The world has changed for all of us in this last season. Rampant racial injustice and a global pandemic have profoundly marked our lives; and if they haven’t, we have much reason to ask “why.” Each of us has lived this season in different ways, and walking alongside survivors of sexual exploitation in Bolivia has certainly marked mine.
For a country of just 11 million people, Bolivia proportionally has had a death rate more than twice as high as the United States, making it one of the countries most devastatingly impacted by the pandemic (see this New York Times article). Everyone knows of someone who has died in the past few months, either because of COVID-19 itself or from not being able to receive adequate medical care for preventable illnesses, including over 20 of the women that WMFB walks alongside. There are many women who have continued on the streets and in hidden brothels out of desperation despite heightened health risks, many of whom have been arrested; we are now working to support by providing food and emergency supplies to in the jails. Professionals in the field are observing that many more women and children have been exposed to rapidly growing online exploitation and trafficking for pornography around the world. Counseling and case management follow-ups are filled with crises, hunger, death, and an already traumatized population living yet another ongoing trauma and its many impacts.
If hope was a challenge to find before, you would think that right about now we would be done. And there are days when, undoubtedly, I feel exhausted and defeated. Nevertheless, there are countless reasons for hope that continue to surprise and encourage me, reminding me of the strength and resilience of these individuals and families that inspired me to come join Word Made Flesh Bolivia in the first place. There are so many stories of survivors working tirelessly and creatively to put food on the table for their families. Many of the women that we walk intensively with have been a presence of hope for others, volunteering in their local neighborhoods to distribute food or continuing to pursue education for their children to be able to break the cycles that they have struggled to get out of. Women in counseling have chosen life instead of the suicidal thoughts that they’ve been having in the midst of this crisis. We have had the honor to provide emergency food and care to nearly 250 families since the pandemic started, and have formed ongoing relationships with over 100 new women. There is so much to celebrate, and I am unbelievably grateful for the community around me that works so hard to make this happen despite their own challenges and setbacks these days.