#GivingTuesday: How El Pozo de Vida Fight Against Human & Sex Trafficking

CONTENT WARNING: Mentions of rape, sex trafficking, child abuse, guns, drugs.

Benny Yu, founder of El Pozo de Vida, has made it his mission to ensure that no one would have to endure the trauma he did as a child.

“As I was able to be free from the anger and the shame, I was able to forgive. My relationships were healed.”

After coming to terms with his own personal experience, Yu was determined to make a change in the red-light district of Mexico City, where human and sex trafficking run rampant.

As a child, Yu endured a traumatic event which would forever change his life. He spent years building himself back up, after being torn down. El Pozo de Vida or “Well of Life” was created by Yu and his wife as means to eradicate human trafficking in Mexico and Central America, most notably, sex trafficking.

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Benny Yu
Benny Yu. FACEBOOK El Pozo de Vida

“There’s sex trafficking, there’s labor trafficking, there’s organ trafficking, migrant trafficking,” Yu said. “There are anywhere from about 32 million to 40 million modern day slaves globally.”

Over 15 years ago when trafficking issues were brought to his attention, Yu knew he needed to make a difference. The numbers spoke for themselves. Approximately 8-11 million children were being raped daily.

Podo de Vida Block Party
The Block Party is an event that occurs once a month with the goal to stop sex trade in one of the red zones of Mexico. INSTAGRAM @pozodevida

“How do we live in a world where there are millions of kids getting raped?” Yu questioned. “That it’s systematic. That there is organized crime behind it. Even family members are involved in this. Years ago, I made an inner vow to protect my kids but I knew I needed to turn what happened to me into a platform. Not only did I relate to these victims of human trafficking, I needed to do something about it.”

El Pozo de Vida uses a three-step approach in the process of working to banish exploitation of innocent impoverished people. They begin with prevention, then move to intervention and lastly restoration.

La Poza de Vida
Every week, El Pozo de Vida intervention team takes a coffee station to the streets to continue meeting women in red light districts. Recently they brought backpacks so that their families and even themselves could continue with their studies. INSTAGRAM @pozodevida
La Poza de Vida volunteers
El Pozo de Vida supports brave women on their path to academic achievement. INSTAGRAM @pozodevida

“The example I always use is to imagine you’re walking in a forest by yourself along a river, and you hear this baby crying. You turn around and see the baby floating down the river in a basket. What are you going to do? Jump in the river and save the baby. As soon as you do that, you hear another baby. You jump in and rescue that baby. But, you hear another and another and another. You ask yourself a series of questions. ‘Where are these babies coming from?’ ‘What is this issue?’ ‘Where is it starting?’ Soon enough you have 500 babies. The work of prevention is walking upstream to understand what is causing these potential victims to become victims,” Yu said.

By “walking upstream,” the team at El Pozo de Vida is figuring out how to educate potential victims and those guilty of crimes, they are learning how to increase awareness. Most importantly, they are working to prevent acts of trafficking before they even begin. One of their prevention campaigns reached 2.2 million people. This organization has every intention of making unimaginable changes.

“My dream is that, one day there will be no more kids begging on the streets in Mexico. I’ve seen other countries do it,” Yu said. “We do not want to criminalize poverty; we need to bring a holistic solution and understand where people are coming from and why they chose to come here to Mexico City.”

UN Benny
Benny Yu represented Mexico before the United Nations in Vienna at the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. INSTAGRAM @pozodevida
UN
At Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. INSTAGRAM @pozodevida

For their next step, El Pozo de Vida looks to provide aid in any way possible; whether that be financially, mentally or otherwise. They do this for both victims and clients/traffickers. That might leave you questioning: “Why? How could they support people doing such horrible things?” To really solve the problem, they must approach the source directly. In providing help for traffickers and “clients” of enslaved sex workers, they make a massive difference in the lives of the victims. By digging into the root of the clients’ problems which is almost always loneliness, they are able to lift them out of that feeling, therefore they no longer feel the need to use victims as a way to cope. They uplift traffickers and clients so they no longer commit these heinous acts. They uplift victims to show them their worth.

“There is a key thing that is part of our ethos. We don’t say that we empower people because that implies we have power to give. We say: we walk alongside people in their process of empowerment. We are not trying to come from the top down, we come low and help to lift up,” Yu said.

In terms of restoration, El Pozo de Vida has a safehouse for sex-trafficked minors and a transition home for girls who are unable to go back to their families. They also provide jobs for adult victims and on the regional level, El Pozo de Vida works with the United Nations and anti-trafficking organizations worldwide.

Human trafficking
El Pozo de Vida raises awareness on the streets about the serious crime of human trafficking, giving potential victims tools so that they can fight it from a young age. INSTAGRAM @pozodevida

“80% of the women that cross the southern border of Mexico by themselves disappear within Mexico. They never reach the northern border,” Yu said. “There are over 100,000 missing persons in Mexico.”

Yu actually connected with a TIP (trafficking in persons) officer in the U.S. embassy to inquire about the number of human trafficking victims in Mexico. He could not give a solid answer because everything is done underground, the number is similar to a moving target. In the red-light districts, however, you see it with your own eyes. In Mexico City, there is anywhere from 3,000-5,000 women in a square half mile. The average age of girls falling into prostitution is 12-15 years old. Some girls are even as young as 8 years old.

“When you’re walking the streets and pass by a little girl who is maybe 13 years old, all dolled up with makeup at 10:00 in the morning, your heart breaks,” Yu said.

As tragic as these situations may be, Yu has a positive outlook on the future of what El Pozo de Vida can do for trafficking victims. He has confidence in the organization and the work that they do.

Prevention
Classrooms are not needed to train on prevention issues, only ears willing to combat human trafficking. El Pozo de Vida works with the community of migrants from Haiti, informing them about the risks of this serious crime when they are in a vulnerable position. INSTAGRAM @pozodevida
El Poza de Vida
El Pozo de Vida Community Center in La Merced is a safe space in the middle of one of the most dangerous red zones in the city. Here women can receive education, food, recreation, support and care. INSTAGRAM @pozodevida

“It’s not about me growing this organization big, it’s about helping to address this issue effectively, not only here in Mexico City but nationally and globally. The thing about human trafficking is that it’s not like any other kind. If you sell a drug or a gun, once you sell it, it’s out of your hands. If you sell a human, you can sell them over and over and over again.”

In fact, girls in the red light district must meet a quota. They are to “service” approximately 20-30 clients a day. El Pozo de Vida works diligently to rescue these girls as quickly and effectively as possible. They work with them on a case-by-case basis in order to form a specific individualized attention plan for each girl, to help them heal and grow. For their safe house because they are working with minors, El Pozo de Vida works directly with global, state and federal authorities to receive the girls. In their community center for adults, the organization focuses on job training, job placement and entrepreneurship. In regard to lifting community morale, they throw block parties and celebrations as a creative way to build relationships, therefore making it easier to help. Thanks to Benny Yu, his wife and their 48 team members, victims of human trafficking are being saved every day in Mexico City.

El Poza de Vida
PHOTO El Pozo de Vida

“I embrace what I went through. I had to go through that. If I hadn’t gone through that, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today.”

There are many ways to support the work of El Pozo de Vida, whether that be through their website, social media or spreading their cause by word of mouth. Victims need you on their side to help eradicate this terrible crime known as human trafficking. It can be done.

Alyssa Spagna

Contributing Editor

Alyssa is a spunky, fun-loving traveler who has an infatuation with theme parks! While she loves her tropical beach vacations, nothing compares to the thrill of a rollercoaster drop or a character meet and greet. Standing at only 4’9”, Alyssa lives by the motto “dynamite comes in small packages.”

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