Friendship that Transforms - Mexico City, Mexico - December 2017

When sisters stand shoulder to shoulder, who stands a chance against us?
— Pam Brown

Each year, Hummingbirds commit to combining our efforts, energy and financial resources to have a greater impact for locally run organizations that need our support. We raise money in our hometowns through fundraising banquets, fun girls’ nights out and in kind contributions from friends and family. We present each designated organization with a grant of these monies raised, and then Hummingbirds Fly to present the donation and meet the people on the ground at these locales. We make a trip of it - we see, we experience, we connect - and the results are life changing!

In 2017, our last trip of this kind was to visit Mexico City and our grant recipients there, El Pozo de Vida (Well of Life) and its Dunamis Community Center. El Pozo de Vida is a group that works to provide women with pathways out of the sex trade, rehabilitation, and shelter for minors who have been removed from the streets. The colonia of La Merced, where El Pozo de Vida operates in Mexico City, has one of the highest rates of prostitution in Latin America. Their work is quite literally at one of the centers of this horrifying epidemic.

As part of their work at Dunamis, employees make daily visits to the streets of La Merced to speak with women who remain in the sex trade. They hand out information about their services and the aid they offer, they educate the women about safe sex practices, and they offer a human connection, woman to woman, to build trust and support.

Hummingbirds were glad to bring a grant to cover the costs of building a safe-room in the center as well as some wish list items. We also brought with us 100 hygiene and beauty gifts for the Dunamis staff to distribute to the women on the streets. We’re thankful for contributions from Honest Company, Maybelline and Gillette and dental care products from Dr. Gao in Los Angeles. We awarded the community center with a brand new computer donated by Microsoft.

Below is my diary from the trip:

Upon arriving in Mexico City, we met our driver who took us to the Polanco colonia in Mexico City. It’s known as “the Beverly Hills of Mexico,” where the celebrities and politicians of Latin America call home. We got to know each other over afternoon wine and a ceviche tasting at Agua y Sal.

Each of the women who joined me on our trip have big, fabulous lives and are hands on, busy moms. Among the six of us were a TV producer, modern quilter/artist, real estate developer, spiritually driven entrepreneur, real estate maven and philanthropist. Not to mention all of these women are the Chief Operating Officers of our families and households - and are doing our best to knock life out of the park!

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We stayed at The Red Tree House, in the Condesa neighborhood, which is the highest rated Bed and Breakfast in Mexico City for good reason. Although extremely affordable, the service, food and artwork are top notch! Each morning the Red Tree House treats its few guests to a traditional Mexican breakfast with a modern twist. There are classic Mexican pastries and churros. And each evening one of the charming hosts opens a few bottles of wine, fireside. We met travelers from all over the world and shared our excitement for Mexican culture.

On Tuesday morning we visited the colonia of La Merced and the community center, Dunamis, which in Latin refers to the moral power and excellence of the soul. Lety Cruz, the founder and director of the center, talked to us about the work they are doing in La Merced as she guided us through the vibrant maze of the town market and into Dunamis.

The community sees the space as a center for the women working in the sex trade. Complete with cooking and English classes, Dunamis also offers Zumba, group therapy and lunch. They also provide a refuge for any woman who decides she is ready to leave the sex trade and aid to get her out at all costs. It’s clear that whatever a woman’s situation, Dunamis is there to love her and honor her humanity.

Due to the danger on the streets in La Merced, Dunamis doesn’t allow visitors, so this was a first for all of us. Lety schooled us on keeping our wits about us as we ventured out. We spent an hour gifting bags to the working women, seemingly every three to five steps on a Tuesday afternoon walk through the colonia.  

The Hummingbirds are all at various levels of Spanish and were able to communicate with the women on the streets. It became obvious that none of these adult women, some with grandkids, are there by choice. They desperately want a better life and to be valued by the world. With each of our visits and conversations with the women on the streets, we invited them back to the community center for lunch and a tutorial on how to prepare a Hummingbirds Milkshake. We had no idea how many of the women would show up, but we were pleased when around twelve ladies joined us. We sat and talked for hours about our lives, children, and childhoods.

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Pozo de Vida is the umbrella organization that funds the various programs aimed at ending sex trade in Mexico City and beyond. We had initially discussed focusing on the Women’s Community Center, but while there we were invited to visit the safe house where minors are removed from trafficking and kept until they are 18 years old. Most have to stay in hiding because the cartels that have trafficked them want them back. Sadly, the younger the girl is, the more money they earn. Most of them don’t have family to go back to so once the state removes them they have nowhere to go.

We were VERY hesitant to visit, as we didn’t want to make the girls feel that they were on display BUT! the girls aren’t allowed out, and since they are in hiding don’t get much interaction with folks other than the few staff members, their teachers and their physician. The hardest thing was to see that these sex workers were indeed girls. Their beds were decorated with stuffed animals and toys. They were silly and wanted to play board games. They wanted to know about us and our lives in America. They also wanted their hair braided which was one of the most intimate and special moments of my life. The girls crave attention, love and affection. I want to go back to see them. They stole my heart.

We left feeling hopeful that there is a place like Pozo de Vida doing the work where others aren’t, but our hearts were heavy and our minds whirling. On our way back from the outskirts of the city where the safe house is hidden, we stopped at Zocalo Square. We sat together and downloaded over guacamole with Chapulines (grasshoppers) chicharrón (fried pork skin) and margaritas, of course. It was the first time we talked freely about the day’s experience and all the many emotions erupting inside of us. It was sisterhood at its best. We desperately tried to reconcile and process all the information and truths we had taken in that day.  

For the remaining days of our trip, we immersed ourselves in Mexico City’s rich culture, beauty, and delicious cuisine!

 
 Mariachi

Mariachi

 Coyoacan colonia / Frida Kahlo home / open air markets

Coyoacan colonia / Frida Kahlo home / open air markets

 Pyramids

Pyramids

 One of the most renowned restaurants in the world, Pujol. We had the most famous molé in the world, Molé Madre, which was over 1,400 days old when we gobbled it up. We talked about our families and dreams for our children and ourselves over 8 courses and several rounds of uniquely crafted mezcal cocktails.

One of the most renowned restaurants in the world, Pujol. We had the most famous molé in the world, Molé Madre, which was over 1,400 days old when we gobbled it up. We talked about our families and dreams for our children and ourselves over 8 courses and several rounds of uniquely crafted mezcal cocktails.

 

It was hard to say goodbye to Mexico and even harder to step outside the comfort of our newly found sisterhood. Those ladies are now etched in my heart forever. I shared some of the most significant moments of my life with them by my side. We spent a lot of time in the sunshine, speaking Spanish, stuffing our faces, being made felt oh-so special by everybody in Mexico and enjoying the time to be just us - not moms or wives or whatever our identities in the hustle and bustle at home.

We witnessed great hardship and strength, together. We were all heartbroken and transformed, together.  

Jennifer Johnson