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 into slavery by providing career opportunities. This way the girls learn to become self-sufficient and to build a career, reducing their vulnerability to being trafficked again. In a three-part series each week I am going to share what I learned from spending time with the team at DataMotivate and the brave and talented young women that they employ.
On the Outskirts of Cebu, up high on a hill overlooking the sea in a secret location, I am visiting a girls refuge – My refuge house. We are having a lunch of fried eggplant and sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf together with the refuge director, Rose Ann. The refuge houses 12 girls currently who have been rescued from high risk situations and enables them to complete their schooling and recover from their trauma.
Rose Ann has worked with the refuge for 5 years.
This is the second in this three-part series we look at how vulnerable workers are rescued from slavery and trafficking, particularly young girls from sex slavery, this being a significant issue in this part of the world. You can read the first of the articles here.
Girls within the refuge have come from varying backgrounds but with two common elements: having experienced violence and poverty. Quite often their parents are their own traffickers, selling them into the sex slave trade or manual labour at as young as 12. One gutsy young girl, who came up and introduced herself to me in a brazen voice, had reported her own trafficker and pimp to the police. She walked out of the brothel to the police station and made her statement, almost unheard of in these situations. And now, her trafficker is spending a life sentence in prison while she is here completing her secondary schooling.
It’s a long hard road in the journey to being in this safe place. Most girls and children are rescued via police raids, or through aid organisations such as the International Justice Mission (IJM).
Amber Hawkes, founder of IJM in Australia who has worked with IJM in India and in the Philippines, tells of how they have been completing rescue operations in bars and streets in Cebu, Philippines. “Essentially we will always start with advocating for the enforcement of local laws. The laws around the world are good, they are good in all the places in which we work, it is just that they are not enforced. The issue of trafficking is vast and people underestimate how brutal it is. Our view is that trafficking and slavery is preventable. We are creating social and political change through advocacy, training, and provision of resources all the way through the local justice system”.
With the help of funding from Church based organisations in the United States, My Refuge House was started in 2008 to create a place where girls could be housed after rescue so the restoration process could start. Rose Ann explains: “Our motto is ‘restoring one life at a time through re-storying’”. This they do by educating, counselling and supporting the girls so that they feel empowered to see themselves as survivors with a bright future, rather than victims.
“Our program here, when we first started we had a very clinical and westernised approach which didn’t really work well with the girls. In 2013 we modified the program to make it culturally appropriate. We consider it a holistic care program – it’s a head-to-toe, inside-out medical, psychological, spiritual program.”
“We have 2 mentoring programs as well. In one, the girls are connected to professionals outside in the community and they meet monthly like a big sister program. We also have a peer leadership program, where we hire a peer leader for each of the houses where girls stay, and she is paid a basic stipend. Applicants send their resume, then they are selected depending on their qualifications and willingness. They are given a year-long contract as a peer leader, they are the right hand person of the house parent and another good role model for the girls”
And from what I can see it is working. On this day that I visit the girls have just finished their girl guides session and come to eat with me, but not before taking my iPhone to explore my music play list. After singing a few tunes by favourites such as Justin Bieber, Pink and Maroon 5 we sit down to eat together happily.
I take a few moments looking at the view over the Philippine Sea to marvel at the goodness that exists alongside the tragedy in the world. In my travels, for every story I hear, where there is one-part evil there is always one-part light. Where there exists people who are creating evil, there are others creating salvation and hope.
Note: If you wish to support any of the organisations with financial contributions please contact me directly and I will connect you to the relevant people.