Rebuilding the lives of former slaves part 3: Denise's story

Rebuilding the lives of former slaves part 3: Denise's story

Recently I travelled to Cebu in the Philippines and had the opportunity to spend time with an outsourcing company, DataMotivate, who are making a real difference in the restoration of the lives of girls who have been trafficked or caught slavery by providing career opportunities. This way the girls learn to become self-sufficient and to build a career, reducing their vulnerability to returning to high risk environments again.


This is the third in a three-part series, where each week I shared what I learned from spending time with the team at DataMotivate and the brave and talented young women that they employ.


Denise has worked at Datamotivate as a web developer for 1 year. She spends her time sitting towards in a small pod in the officer with her boss Josh, who has patiently taught her the ins-and-out of developing high quality websites.


She has come a long way from her beginnings in a poor family in the outskirts of Cebu. Being so quietly spoken and petitie as she tells me her story, I am surprised by the tenacity and courage in her voice.


“I am one of six girls, we endured a lot of things. Especially our fathers hand. Just two of my sisters have graduated high school, and only me who has a stable job and a financial income every month. My father is a drunkard and has a mistress, so many times he got drunk he would find a knife and tried to kill my mum. Every time he did things like that the rest of us would run to a nearby forest and stay there for the night. He also tried to kill my younger sister, because she got a boyfriend. He doesn’t want us to get married, he wants us to stay in the house and provide for him.”


“I still live with my family but it is now really different from before, before we lived in a very chaotic life. This work opportunity has provided stability and has affected my whole family. So now it is different. My father minimises drinking, he does not hit my mum again and even if he does we are confident now and we can defend our mum.”


Denise first came as an intern to DataMotivate, a fresh university graduate from Cebu Technical College with a degree in Science and Industrial Technology. And it was a long road in getting there. She was taken out of school after finishing elementary school and put straight into a manual labour job in a furniture factory. At times she was working 10 hours a day 7 days a week sanding furniture.


“I became an out-of-school youth because my parents couldn’t send me on, and I had to work in the furniture factory instead. But then Project Mercy came and asked me if I wanted to go back to school for secondary level. My father didn’t want me to, he wanted me to keep working and he says ‘if you go back to school we won’t get rich!’ but my mum, she encouraged me. So I decided I would. Project Mercy gave me everything I needed for tuition and school materials, the thing we only I needed to do to be enrolled is have willingness to finish the schooling.”


“During the two years I was out of school I became involved in gambling, I would get into trouble because I spent all my money on the games then had nothing to live. I was gambling at the time that Project Mercy came and found me…”


It took just 2 years to go through secondary curriculum provided by the community groups supporting Denise’s schooling. At that point she was prepared and ready to take an exam that qualified her to graduate high school. She started with the help of a number of NGOs since 2012, they helped her with schooling, counselling for previous trauma and discouragements at school, then job readiness training and, as she said, “Here I am just four years later, oh my gosh I don’t even imagine myself!”


“Working at DataMotivate, gives me meaningful experience when it comes to work, so far this is my first job that I love. From this company I learned a lot especially how to handle tasks, how to be more responsible, how to co-ordinate with management if I ever have concerns. They trained me for things that I haven’t experienced before such as website development - in school they just taught us basic coding, and as a student I wasn’t able to take it all in. Here is where I get all my practical experience. Josh is my supervisor, he shows me the steps I need to do, then supervises me to do it.”


“When I first started working with websites I was confused and nervous with the complexity of the coding. At first I would say ‘Josh do you really think I can do this?’ He just says that I just need to be confident in starting new things, and I need persistent in my learning. He would patiently explain all the codes for numbers for colours, animations etc.”


This petite little pocket rocket blows me away.  When she declared so proudly ‘And Now I am a fresh graduate of Cebu Technological University!!’ my heart swelled with warmth. What an inspirational young woman. In that moment, I promise myself when I go home I will remember Denise when I feel like things are all a bit too hard in the relative comfort of my Melbourne home.


Working with these young girls in the Philippines has shown me the power of the human spirit, and how it can rebuild from anywhere and anything when shown some compassion and given some guidance. Every one of us has a part to play in this, if we choose to. NGOs play a large role in the freeing and rehabilitation of those in high risk situations like Denise’s and her colleagues.


However, re-integration again proves to be the larger challenge as the survivors need to be able to build a life of their own, and for this self-sufficiency is the key. Human trafficking and slavery is a problem for us in developed countries as well, as we can often be unknowingly complicit to these practices through consuming goods, raw materials and services produced in developing companies off the back of slave labour. Companies like DataMotivate provide opportunities to companies to use their large scale spend on goods and services to have a positive social impact on the communities from which they do their sourcing.


Denise built this very website you are reading at the moment. If you like her story and this website be sure to ‘like’ it and share onwards.
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