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Gullixson: Taking on a sex trade

  • The nonprofit Salvando Corazones, meaning "saving hearts," is now home to nine girls rescued from the child prostitution industry in Costa RIca.

"Courage is found in unlikely places.”

— Author J.R.R. Tolkien

TILARÁN, Costa Rica — Unlikely indeed.

Last month, with the aid of an SUV, I found it here on the lush hills overlooking Lake Arenal in northern Costa Rica. One would be hard-pressed to come across a more tranquil setting — something straight out of one of Tolkien's own novels.

But in this Shire-like place, I met up with two women, one from Santa Rosa, who have found the courage to confront an enslaving problem in this popular tourist destination, a darkness few have wanted to acknowledge.

“We had to do something because we are the problem,” said Maria Fejervary, founder and president of a nonprofit organization called Salvando Corazones.

By “we” she means Americans. The problem she's referring to is the dark side of a burgeoning tourism industry in Costa Rica — the rise in child prostitution. “Eighty percent of the customers are American men,” she said.

And so she did “something.” With the help of people like Krista Martinussen of Santa Rosa, a board member, Fejervary overcame a mountain of bureaucratic and diplomatic obstacles and managed to open the first safe house in Costa Rica for teenage girls rescued from the sex trade. The house is located on two acres in this remote area where flocks of parrots and monkeys are a more common sight on some days than passers-by.

The opening this summer was enough to earn them widespread media coverage as well as a recent visit from two U.S. Congressional representatives, who have since praised the work of Salvando Corazones from the House floor and are now pushing for grant funding to keep the safe house open.

“We were touched by the stories of the six girls currently living there and the selfless employees, some who have given up their retirement plans and others who work 20-hour days, 7 days a week to keep them safe,” wrote Reps. Ted Poe, R-Texas, and Janice Hahn, D-Los Angeles, to the State Department. “There simply is no other home like this one in the entire country.”

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