Amador grad tackling prostitution in Central America

Young filmmakers record stories to help exploited women and children

Ryan Mackle, 19, first traveled to Central America to help out at a village school in the Honduran jungle. But now he is working on a documentary capturing stories of children and women exploited by the sex trade.

"Sex tourism is a huge draw for a lot of people from North America and Europeans," Mackle explained. "Costa Rica is called the 'Thailand of the West.'"

He particularly remembers a 5-year-old girl named Grace and her 6-year-old sister who were living in a safe house in Managua after being rescued from a brothel where they'd been sold by their grandmother. The owner of the safe house returned them to their mother, who'd been working as a prostitute, because she seemed to have turned her life around.

"But she was still working on the streets as a prostitute and had a drug addiction," Mackle said. "Once again the grandmother took the granddaughters and sold them again into the brothel.

"The guy running the safe house went out to raid the brothel and on his way over, the police heard about it and tipped off the head pimps of the brothel to move the girls."

Eventually the safe house owner found and rescued the little girls again and they are beginning to recover from their exploitation.

"I can't wrap my head around the atrocities that happened to them. Their innocence has been stolen from them," Mackle said. "But to see these girls playing and to be in a loving environment, it was really incredible."

Such safe houses are just a Band-Aid, Mackle noted. His team of five young adults is trying to get to the root of the problem with its documentary, "Of Broken Wings." They are recording a story in each country in Central America to make people aware that right in their own back yards children are being sold into prostitution.

Mackle graduated from Amador Valley High in 2010 and moved to Costa Rica, where he lived for five months working with an organization called Youth with a Mission.

"Afterward I trekked deep into the Honduran jungle where I lived with the Miskito tribe for six months, helping lead and run a school," he recalled. "It was a completely different experience from anything I'd ever done. There was no electricity or running water. At nighttime I took showers from the well -- I'd pour water over my head.

"It was the hottest I've ever been, for sure, and it was humid all day long," he continued.

His diet was beans, rice and occasionally mangoes, bananas or other tropical fruits.

"I really loved being completely immersed in something I'd had no idea about," Mackle said, "being among the poorest people in the western hemisphere -- to learn their culture -- and building relationships with people when I didn't even speak the same language."

In Costa Rica he met another young person working at a mission, a Guatemalan who was also a photographer. He shared his vision with Mackle about helping exploited sex workers by forming a team to document the stories.

"We had met and worked with many prostitutes, trying to help them find a better life and get off the streets," Mackle said. "It soon came to our attention that a large majority of these prostitutes were minors, and many had been trafficked from other countries or rural towns within the country."

The team began filming in November, and spent 25 days in Honduras and Nicaragua.

"We have now heard the stories of these women and children, and we cannot walk away without doing everything we can to make a difference," Mackle said.

He returned to Pleasanton for the holidays and appeared on NBC's morning news show, Today in the Bay Area, on Jan. 14 to tell his story and ask for funding. Then he headed back to Central America to travel from Panama to Belize to interview victims.

Once the documentary is completed they plan to show it at universities.

"Our main focus is toward the young educated group in Central America," Mackle said. "They're going to be turning into lawyers and people in government. We want to be able to tell them that they can do something."

"People we tell about it in universities are completely blown away," he added. "They can't believe it is happening, that even two blocks away there are brothels with children."

The team has a goal of $15,000 to finance the documentary; donations can be made at By Wednesday, they'd received $9,395, or 63% of their goal.

Although he has collected many heartbreaking stories from the victims of human trafficking, Mackle likes to think about little Grace and her sister playing happily in the yard of the safe house in Managua.

"To see that you can save someone from a brothel and they can live their childhood free from those things -- that was the beauty of the whole thing," he said.


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Posted by Olivia Sanwong Handerson
a resident of Stoneridge
on Feb 26, 2012 at 11:18 pm

As an Amador Valley alumna, I am proud to see fellow alum Ryan Mackle work on a documentary like “Of Broken Wings.” His work is helping to bring the topic of child prostitution in Central America into our conversations around Pleasanton. My goal with this post is to expand the topic further: the children mentioned in this article are part of a bigger issue facing the world today - modern day slavery. Slavery is not something that happened in the past. More people are held in modern day slavery than when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This is not just a problem in other countries – cases of human trafficking have been reported in all 50 states and in Washington, D.C. In fact, we have had several cases of modern day slavery right here in the Bay Area:

Web Link

Per the Freedom Center website, the numbers behind modern day slavery include:

An estimated 12 - 27 million people are caught in one or another form of slavery. Between 600,000 and 800,000 are trafficked internationally, with as many as 17,500 people trafficked into the United States. Nearly three out of every four victims are women. Half of modern-day slaves are children.

What will end modern day slavery? (also from the Freedom Center website)

Most experts believe that slavery will exist as long as there are economic disparities and unscrupulous individuals willing to exploit others for profit. But that doesn’t mean effective action isn’t possible. Slavery’s ugly presence can be reduced or eliminated through these steps:

• Raising public awareness of the existence of slavery in the global economy by, for example, listing products or services derived from forced labor;
• Pressing for national laws and local statutes that make human trafficking a separate and distinct crime;
• Reducing demand for commercial sex by increasing liabilities for those who purchase sex;
• Enforcing existing national prohibitions against slavery and human trafficking through increased reliance on transnational investigational work and data collection and sharing.

*Link: Web Link

And finally, as a woman of Thai descent, I encourage Mr. Mackle and others in our community to see Thailand beyond the myth of Thailand as sex tourist destination. We have a sex industry here in the US and the industry is really no bigger in Thailand as in America: Web Link

* From this post I found an informative link focused on recognizing human trafficking of children in the US and information for reporting cases: Web Link

Thank you for the opportunity to share this information.

Olivia Sanwong Handerson

Like this comment
Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on Feb 27, 2012 at 8:57 am

Watch your backs! As soon as anyone begins to speak of human trafficking, tempers flare. Don't be surprised if your mommies, daddies, grandpa's 'n grandma's are or have been involved. It boils down to money.

Like this comment
Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on Feb 28, 2012 at 8:04 pm

I'm more interested in prostitution of children and adults (male & female) in the East Bay. Who are the pimps and johns? Where do they live? slavery is alive in well in your town my friends.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Ridgeview Commons

on May 28, 2017 at 11:31 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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