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October 11, 2012

When Tim, Emily, and I traveled to Bolivia in July, one of our main objectives was to photograph each of the young women living in Casa Albergue. We wanted to gift beautiful photos to each of these girls whose stories are not so beautiful. We knew two weeks in Bolivia would not be enough for us to “change their lives” in any significant way – that wasn’t our goal. Tim and I went to document the everyday life at Casa Albergue, in order to share their work with all of you and provide them with images and video for fundraising. Emily is currently working on her Doctorate in Psychology, so the staff at Albergue invited her back to do extensive research with the girls living there and even with some of the graduates of their program. As we worked alongside the staff at Mosoj Yan and Albergue, we heard beautiful stories of restoration and healing and redemption. It was an honor to photograph the girls those stories are about.

I dreamt of having an extended period of time with each of the girls to photograph them in a way that would truly reflect who they are. Instead, we had what I would call an afternoon of uncontrolled chaos. It was hilarious and fun and not anything close to the plan I had in my own mind. When we travel in Latin America, we have to remind ourselves of la manera latina – the latin way. Everything is go-with-the-flow, relaxed, unplanned, and unexpected. By the end of this trip we stopped planning what we’d do each day, because it never ended up how we expected. This particular afternoon, one of our last in Cochabamba, we laughed when we remembered we were photographing teenage girls – of course it would take them three hours to get ready for their portraits! When it came time for each of them to have their photo taken, they started out each pushing another girl to the front of the line, too shy to be the first in front of the camera. By the end, they were directing us around, deciding where they wanted to sit or stand and what “poses” to do next. Even though it wasn’t the carefully thought-out photo shoot I had in mind, it was beautiful to see the girls laughing and having a blast together and I’m grateful we were there to capture it.

You may remember we had our laptop stolen when we arrived in Bolivia – this prevented us from being able to give the girls these photos while we were still in the country. Luckily we had an Instax camera with us, so we improvised! Fujifilm makes this fun little instant camera which was perfect for the girls – they loved seeing the image appear right before them. While we’re still going to send each of the girls at Albergue a print of their photo below, we were happy to gift them with something small before we left!

If you haven’t read the last post about Albergue, you’ll want to start here. It’ll give you more background behind these photos and these girls’ stories.

October 3, 2012

Today I will be happy.

Today I will be happy. I will get rid of every sad thought in my Spirit.

Today I will be grateful to God for the joy and happiness he gives me.

Today I will try to change my life.

Today I will work cheerfully, with enthusiasm and passion.

Today I will be friendly. I will not criticize anyone.

Today I’m going to eliminate two plagues: busyness and indecision.

Today I will have confidence in myself.

Today I will confront all my problems with decisiveness and courage.

Today I will not envy those that have more money, that are more beautiful, or have better health than I do.

Today I will not think in the past. I will not hold a grudge against anyone. I will practice forgiveness.

I will repay bad with good. The future belongs to me.

And tomorrow I will have another day like today.

This is posted on the wall of the dining room where each of the girls at Casa Albergue eats each day. It is there as a reminder to these girls that they have been given a fresh start and, despite all that has happened to them, they can choose their next steps. These girls have lived on the streets. They have been abused verbally, physically, and sexually. They have been abused by people they don’t know and by their own family members. Some have been sexually abused since they were too young to know anything different. Others had to sell their bodies because they had nothing else left. One was kicked out of her own home after being raped by her father and becoming pregnant at 13. These girls know what it means to feel violated, hurt, fearful, and to be able to trust no one.

I’m not trying to shock anyone, but the reality of these young women’s stories is not a pretty one. I’ve had a hard time putting all of it into words – knowing what’s appropriate to share and what’s not. It’s not fun to talk or read about the truth sometimes. But if it’s truth that calls us to action that can help others, then it’s the truth we need to hear. These few young women at Casa Albergue are not the only ones who this has happened to. It has probably happened under our very noses and we haven’t been aware of it. We like to think that these things only happen in far away places like Bolivia. But that’s nowhere near true.

The girls in these photographs are blessed to have found (or been found by) Casa Albergue. Now they live in a place that is safe, they eat three meals a day, they go to school and learn a trade so they can have a legitimate job when they “graduate” from the house, and they learn where true healing and redemption comes from. The holistic treatment at Casa Albergue has an 85% success rate. That is, more than 8 out of every 10 girls graduate from the house, and go on to get a job to support themselves, further their education, even get married and have a family. This success rate is extraordinary. Because these girls are “treated” spiritually, in addition to physically and emotionally, they are transformed from the inside out. It is this transformation that has brought many of the young girls back to the house to help and volunteer for years after they have graduated. They know the transformative power and healing that a relationship with Christ has had in their own stories, and they want that for other girls as well.

Tim and I tell the stories of these girls to shed light on what they have been through. Our hope is that the photos, video, and stories we share speak to someone. We pray that someone is moved to support Mosoj Yan and the healing work they do for these girls. Or that someone decides to volunteer their time and energy to further what they and organizations like them are doing. Or, if nothing else, we hope that you share these stories with someone you know. They are hard to listen to and hard to share. But we must share them anyway. If we do so, perhaps other young women can find the same healing as those at Casa Albergue.

All of these images are from Mosoj Yan‘s Casa Albergue. This is the house where our sweet friend Emily spent six months during college, and where we spent most of our time while we were in Bolivia. Come back soon to see portraits of each of the girls in the house. It was an honor to hear their stories and to photograph each of them. We’ll post those soon!

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And send us an email if you’d like to know more about how to support Mosoj Yan.

September 19, 2012

I’ve been struggling with finding words to describe our time spent with the girls and young women at Casa Albergue, so I’m taking a little break and bringing you a post that isn’t emotionally heavy. Each afternoon in Bolivia, the girls at Albergue went off to school and we found ourselves exploring Cochabamba, seeing old friends of Tim’s, wandering about La Cancha (the world’s largest outdoor market place), or resting back at the Guesthouse. One afternoon Tim and I had a little adventure to see the Patiño mansion, also known as Palacio Portales (Palace of the Doors) for its three-story tall doors at the entrance hall. One of Tim’s old houses was just down the street from this gorgeous mansion, so they used to go there as kids. It cost us just over a dollar for a tour of the house and the grounds – gosh I love Latin America.

Walking through the front gates onto the grounds was like stepping into an oasis. Outside, the city is noisy and dirty and smells of bus exhaust, but inside the gates it felt like another world. The grounds were designed to resemble the gardens at Versailles and much of the house was also inspired by French architecture. It was built between 1915 and 1927 but the owner, a Bolivian tin mining mogul who was living in Spain at the time, never got to live in it. When he returned to South America after having his new home built from afar, the altitude was too hard on him and he suffered a heart attack. The house has never been lived in and is now a cultural center with a library in the old horse stables and a modern art exhibit in the basement. We weren’t allowed to take photographs inside the house, so you’ll have to settle for these of the grounds. Just imagine perfectly preserved silk wallpaper, gorgeous wood and tile floor, high ceilings with ornate paintings and wood carvings, and a hall of mirrors in the upstairs corridor that appears to stretch on and on for miles. Can you picture it? Okay good.

Come back soon! We’ve got more Bolivia photos, a family shoot at the beach, an anniversary shoot, and several video projects in the works!

September 12, 2012

 Centro de Niñas y Adolescentes Trabajadoras is another part of Mosoj Yan that we had the privilege to photograph while we were in Cochabamba, Bolivia. We spent an afternoon documenting their ministry to at-risk children who live in the city. A local school allows Trabajadoras to use their facilities once a week for their activities. Their goal is to round up all the kids who have nowhere else to go in this particular neighborhood, provide a safe place for them to spend the afternoon, do a fun activity and Bible lesson, and give them food and something to drink before they leave. Most of these children have parents who work as street vendors, selling anything from fruits and veggies to fresh baked goods to electronics. With their parents working all day, these children have nowhere to go after school (if they even go to school). Many of these young kids could get caught up in drug addiction, gang activity, and prostitution, as they have little supervision and are on the poorer end of those living in Cochabamba. They might end up with stories similar to those I blogged about yesterday. What a blessing that Mosoj Yan is able to make even a small impact on the lives of these beautiful children.

September 11, 2012

“O God, help me to be aware of the wrongs done to your children, to be sensitive to the violence done to your people. Then teach me to pray in a caring, compassionate spirit for your justice and your salvation. Amen.”       “Praying with the Psalms” by Eugene Peterson. The prayer from June 14.

On our second to last morning in Bolivia, we joined the staff of Motivación on their weekly outing to connect with homeless children and adults around the city. We drove through the crowded streets that were buzzing with activity and preparations for the day ahead. Street vendors opening their carts, taxis honking on their way to one place or another, busses spewing exhaust into the hazy air. As we turned away from the traffic and onto a dirt road, I eyed Emily and mouthed “Where are we going?” but she just gave me a look that said, “I have no idea.” Our little van chugged up the hill, above the city, past crumbling houses, stray dogs, and all manner of trash discarded along the road. The staff of Motivación, a part of Mosoj Yan, invited us to photograph their weekly visit to reach out to these individuals who live on the streets, many of whom are addicted to drugs. Our first stop was a place high above the city, a nondescript spot on an empty dirt road.

We piled out of the van and waited for the Motivación staff to return. They’d gone down a little dirt path and returned a few minutes later to let us know it was safe and that we could bring our cameras. We wanted to be sensitive to each of those we photographed and be sure we had their permission beforehand. Throughout the morning we received very different reactions to that request – either a simple “Okay,” or anxious questioning, “What are you going to do with the photo? Are you going to give it to the police?” If they were the least bit resistant, we respected that and didn’t photograph them. At this, our first stop of the morning, only one young man agreed to be photographed. He was eager to tell us his name and show us the wounds he’d received the night before. The police had shown up in the dark of night and roughed the kids up – for no other reason than to flex their muscles of authority and abuse the power their uniforms give them.

We’d personally experienced our own frustrations with the police force in Bolivia when our bag was stolen in the airport and they basically told us they couldn’t (wouldn’t) help us. But this was something completely different. To be sought out and attacked by a police force that should be in place to protect you – there’s something very very wrong with this system.

These young people live in what we would call squalor. They find food however they can. They sleep out in the elements. They are addicted to drugs for many reasons, but I can imagine mostly it’s to dull the pain of reality. My heart hurts for them. And hurts because I know there’s very little I can do to change their lives and their story. But I can tell their stories. I can share them with you. I can honor the pain and the suffering and the struggles they have experienced through photographing them and retelling what they’ve told us. These photos will go to Mosoj Yan and Motivación so that they can share the stories of these young people in their own way. So that they can use them to raise support and continue doing the God-ordained work that they are already doing. We can pray that the interactions between the staff of Motivación and these young people has a transformative effect – that they are able to escape the drug addiction that so entraps them, seek something better, and know the One who truly loves them so much more than we are able to.