Prostitution in Costa Rica is legal and unregulated. Valley Center resident Penny Williams went to Costa Rica with the intentions of restoring schools, playgrounds and hospitals. Little did she know a conversation with complete strangers would help find her purpose. NBC 7's Danya Bacchus reports.
The practice of American men traveling to Costa Rica to solicit prostitutes is known as sex tourism.
It has also become the reason a group of San Diegans are making it their mission to help underage women there, who are a part of the sex trade.
Escondido resident, Dana Nuesca, didn’t know much about the sex trade.
"I'd never dreamed I'd know anything about sex trafficking,” Nuesca told NBC 7.
But sex trafficking would be the reason she, Georgia native Holly Lynch and others would soon find themselves in Costa Rica.
"I went from owning my own house near the beach and traveling for work to living in this little house made of chicken wire,” said Lynch.
Back in 2011, Valley Center resident, Penny Williams had an eye-opening conversation with two men while visiting the country.
"We're here for sex tourism. We love it. It's a great place. We can get in, we can get out. They gave them hotels that they frequented,” explained Nuesca.
Horrified, they say Williams did research and found that girls as young as eight years old were being sold for sex to support their families.
"When we thought of trafficking we thought of pimps, we honestly we'd be up against a ton of horrible people and what we didn't realize is that we'd be up against mothers trafficking their daughters,” said Nuesca.
Williams decided to provide them with an alternative to that lifestyle. She started Seeds of Hope, a safe clubhouse for the girls, where they not only learn vocational skills but the importance of loving themselves. Nuesca and Lynch admit the journey hasn't been easy.
"It's been really difficult. There's been a lot of emotional darkness, spiritual darkness, a lot of learning disabilities, a lot of drugs, and abuse at home,” explained Lynch. But they believe this is just the beginning of something bigger for the program.
They say the program is working, they tell NBC 7, the Costa Rican government would like to see it all over the country.