The Road to Today
“Imagine a young girl forced to grow up inside a garbage dump, exposed to extreme filth and severe malnutrition, at risk of physical abuse, rape, drug abuse, pregnancy – and even being sold into prostitution by her family for first access to incoming garbage.”
These were the words we first used to describe an unimaginable, yet real, existence for many girls living in La Chureca, the largest open-air landfill in Central America. Any chance of having a healthy childhood here was lost at a very young age.
Eleven years ago, Villa Esperanza (Hope Village) was established as a response to this urgent situation, rescuing vulnerable girls and giving them the opportunity to live in a safe, supportive environment, get healthy, learn life-skills, get an education and pursue a career – something that for many would’ve only been a dream. Since the Villa opened, more than 70 girls have been rescued, introduced to Jesus and the healing power of the Gospel, and offered the chance to fulfill their God-given potential!
Thankfully, the treacherous days of life in the Managua city dump are a thing of the past. In 2012, the government closed it, replaced it with a recycling center, gave jobs to some of the residents, and provided newly-constructed housing.
This much-needed change in the community was the impetus for a broader vision to begin emerging for Forward Edge and Villa Esperanza.
Despite these improvements, the poverty mentality and dysfunction so deeply ingrained in the people persisted, and young girls of the former dump community, as well as many similarly poverty-stricken ones, remained at risk from sexual predators and criminal behavior. The Villa began reaching out to, and being contacted by, families in neighboring communities to rescue and restore other vulnerable girls from dangerous situations.
Over time, the scope of the Villa broadened, and in addition to ministering to the girls in residence, visiting Forward Edge mission teams began engaging in work projects and outreach at local public schools, sharing the Gospel, and training students on teen pregnancy prevention.
The Villa also began to train local pastors in holistic community development, conduct support groups for women, and minister to children in local neighborhoods.
Then, in the spring of 2018, things shifted once again as socio-political unrest arose that resulted in a national crisis for Nicaragua. For many months, normal operations at Villa Esperanza had to be suspended. All scheduled mission teams were canceled; the girls were sent to their homes to be near their families; schools and businesses shut down; travel blockades were erected, and people stayed inside for safety as much as possible. Violence and fear were pervasive, but the staff at the Villa felt a burden to reach out to their neighbors to see how they could serve. With the assistance of local pastors, they helped provide and distribute food and ministered to the children in local neighborhoods with daytime activities at the Life Skills Center on campus.
Over time, the protests and violence in the country subsided and, currently, a ‘new normal’ has been established. This new normal has allowed us to resume services at Villa Esperanza. Teams are regenerating, and the staff is eager to receive them as they reach out to serve those still recovering from the crisis. As is often the case, it was during this time of crisis that a new God-given vision for the Villa was being crystallized.
The Vision for the Future
In as much as the plight of vulnerable young girls in the garbage dump was grossly evident and the need urgent and clear, the risk to young people is not exclusive to this community. Though possibly less visible, there is a significant risk to many others who live in detrimental and degrading situations in which they are socially diminished to second, third and even fourth-class citizens, and have virtually no opportunities to get ahead.
These dire conditions of poverty lead to many forms of violent, sexual, and emotional abuse, unwanted pregnancies, drug use and trafficking, all manner of crime, forced labor (including prostitution), lack of education, life-threatening diseases like AIDS, depression, dysfunctional families, lack of self-worth, and suicide.
This is what motivates Villa Esperanza to continue reaching out with a heart to rescue others who are desperate to break free from the bondage of their circumstances. The desire is to offer them a new life and role model in Jesus Christ and to break the destructive cycle that, without help, future generations will be destined to repeat.
We believe we can help accomplish this goal through new strategies, and this next season of Villa Esperanza will be one of even greater impact to a wider range and number of vulnerable individuals.
Moving forward, the six programs of Villa Esperanza will include:
1) NEW! Scholars Program
Providing teenage boys and girls with necessary items for their education (uniforms, supplies, bus fares, etc.) and regular spiritual discipleship so they can pursue a quality education and a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ.
2) NEW! Boys Program
A twice-annual, five-day discipleship camp for boys (as well as monthly one-day retreats) to provide vocational training, recreational activities, and a Christian mentoring atmosphere, teaching them life skills and how to become spiritual leaders in their families and communities.
3) Girls Program
Providing a residential haven for bright, motivated young women coming from extremely difficult circumstances that prevent them from flourishing. This exclusive live-in situation is designed to equip and empower young women with the potential to be future leaders and influencers in Nicaragua.
4) Creating Positive Relationships
A poverty-prevention training program aimed at fighting Latin America’s highest teen pregnancy rate (30% become teen mothers), which many call the “door” to repeated poverty. This program teaches the Gospel and the value of sexual abstinence to thousands of teens in the Nicaragua public school system.
5) Community Outreach
Visiting Forward Edge mission teams will continue to invest in local schools, churches, and communities with maintenance and construction projects, evangelism and discipleship.
6) Future Tutoring Program
Plans are being made to begin a regular discipleship, tutoring, and health check-ups to local primary school-aged boys and girls at the Villa campus.
Perhaps the most exciting part about the vision for these six programs is that, God-willing, in time they will extend throughout Nicaragua through pastors of local churches who’ve already gone through our extensive holistic community development training. These church partners will be able to replicate these programs in their communities so that together, we can impact thousands upon thousands of at-risk children in Nicaragua!
However, as with most major endeavors, changes are often slow and small in the beginning. Due to the significant revenue loss the Villa experienced during the shutdown last year, we are moving gingerly, but deliberately, into this new vision with God’s guidance and provision. These critical, ongoing programs have monthly costs, and monthly support is vital to ensuring the long-term, consistent care they provide. We’re trusting God to bring both the financial and team resources we need through others who catch and are passionate about this same vision for Villa Esperanza.
It’s an exciting time to see and be part of what God is doing through Forward Edge in Nicaragua as we stay the course and prepare for new, unprecedented growth! We’re thankful for the vision He gave us in the beginning and the one He continues to give for the future.