Since we started Hurlbut Visuals, giving back has been part of the company philosophy. We believe that no matter what you do, you give of your time and resources as a business. We’ve always been committed to helping children specifically, and from around the world, to help give them a voice, to help give them power.
We started in 2009 with World Vision to help children in both Africa and the United States who didn’t have enough food or clean water. At first, our giving back started out as a financial commitment, and over the years it has evolved to us not only as donating financially, but giving of our time and unique resources.
Hurlbut Visuals is a community of creators; artists that work in not only film, but writing, graphic design, and animation. We are driven to tell stories, especially when they have a chance to make a positive impact on the world.
That’s why when Po Chan, our longtime collaborator, brought this project to us, we were incredibly determined to help tell the story of Casa Milagro, raise awareness of their cause, and help them in their endeavor.
Hurlbut Visuals produced a video for Casa Milagro with the intention of humanizing their mission using the faces and stories of those that represent the affected. Below are excepts from an interview with the organization’s lead, Scott Pralinsky. We wanted to further explore Casa Milagro’s story and share it with you here on the Hurlblog.
HV Interviews Scott Pralinsky
Please tell us about yourself and your organization.
My name is Scott Pralinsky and I am the founder of an organization called the Casa Milagro Foundation, which means Miracle House.
I moved to Costa Rica back in about 2003 and decided that I really wanted to participate in my new community and to try to help out on some level and decided to bring in volunteers from around the world to work on volunteer projects such as sea turtles and national parks, and we ended up teaching English and working in rural communities and started to work with orphans.
It was a really beautiful experience for over 10 years. And then I started feeling like I wanted to make a bigger difference, not just to help out a little bit. We wanted to tackle a really serious problem, and the Costa Rican government asked me if I might be interested in opening a safe house for human trafficking victims, especially children. And I honestly didn’t know anything about that at all. At the moment I told them I couldn’t do it.
Fast forward, another woman had opened up a safe house a few years later and ended up needing help and I got called in and became a director of that safe house. In the end, because of some issues on her end, they ended up having to close up the safe house, which left this void of needing some services for these children, who – many of them – had been sold into prostitution by their parents.
It turns out there really are thousands of victims of sexual exploitation in Costa Rica. Unfortunately there aren’t any services. There are a couple of other organizations who are in the process of opening up safe houses. One is for only urgent care, so it would be very short term, and it would be only for girls and another is for only families, which would oftentimes mean young girls who have babies or who are pregnant. And so much to my surprise, they estimate 50% of the victims are actually boys, and a lot of the boys, instead of being able to be given some kind of treatment, end up going to jail at 13, 14 years old.
The only thing they can do is put them in jail. Which, of course, exacerbates the problem in other ways as well. So now we’re in the process of opening up the safe house, a day center. Because, to the best of our knowledge, through talking to the Costa Rican government and US embassy and a lot of other non profits, there are no other organizations doing anything to help what is estimated by the Costa Rican government to be about 1,000 homeless children in just San Jose alone. And a lot of them, if not all of them, are at risk of being sexually exploited.
So how did you become involved in this project?
I didn’t really know much about human trafficking or sexual exploitation before taking the job, so I was thrown into the fire and had an opportunity to interview a lot of people, to work within therapy with a lot of kids, to talk to families, to talk to other organizations around the world who are involved with the same type of work, and really open my eyes to the fact that this is a humongous problem that people really close their eyes to.
I think in part because we don’t wanna believe that it’s possible and it certainly couldn’t be happening to our kids in our culture. We’re not that kind of people. And so, the other thing is, there are just so many limited resources available. The Costa Rican government has very limited funds, as do a lot of developing nations and they don’t really devote the kind of money towards social services as they really need to.
And so we decided to take it upon ourselves, to try to spread the word about what’s happening and what the needs are, to see if we could get some people to respond and in a loving, kind way, find a way to help the kids in more than just giving them some food, or even just a place to stay. We want to try to restore that lost childhood, help them feel like what happened to them hasn’t been their fault and had nothing to do with them, and that there is a way to heal and move forward from those traumatic experiences that they’ve had.
How do you plan to use the funding you receive?
Costa Rica in general is not a terribly expensive place, but when you look at the cost of building or maintaining a sufficient building that would be able to house kids in an appropriate way that would meet health standards, that would be safe for the kids and for the staff – and the food, clothing, the staff of the therapists, the caregivers that would stay with them day and night, the teachers, the maintenance people, and the fundraising as well – it really isn’t a terribly large amount of money, but it is something that has to come from somewhere – in order for us to pay all the fees and the regular monthly cost for the year, looking and about $300,000 – which really in reality, that’s not a lot of money.
But of course without it, we can’t do much to help the kids.
The second part of the project is the day center. So if the safe house can only help 6-10 kids in the first year, that just makes a tiny little dent, if you’re talking about thousands of victims. So we really believe that if we can do something in the center of where most of the kids are and provide them a place to come and get warm food, clothing, be able to take a shower, maybe have a day cot to sleep in.
Once we are able to build some trust with them, to be able to recommend some resources – perhaps they wanna go to school, perhaps they really do want to enter into the system and be able to go to an orphanage instead of staying on the streets, or learn a trade – so the hope is that we’ll be able to build up a relationship with them, not only by meeting their basic needs, but by building the trust and then trying to get them some further help that would be making a more lasting difference in their lives.
Can you describe the size of the problem? You mentioned the statistics, but could you give us a sense of the problem?
Okay, if we’re talking in the sense of exact number of victims, it’s impossible for us to know. There’s never been a study done. I believe that there was a grant just issued recently in another organization in Costa Rica and they have a plan to do an in depth study, interviewing a certain population of the kids to try to find out where they’re coming from, why are they on the streets, what were the situations leading up to it, what are their basic needs.
From what we’ve been able to tell from our own experiences, and our own interaction with the kids it matches up with other worldwide statistics, which says about half of the kids are either gay, lesbian, transgender and had been kicked out of their homes. Others are being so severely abused and beaten and raped, they run away. So it’s a combination of kids, who just have nowhere else to be, and that’s not even talking about the kids that are still at home, continuing to deal with the abuse.
We hope that we can get some better numbers, but right now we’re kind of floating around the number of about 10,000 victims, which is a pretty substantial number, especially considering we don’t even have 5,000,000 people in the whole country.
Is there anything that you think we should know in order to spread the word, or in order to reach out. Is there anything you would like to add about yourself, or your organization or the issue?
I think the issue is so large that one organization can’t possibly tackle it effectively. I think the best thing would be that if other people are inspired to either join our efforts, or to create their own efforts and work together – I really think the only way to solve the problem is by getting the word out and having people really understand how serious it is, and working together to try to find a solution.
All of us at Hurlbut Visuals are committed to helping Casa Milagro in their cause and helping children worldwide in all ways that we can. We hope you will join with us in spreading the word and donating in order to help these children who have no voice and no power. Please share this article to spread the word about this important cause. Thank you for your help!