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An Interview with the Salvation Army in Amsterdam

Posted on: December 21, 2016

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Salvation Army Officer in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Red Light District Stories

Who are you and what do you do for the Salvation Army?

My name is Henny Tinga and I have worked for the Salvation Army in the Red Light District for a very long time, more than 50 years! I have seen a lot and have met a lot of people.

What does the Salvation Army do here in the Red Light District?

The Salvation Army does all kinds of different things in the Red Light District and throughout all the years. Major Bosshardt, well known in the Netherlands, started with the army work in 1948. Back then they took care of all the children living in the district. Since then things have changed.

Major Bosshardt of Salvation Army in Amsterdam
Major Bosshardt, the public face and officer of the Salvation Army in Amsterdam, year 1965.

What we do today in the Red Light District is taking care of the ladies who work in prostitution. We have a meeting point for that and we visit the sex workers three/four times a week and ask them how they are doing, offer them a cup of coffee or some chocolate. We offer people from the neighbourhood a place where they can drink some coffee. On Sunday we have the Salvation Army service. We also have place where people who are really ill can spend the last period of their life. We have all kinds of different work to do in this neighbourhood.

How many people work for the Salvation Army in Amsterdam?

More then 1200 people work for the Salvation Army in all different kinds of jobs, from helping the homeless to looking after children who are badly ill.

Are those volunteers or people that are employed by the Salvation Army?

Most of the people are employed by the Salvation Army. Volunteers visit the sex workers who work in the Red Light District and they do the soup rounds. They bring the people who live on the street soup, coffee and bread. They also run the meeting place for the neighbourhood every afternoon. That’s the work of volunteers.

Salvation Army Amsterdam Henny Tinga
Henny Tinga in front of the home of the Salvation Army in Amsterdam’s Red Light District.

What do you think of prostitution, Henny?

Prostitution has always been in this neighbourhood. I believe that we have to accept the ladies for who they are and what they do. However when things are not right we have to help them and we must always have an open mind when meeting one of the ladies about who she is or what she does and try and do something for her.

Do you think that there is human trafficking or forced prostitution in the Red Light District?

Everywhere where there is prostitution there is human trafficking and forced prostitution. Figures about it however are politics! Someone says this the other says that, most things that are happening are not black or white but grey.

How did Amsterdam’s Red Light District change from your point of view?

Through the years a lot of things have changed. In the sixties you had Dutch women working here with their pimp and things like that. After that you had women from all over the world and you had a period of a lot of heroin prostitution. Afterwards I saw that the prostitutes were very young because we took care of some of them that had gotten aids. When they died we saw that they had to be so awfully young when they started. These days you see women from all over Europe and South America working here. The Red Light District has become much more international, and you see that reflected in the pubs, the food you can eat. In that way things have changed a lot.

Salvation Army in Amsterdam Red Light District
Salvation Army volunteer “Aunt Jans” at sex shop Nana in Amsterdam’s Red Light District, year 1995. Pic: Bogaerts, Jan.

Do you think that the Red Light District has improved or that it has gotten worse?

I think neither. It hasn’t changed, it hasn’t really improved and it hasn’t gotten worse. The only thing that has changed is that it has become globalised.

Are you in contact with the police in Amsterdam or the local government?

Yes. The meeting point is paid for in part by the local government. They have a lot of contact with the police. The police always contact us when they are searching for a missing person. When we see that things are wrong we of course always go to the police and tell them.

So you have worked for the Salvation Army for a long time. You are now retired. What do you do nowadays for the Salvation Army?

I can’t really stop. The Salvation Army is my life! Downstairs we have a meal for men who don’t have much contacts or are homeless. On the other canal of the Red Light District we offer meals for women who work in prostitution or former prostitutes. We have a program for them and I’m part of that. I also visit the girls working in prostitution. I also visit the people who are responsible for the housing that the prostitutes work in. I also do the soup-round in my own way. I try to do a lot of things! I love it! I love to meet people.

Can you tell us something about Major Bosshardt?

My husband and I have known Major Bosshordt our whole lives. I started working here when I was 17. I started as girl giving a cup of coffee and she asked me to come work for her. Coos, my husband, was born and raised in the Red Light District. As a young boy Bosshardt helped him go to school and to go to university. She said that children from the Red Light District could best be helped by learning. That’s what she wanted.

Amsterdam Salvation Army 1950's
Amsterdam’s Salvation Army in 1950’s.

One of the greatest things that she has done is that a lot of young people from the 1950’s and 1960’s were sent to school because of her. This gave them the opportunity for a better life than their parents. She has been a part of our life and we have helped her by doing the work here.

What would you like to say to visitors of the Red Light District?

Be respectful when you walk around! Everybody; men and women work here or people being here, they are all also God’s people. So be careful with each other even though we are all different, be careful with each other.

Others who read this article also read An Interview With The First Condom Shop Of The World & An Exclusive Interview With A Prostitute And Her Boyfriend.



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