In November 2008, Dr. Jennifer Polley travelled with Global Health Outreach, the medical mission arm of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, to Managua, Nicaragua. She provided medical exams for children and young women at House of Hope, a safe house and vocational center for women rescued from prostitution who wish to leave that lifestyle and learn new skills that will allow them to earn a respectable living.
Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America and the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti. 1.6 million children live in poverty and 300,000 do not receive an education. 40% of children suffer from some degree of malnutrition. In addition, although unemployment in Nicaragua is officially around 4%, another 47% are underemployed. Poverty, unemployment, and lack of education push many women into a life of prostitution, often the only way they can feed themselves and their families. Studies have shown that around 2000 women in the city of Managua alone are involved in prostitution, and almost half of them are under 18.
Nicaragua is a source country for women and children trafficked internationally for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation, child sex tourism, and forced labor. However, children are also trafficked within the country for forced labor in construction, agriculture, the fishing industry, and for domestic servitude. Young Nicaraguan males often are trafficked for the purpose of forced labor in agriculture and construction from southern border areas to Costa Rica.
In the midst of this horrific billion-dollar industry of human trafficking, House of Hope strives to offer hope to young women and children rescued from such exploitation. After more than eight years of evangelistic outreach in Managua, many women rescued from a life of sexual exploitation have come to know Christ and a valiant group has made a stand to stop working the streets and attempt to support their families by other means, such as peddling candy and trinkets or doing laundry and ironing.
While Dr. Polley was in Managua, she was able to provide health supervision, well baby checks, and general medical care for dozens of young women and children. As in other poor countries, malnutrition, skin problems, intestinal parasites, and infection were common complaints.
On the final day of the mission trip, Dr. Polley’s team briefly toured La Chureca, a community of over 175 families who live and work among mountains of smoldering garbage in the Managua city dump. Adults and children work side-by-side from twilight to dusk scavenging for valuable plastic, cardboard, glass, and aluminum that they can sell for food and other necessities. The sight of such abject poverty and human suffering was so compelling that Dr. Polley came back to Northwest Pediatrics with the goal of returning to La Chureca in 2009 to provide medical care for some of the nearly 800 children who live there. As of this writing, we are sending a team of doctors and nurses there from June 13-24, 2009.