamped, another glued, and another cut out paper. This seemed to work well, but the interest of these groups was certainly speed -- quantity not quality. April Havlin, the founder and director of House of Hope, mentioned that the women began working together and stopped quarreling as much once they started praying together in their table groups. That's a great transformation!
A couple times a week there is an afternoon group meeting that discusses topics relevant to residents' lives as former victims of sexual exploitation and abuse (some of the girls living there were not involved directly in sex work, but had suffered sexual abuse). I was able to sit on one sexual abuse counseling session that happened in a large group the topic was honesty. April talked about how important it is to be honest with yourself and with others about the sufferings that took place in their past. The youngest girls (10-15) met together and then the older women with children met together to discuss the lesson and pray. The women were pretty open about the victimization that took place in their lives prior to coming to House of Hope -- but it was just the tip of the iceberg. Many of the women not only suffered sexual abuse, but are deeply scarred from the rejection and betrayal of parents or siblings. For some of them, it is the betrayal and rejection that is more of a present pain than the physical abuse.
On Friday, I joined Oscar and Vilma (the directors who work and live with the women at House of Hope) during their outreach and small group meetings. Each of the major communities where women come from on Tuesday morning for card making are represented with a 'cell group'. These cell groups were created in order to continue having a time of more personal contact with the women as the Tuesday morning meetings grew. We began in Ciudad Sandino and moved all around the city. The place that made the biggest impression on me was our visit to the Mercardo Oriental.
The Mercado Oriental is a notorious place of crime, violence, and prostitution. The people who live there are extremely poor. I saw many drug addicts (glue sniffing is the drug of choice there...I assume it is quite cheap). I heard the MO is the largest market in Central America. Everything -- everything -- is bought and sold there. In the heat of Managua there is an unforgettable stench of rotting tomatoes and cabbage and people swarm everywhere. I can only compare it to the Haymarket x1000. Not only did a large group of women gather for our cell group meeting, but Oscar and a former sex worker, Marlen, did some evangelism with women who were waiting for clients in a few of the brothel areas.
I was surprised by the look of 'sex work' in the Mercado. Two of the stops we made were to women who were just sitting, hanging out, in an alley way. There was what looked like a house in the back of the alley, and I assume that was where they went with clients. Some of the women were more 'dressed up' than others...but it was 11:00 in the morning!
Then we went to a real brothel. When we stepped up to the sala where the women were sitting the dueña (madame) moved into the restaurant/bar which was behind the sala. Oscar began talking and suddenly pop music came on loud overhead. The dueña had turned on music to make us leave. We stayed, Oscar and Marlen speaking loudly with some of the women who seemed most engaged and interested, and then we left. The whole time Vilma was holding her 2 year old daughter with me close by. I couldn't help but wonder what it will be like for little Emily as she grows up seeing so clearly the exploitation and sexual victimization of women all around her.
That was the jist of the activities that I saw. They also have some mentoring for the girls who are living in the dormitory by a really nice young Christian woman who has a heart for children and discipleship. April's son and his wife have started a children's ministry that works with vulnerable youth (including the children of sex workers) that is attended by women who come on Tuesday mornings and to the cell groups, as well as the residents of House of Hope.
A medical team came last week to provide some assistance to the women and children who are at House of Hope. These short-term teams are seen as an integral part of helping House of Hope carry out its mission.
More on other thoughts about House of Hope tomorrow!!