Behind an inconspicuous tin fence in a marginalized section of San José, Marialiana Morales has built an oasis – one with big shade trees, open-air rooms and a nurturing curriculum that has proven it can change lives.
Morales takes in women who have been beaten, raped, forced into prostitution and neglected and, with her unfaltering faith, she guides them through a personal metamorphosis. The job isn’t easy.
Morales shares walls with brothels, spends countless hours with women only to see them sink back into their old habits, and she never knows if she’ll have enough money to pay her staff the next day.
But the 53-year-old with a full tank of energy and a profound faith in God has captured international attention with her success stories, and with the recognition, has come just enough money to build upon an effort she began in 1997.
“We’ve never had enough money,” said Morales, a university-educated sociologist whose demeanor reflects her care for others. “We’ve gotten to where we are today by faith alone. We believed, and the money came.”
On Monday, she received an additional boost by way of a $100,000 grant from the United States Embassy. The monies are intended to help victims of human trafficking recover their self-worth and re-enter society.
Morales’ Fundación Rahab, located just north of Plaza Viquez near downtown San José, found a niche over the years in assisting former prostitutes and abuse victims, but is now embracing an opportunity to reach an underserved population.
“Victims of trafficking come wit h a very different dynamic,” Morales said. “It’s always an emergency situation. Because there are issues with immigration, we also are limited in the programs we can offer them.”
With no other institution in Central America for the rehabilitation of victims of forced labor, Morales gladly opened her doors. During a press conference Monday, she called the opportunity “a gift.”
“We can’t wait for the next person to step in and help,” she said. “We have to take responsibility ourselves.”
Morales’ programs – which include education initiatives, job training, daycare and therapy – have touched hundreds of lives. Those lives are not just those of the women themselves, but of their children, their parents and their extended families, as well.
“We are seeing the fruit of thousands of rescued families – children who are now in school, women who have their own homes, prostitutes who have left their former lives behind, women business owners,” she said. “The people who come here have undergone a transformation.”
Silvia Elena, a staff member at Fundación Rahab, is one of those women. She said that when she was a child her parents put her in the care of the church, believing the church leadership could offer her a better life. However, she said that she was sexually abused while she was in the care of the church and she eventually fell into prostitution. She said her experience at Rahab gave her a new life.
“I raised my hands to God and I said, ‘Change me’,” she said. “I wanted to be someone different. It was a struggle and it required forgiveness, but today I feel like a new person. I see things differently.”
Morales said she hopes these kinds of success stories will be repeated with victims of trafficking, but she needs more donors and more volunteers.
From her third-floor office overlooking the tin roofs of the neighborhood that surrounds the foundation, she said, “We are on the frontlines of this battle. The work is very hard. But we can do great things if more people get involved.”
How to Help
For more information about the Rahab Foundation or how to support it, visit www.fundacionrahab.org.
Contributions may be sent to PO Box 2161-1002, Paseo de los Estudiantes, San José, Costa Rica, or deposits may be made at Banco Nacional: account number 0950000143-4 (colones) or 095 002327-4 (dollars).