Camilo Villa, from Colombia, with his wife Luz Stella, developed a voluntary initiative in March 2014, to create a secure space for women who have spent most of their lives in prostitution. Camilo was sharing at the 'Creators of Peace 25th anniversary conference, 'Living Peace', at Caux in 2016, in the session 'Telling a New Story'. His wife, Luz Stella is one of the International Co-ordinators of Creators of Peace.
‘We call it the ‘Academia de Belleza’ (the Beauty Academy). It is an initiative that aims to create a secure space for women. They are above 45 years old and are searching for new paths ahead.
We used to meet at the facilities of a Catholic foundation run by nuns of the Buen Pastor community. We combine two core elements in our approach:
- Inner work: to heal their profound wounds and to understand in a better way who they are, their unique essence and beauty.
- Entrepreneurship: the quest to find the project through which each of them will be able to shine, to make a living and to flourish. To bring beauty to the world.
Inner beauty and outer beauty. This is why we named it the Beauty Academy. You cannot imagine the amount of healing that has been taking place among all of us.
These women were too old for that business. They ended in that track as a result of a painful event in their lives, rarely as a conscious or planned decision. Most of them have children (often from an unknown or absent father), and some have grandchildren. It is not strange that their families do not know about this other dimension of their lives, the shame of it makes it too hard to share.
In their CVs they can barely identify skills and almost no work experience. Therefore to find a formal, stable job is almost impossible. Beyond their highly vulnerable way of life what is more difficult and challenging for them is to stand in their own power, to trust themselves, people and institutions around.
They have gone through so many disappointments, betrayals, abuse, violence and other nasty experiences that trusting in their own beauty, and of course in others, is a huge hurdle. The main challenge is not identifying a possible enterprise ahead, but to have the will to jump into it with confidence.
The red district in Bogota is located beside a main avenue. When passing by it is possible to see those women standing at the entrance of weird houses, bars, clubs and hotels. Their behaviour is similar to those from any other city, wearing extremely sexy clothes, walking in a provocative manner, with intense make-up, all the tricks to attract the attention of any possible client.
As in English, when we want to insult someone, we call him a son of a bitch. When a woman goes easily to bed with any man she is labelled as a bitch. They are considered a threat to marriages, they are labelled as carriers of diseases and their moral values are in question. In other words, society gives them a rather low position on the social scale.
When we started this was also my line of thought. The challenge was a journey to an unknown world. But, to listen to them and witness their humanity was a very shocking experience. I was deeply touched by their life stories and, most specially, by their kindness and vulnerability. The contact with them, their stories, their fears and their difficulty to dream was like an arrow striking directly in my heart. It brought me to understand their stories from a different perspective. Many questions started to emerge:
- Why they have been labelled as the bad girls in the movie while in fact they have suffered the worst consequences and impacts?
- Why is it that the men, the ones who pay for that moment of pleasure, are not singled out?
- Why have we allowed sexuality to become a commodity?
- Why do we exclude and marginalize these women?
It was tough.
It also made me think a about the men who use their services. There must be a profound loneliness and emptiness in those hearts to require to pay someone to have sex with them.
Those encounters are the encounters of lost souls, completely disconnected from their bodies, each one trying to escape from a particular reality; those few minutes of pleasure as the pill to escape their own dramas.
As a man I felt a profound shame. I felt guilty for allowing this violence and exclusion to happen in my society. I have never paid someone to be with me, but I have played the seduction game in one way or another. Now I understand that whenever there is sex without love somehow that is a form of prostitution for both, the man and the woman. And I have done that. I have also pointed my finger towards these women standing in the streets of Bogota, or Bruxelles or Amsterdam or… And I have insulted people, using the worst labels to be given to anyone.
I felt ashamed of myself.
So I did what I have learnt to do through walking with you, the beautiful IofC people: I asked forgiveness. In a Talking Circle I told those women how bad I felt by having judged them, how bad I felt by having pointed my finger without first asking and understanding and, above all, for not having honoured sexuality as the sacred encounter it is meant to be. I asked them to forgive me and I did it on my behalf and on behalf of all men who have had hurt them in any way. I committed to work in all possible ways to bring into balance the masculine and the feminine in our culture, to honour women and to support men in healing and reconciliation.
And so I do today. I talk to you women Creators of Peace, les Artisans de Paix:
On my behalf and on behalf of all men I ask you to forgive my blind way, my lack of tenderness, my violent emotions, my incapacity to honour and accept your cycles. And I confirm here, with you as my witnesses, my commitment to work for the balance of the feminine and the masculine in the planet in such a way that both God and Mother Earth are honoured in every one of my acts.
Along this journey the inspiring beauty of my beloved wife has been a precious gift that life put on my path. From January 2017 onwards I will be part of the International Council of IofC. This is the core message I bring. It is the message of America, you know, a large and beautiful continent that runs from Alaska to Patagonia, that the ancestors of that land have kept alive for us. These are teachings about living in balance with nature, to honour God, or Sacred Spirit, and to live our lives from the heart, with passion, in love.’