“The project is in a startlingly raw part of town. It is one of the key “zonas de tolerancia” in this part of Bogotá where sex work can be exercised legally. What is legal and illegal happens here with no intervention from the police.
When I arrived at the ACJ centre it was nearly 8.30am and there were already women working the streets and “jibaros” (dealers and pimps) looking out for business. The project itself is located in quite a large building and is very secure, all of the necessary bio-security protocols are in place. We were there in the morning when there were relatively few children…maybe some 25 in number or less. I may have the figure wrong. We were told that in the afternoon the place is full to the brim with children bouncing off the walls. In addition to children from Bogotá, Choco and other parts of Colombia, there were children from Venezuela. Most of these children are the children of sex workers or migrants in precarious situations. We had time to visit a mother of four in her home later on who told us a little about her upbringing and how she came to be in such an unfortunate situation but that her children had effectively been looked after by ACJ.
Here, before their school started in the “second sitting,” of public school (usually public schools have varied hours for schooling to fit in more classes) the children receive 45% of their daily food requirements. One can imagine that if they did not come here to ACJ, they would be displaying signs of malnutrition.
In addition to the indoor mini football/ basketball court, upstairs there are the administrative offices, the social area, classrooms, kitchen, a dance studio under refurbishment, a computer room and a couple of smaller rooms given over to providing psychosocial treatment to sex workers.
We had the opportunity to meet all of the staff there and a couple of volunteers, Gloria Jaramillo and her daughter Maria Monica – who put on a one person concert for the children. The children reacted so very positively to the music and expression shared with them, it was a joy to watch.
Later, Jonny – one of the workers there and I believe he’s been there for 12 years at ACJ – took us on a “guided tour” of the barrio. I have seen this area from having driven through it and have reported from red light districts before, but this is another level. Every 10 paces is a brothel, there’s a pimp and usually nearby some drug dealers. You can make out who controls the block and how people respond to him. It’s a very tense experience.
We were able to step inside a very famous/ infamous former brothel called “El Castillo.” Now no longer a brothel, it’s been taken over by the Local Authorities to be used as a socially aware and safe space for members of the community. There was an art exhibition in place during our visit.
My final reflections are that CCC is doing an incredible job in ensuring that ACJ continues to provide a shield and nurturing location for the most vulnerable members of the community here, the children. It was often a topic for conversation amongst those of us there, to imagine that walking through this part of town and seeing what the children see on a daily basis, becomes normal to them. I for one remain impacted by what we saw, but at the same time, impacted positively in seeing that there are dedicated and people with real integrity making a difference here. “