Recently, I had an experience I just haven’t been able to shake. I accompanied a group of 52 students from Fort Bend Christian Academy on their annual trip to Costa Rica. In years past, we spent our mission time working in a fairly nice area where we painted, made repairs, and helped out wherever needed in the community. This year, however, was different.
From our comfortable hotel in San Jose we boarded a bus that took us to what appeared to be a town of devastation. Our mission work for the day was at Centro Lacitos de Amor (Bows of Love), a day care center in what is considered to be the poorest town in Costa Rica, Los Guidos, on the outskirts of San Jose. Over 35,000 people – many refugees from surrounding Central American countries – live in the marginal community of Los Guidos. Their houses are put together with scrap wood and corrugated metal, and toilets sit out in the open behind steel bars that line the street but offer little protection against crime. Those who suffer the most in Los Guidos are the children, and that’s who we were there to serve.
Imagine looking into the big brown eyes of a two-year-old whose future is beyond bleak. All of the children are being raised by single mothers and have little to no hope for escape from the community or the life that entraps them. They will only be schooled through 8th grade, and that’s only if anyone cares enough to oversee their education. But that statistic is minor compared to this one: 80% of the children we worked with, ages baby to 5 years old, will be sold into sex trafficking, probably before they reach the age of 12. Just let that settle in your brain and heart for a minute. Of the 40 or so kids that were there that day, two had already been sexually abused, one at age 5, the other at age 2.
Meet those kids, play soccer with them, and tuck babies into their cribs, knowing all the time exactly what’s going to happen to them, and then try coming home unchanged.
Human trafficking is much easier to hide in a country such as Costa Rica, which has legalized prostitution. One in three children are sexually abused and there are few resources available to the victims. Who perpetrates these crimes? Appallingly, American tourists are the biggest offenders, as sex tourism has become a hugely profitable business in Costa Rica. They couldn’t do what they do if Americans were unwilling to shell out money to have sex with children. I can’t think of anything more disturbing – more sickening – than that. Generally, the same groups involved in sex trafficking are also involved in drugs and arms trafficking, so the victims are limitless.
As I looked around the concrete structure that houses these kids for the day, I felt the unrelenting heat, smelled the stench of acrid water and sewage, and batted away flies. I took in each young face and wished with all my heart that I could take them home, save their lives, and rescue them from a certain future of misery. I came home feeling helpless, incapable of making a difference. As a Christian, I struggled with the unfairness of it all, the fact that my children were born in America with every privilege and these children were born into poverty in a country that won’t protect them. In fact, the government will look the other way while lining its pockets off these poor children’s bodies.
I shared this story with a group that makes reaching out to help others the main tenant of its existence – Sugar Land Rotary. My fellow Rotarians cringed at the suffering of this community as I asked for prayers for the children of Costa Rica. And that’s when guest speaker Mustafa Tameez, Founder and Managing Director of Outreach Strategists, shared that we don’t have to go to Costa Rica to see this horrible crime playing out. We’ve got it right here in Houston, the number one city in the U.S. for human trafficking.
The Port of Houston and the Texas/Mexico border make it easy for women and children from Central America to be brought to the U.S. under the guise of work or marriage. They are then kept against their will in brothels hidden behind seemingly legitimate businesses, such as massage parlors and restaurants. It’s going on right under our noses, and as Christians, we have a duty to stop it.
“This modern-day slave trade is an affront to modern human decency. It is the product of the worst among us,” Gov. Rick Perry said.
This is why it takes the best among us to help. I urge you to get involved in any way you can to stop this most heinous of crimes.
For a list of Christian organizations working in Human Trafficking missions, go to www.justcausehouston.com/organizations.html. Anyone with information on human trafficking can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888.
Dr. Rebecca Deurlein is the author of Teenagers 101: What a top teacher wishes you knew about helping your kid succeed (Amazon, Barnes & Noble). She is a mom of two who has a doctorate in education and 20 years’ experience as a teacher of thousands of teens. Rebecca lives in Sugar Land, TX, and works at Fort Bend Christian Academy. She has her own freelance writing business, and her blog, A Teacher’s Guide to Understanding Teenagers, can be found at rebeccadeurlein.wordpress.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter. For public speaking events or more information, go to rebeccadeurlein.com.