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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Henny Tinga is also part of our new audio tour in the Red Light District. In it, she tells more about Major Bosshardt – a national hero & officer of the Salvation Army – and her important activities in Amsterdam’s Red Light District.