Lincoln author makes the journey to a life of purpose
Name: Linda “Caridad (Charity)” Bello-Ruiz
Occupation: Author and retired counselor
Family: Life partner of 13 years, Hank Stiefel; four adult children and one dog, Bogey
City: Lincoln (Lincoln Hills) and Barra de Navidad, Jalisco, Mexico
What: Co-founded and directed the House of Hope, the first safe haven for street girls, runaways and underage prostitutes in Costa Rica
What prompted you to write the “From Tears to Triumph, My Journey to The House of Hope” memoir?
I first set out to write my book for my kids and grandkids because a story untold is forgotten. Then, in the writing journey, it took on a life of its own.
What time period does it cover?
My letters home covered June 1971 to May 1976 but the story starts pretty much as I drive away from my hometown, on high school graduation night June 1969 and head to San Francisco.
What is the underlying theme?
One young woman’s journey from a life of rebellion, bad choices and consequences, who picks herself up from the pit of shattered ideals and finds purpose and hope — not only for herself but for hundreds of underage prostitutes, street girls and runaways in Costa Rica.
Describe the path that led you to being a co-founder of House of Hope.
When I got to Costa Rica, I was first there with a religious group called the Children of God. I tried to escape from that commune — you didn’t just walk away. My escape was caught but then I finally got out. So when I’m back in the states, I can’t rest. I say, “My life is more than this.” My life had been so fulfilled and had such meaning and purpose. So one morning, I was being interviewed for a T.V. show on life and the Children of God. At that time, members were being kidnapped by their parents; Children of God brethren were being sent to deprogramming centers. It was huge in the media what was going on in with our group and they asked me what I was going to do with my life. I said I was going back to Costa Rica and setting up a safe haven for girls.
You initially planned on House of Hope being for unwed mothers; your focus changed to help underage prostitutes. Why?
A priest came and took me to the Red Light zone at night — and prostitution in Costa Rica is legal from 18 up — and I’m looking at these little girls all painted up. And I said, “What is anybody doing for these kids?”
How young were they?
Thirteen, 14, 15. Nobody was paying attention to the underage kids. But this particular priest and this missionary were paying attention and they wanted to do something. So I said, “Where do they have to go?” And he said, “They have no place to go, which is why we are interested in what you came here to do.” I said, “But I didn’t come to fight prostitution. I came for the unwed mothers.” As time went on, I said, “Obviously this is what I’m meant to do.” So I switched my focus to fighting prostitution in Costa Rica. And we set up Costa Rica’s very first halfway house for underage prostitutes.
Did anyone ever try to deter you from stopping underage prostitution?
No. One night I’m walking through the district and this man calls out to me. He calls me by name. We sit down, we start talking and he introduces himself. Ends up he’s a pimp. We sat for an hour and negotiated territory. He agreed he wouldn’t talk bad about me and (would) let me have my mission and that I wouldn’t persuade his ladies of legal age. That was our territorial decision that night.
How did you help the girls?
The House of Hope was a home-based Christian work, where they were allowed to change their lives from the inside out. First we had to take them in for (sexually transmitted disease) checks. Then we got rid of lice and worked on nutrition and gave them new clothes and then I mothered them. In reality, I was only about 11 years older than most of these girls. As the project got bigger, we opened a home school for the girls. We taught them trades and would place them into homes.
Who is Ana Cecilia that you mention in your introduction? Was she a prostitute?
Nope. She probably would have become one. Ana was a little girl from Costa Rica whose stepmother abused her and her father finally agreed to give her away. (They) showed up on my doorstep and her father said, “Take her.” And I took her.
So do you feel your paths were meant to cross?
Absolutely! I had to suffer everything I suffered, from my rebellion and wanting to be different; to being beat up by this man who tried to prostitute me, then having a contract put out on my life and then running from that; and then wanting to die and finding a spiritual revolution that leads me to this cult. That leads me to Mexico and to a jail and being deported. It leads me to Costa Rica. It had to happen.
House of Hope is now closed. Is prostitution still an issue in Costa Rica?
It’s huge. It’s still legal. But the underage prostitution has totally changed. When you get off the plane in San Jose, Costa Rica, there is this huge sign that says, “If you have sex with an underage girl in this country, you are going to jail!”
Have you kept in touch with any of the girls?
Yes. As I am writing their story, I switched out of Word and had a friend request for Facebook. And I went on and here is this message, “Caridad is it you?” “It’s me, Maricela!” The next day, another friend request comes. It goes, “Caridad, is it really you?” “It’s me, Estelita from the House of Hope!” “I’ve been looking for you for 25 years!” They hadn’t seen each other, so within 24 hours, independently, they had both sent me a friend request from Facebook. And I had in my hand a plane ticket to go to Costa Rica. I was taking my youngest, Karina, to Costa Rica for her graduation gift. We had a reunion down there.
How did their lives turn out?
Amazing! Ana Cecilia lived here in the U.S. for many years and then returned to Costa Rica. She is a wife and mother of two. Estelita went on to marry. Settled down, divorced and raised three young daughters on her own making and selling jewelry; a skill she learned at the House of Hope. Her daughters are all faith-based college graduates and are married to college graduates, young men they met in their church. In addition, (Estelita) is the youth leader at her Seventh Day Adventist Church in Costa Rica. She still plays the guitar and sings the songs she learned at the House of Hope. Maricela worked in the nutrition department in Costa Rica’s largest hospital since 1992. She is proud to have reached her goal of purchasing a home and credits the House of Hope for having saved her life.
When is the book available?
This summer from Mariah Publishing. The projected date is Aug. 1.
Where is the book available?
Autographed copies are available for order from my website at lindabelloruiz.com, Amazon and Barnes and Noble in trade copy (that’s the hard-copy) or downloadable onto e-readers. I will be available at the Sun City Lincoln Hills book signing event on Sept. 14.
Cost: Pre-ordered autographed copies are $14.95, tax included, plus a $3 shipping fee, for a total of $17.95. For more information, visit lindabelloruiz.com. Or call Bello-Ruiz at 543-7952.
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