I wanted to title this blog “It is finished”. I have been home from the Philippines for over a month and my work with the young survivors of human trafficking is completed. I realized however, that the work is not finished and my processing of the experience is not complete. I have been touched by six young women who were trafficked. Walking with them for even a short time has changed me. I know of some of their struggles as a result of their experience and I have listened to their hopes and dreams for a better future. These young women’s identity is not just in what they survived. They are so much more than survivors of human trafficking!
The complexity of human trafficking is much larger than the experience of individuals. It is tied up in the systems and structures that allow this crime to continue. Each of us is touched by human trafficking in the products that we purchase, the laws that are or are not enforced and living in a time where sexual exploitation thrives. We each have a role in the movement to end this crime. We can be advocates for better laws and for services for survivors. We can educate ourselves and others about how slave labor is found in the supply chain of the products we use and encourage companies to eliminate goods that were processed by slaves.
My experience during the 2 1/2 months that I was in the Philippines was with six young women who were survivors of sex trafficking. They are a very small portion of the millions who have been trafficked for sex or labor. Because I have known these women, the issue of human trafficking is real and personal. As Sisters of St. Joseph, we say that we are one with our dear neighbors without distinction. A piece of my heart continues to experience oneness with the young women of Hope Home, all survivors of human trafficking and all who continue to be trafficked throughout the world.
Since I returned home, I have been thinking about the girls I met who were victims of sex trafficking. I had the opportunity to visit the homes of their families. Each of them came from situations of extreme poverty. Often the reason these teens were drawn into the bars where they were trafficked was to earn money to assist their family with food, housing or health care. The poverty of their family leaves them vulnerable to be exploited. Our teens often felt guilty about their experience because they “chose” to go into the bar to look for work. It was hard for them to understand that they could have been trafficked when no one forced them to go to the bar. There were no chains and they were allowed to come and go from the bar. Sexual exploitation of anyone under 18 is human trafficking whether or not they agreed to participate.
This picture is of the home of one of our girls. She was able to save enough money to help her mother purchase plywood for a couple of the walls. It was such a happy day!
Around the world people who are desperate for the basic needs in life are vulnerable to both sex and labor trafficking. The teens that I knew were just a few of the people seeking a way out of poverty. Others respond to ads seeking work and find themselves in various forms of labor trafficking. Our awareness of both labor and sex trafficking is essential so we can be part of the movement of ending this crime. At the same time, we as a world community need to work to eliminate the poverty that leaves people vulnerable to trafficking in the first place.
The Sunday before I returned home from the Philippines I went with some of my co-workers on a prayer walk in one of the red light districts in Metro Manila. This was the place where most of the girls who had been in Destiny Rescue’s after care home had worked. It was hard to think of these young women working night after night in the bars and walking the streets of this district.
While we were there one of our rescue workers struck up a conversation with a 12 year old girl who hangs out on this street. Although she is not currently being trafficked, she is very vulnerable to this possibility. I hope and pray that there will be an alternative future for this young girl.
Another highlight of our prayer walk was going by one of the bars that had recently been closed because underage girls were working there. It is good to know that there is progress being made in ending the trafficking of girls.
I continue to carry the needs of all girls and women who are trafficked around the world in my prayer. May each of us do all we can so every person can live in freedom and experience the beauty of life and of God’s love.
Many of you know, but for those who don’t I am home from the Philippines. I am still somewhat disoriented on how quickly this happened. On January 11th, we had a staff meeting in which we learned the international offices of Destiny Rescue made the decision to close the aftercare home where I have been volunteering. I can understand the decision for this closure however it was startling how quickly it happened. We were given one week to move the girls to another aftercare program, visit the parents of all the girls and put all the furnishings into storage.
On the evening of January 11th, we spoke with the young woman in the program to inform them of the closing. As you can imagine, they were upset and confused about why this was happening so quickly. All of us did our best to support them in this transition. Two days later (Wednesday), we took them to see the agency we were referring them to ~ Wipe Every Tear. Sunday the girls moved to the new aftercare home. Some of the staff and volunteers from Destiny Rescue visited them in their new setting in the following two weeks to help them with their adjustment. The pictures are of the walk to their new location which took place after their things had been delivered by van and staff and girls went to lunch). The second is of one of the volunteers comforting one of the young women.
After the young women were moved, the hope was that we would have everything in storage and moved out of the aftercare home on the next day. It took us two extra days which is still amazing. Nine days after we knew of this change until the closing of the aftercare home!
This was the final load of things to be moved to storage.
I must say that all of this felt like a whirlwind and I am still processing this change in my life. Destiny Rescue will continue to do rescues in the Philippines and make referrals to other aftercare homes. I was invited to either stay in the Philippines to assist with this process or to go to Thailand to volunteer as a Case Manager there. Neither of these options felt right for me so I chose to come home. I hope to find a Social Work position here and also continue to volunteer with the anti-human trafficking efforts here in the States.
Since I did not have access to internet the last couple of weeks I was in the Philippines, I hope to write a couple more posts about my experience there before I close this blog. Thank you everyone for your support and prayers during these past few months! Although the ending has been disappointing, it was an incredible experience.
There is a wonderful custom here in the Philippines called Mano Po. This is a way of giving/receiving a blessing. Younger people often greet their elders by asking for a blessing. It is done by extending your hand like you are going to shake hands. The younger person then brings the hand to their forehead.
Here are some of the times that I have seen this being done. At the end of liturgy, all the young people go up to the priest for a blessing. It is fun to see so many of the children going to the front of the church, smiling and receiving their blessing. Another instance is when the teens come home from school they may come into the office for a blessing from each of the staff. I also love when the toddlers come for a blessing.
It is a beautiful tradition!
On December 30th four of our young women and some staff distributed a meal to the homeless of Metro Manila. The meal consisted of spaghetti, cheese, a dinner roll (pandesal) and water. We loaded the van and drove around the city looking for those in need. It took quite some time to distribute all 200 meals!
I was proud to see the girls interact with the homeless. Their compassion and sensitivity were beautiful. It was good for them to be reminded that there are others in need. One of the girls met someone she knew from home who was now on the streets. This helped her realize how her life is improving.
In between the giving out of meals there was lots of singing, talking and laughing. We even stopped for a short time to see a Christmas light display. All in all this was a very successful event!
During the last few days, I have been companioning our teens home to visit with their families. It is a tiring experience and one well worth the time. All of the girls’ families live in the provinces of Metro Manila. This means that no matter the means of transportation it is at least a three hour trip. We were lucky to be able to hire a driver for a couple of the longer trips which cut down on the time and discomfort.
The girls spend 4 hours with their families. For everyone involved four hours seems like a very short time. However, with the travel, meals and times with family it is an all day event!
Each of our teens were very excited to have the opportunity to be at home and spend some time with parents and siblings. The opportunity to spend informal time with their families is very important. Some of the teens had visits that were uplifting. One had been saving monies and bought five sheets of plywood to put up as walls in her mother’s house. She was SOOO excited that she had been able to do this! For others, they found their family low on food and struggling. We do our best to support them in these situations.
I found it very humbling to see the love and care of family members who live in very difficult situations. Most of our teens live in what we would consider primitive conditions. The pictures of these shacks are the types of homes many live in. I got them through a google search since I do not want to show the homes of our participants. They are often located very closely to those who live in more traditional homes. In spite of the difficult situations, I saw laughter, hugs, and many signs of caring.
Christmas can be a very stressful time when away from family and friends. This is true for our girls. Being at Hope Home means they are not able to join their family at home on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. To make this reality easier, a couple celebrations were scheduled. The first was a celebration of the girls and staff. There was music, games, food and gifts ~ all the things that make for a fun Christmas gathering.
The food was from the local fast food chicken place Jollibee. We had chicken, rice, mashed potatoes, corn and ice cream. Not a healthy meal but one the girls liked. The girls had practiced some dances to entertain the staff. Gifts included one from our secret Santa and one used gag gift. The laughter filled the room as the male staff received hair ribbons or someone received a used bottle of glass cleaner.
The second party was one for the families of the girls. Two of the moms arrived around 6:00am to help with the cooking. This is no easy task since travel is well over an hour. The party began at 10:00am (or so…) The girls had a great time visiting with their families. They had spent lots of time preparing a program which included worship, food, games, dancing, and lots of visiting. It was wonderful to watch the families enjoy one another and have this time of celebration.
The party ended around 3:30. By the end of the day we were very tired!
As for my Christmas celebration, I plan to go to Mass tonight and tomorrow morning. We bought a chicken, potato salad and beet salad for dinner. I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Advent has always been a favorite season. The idea of waiting in hope is life giving. This year I am experiencing a deeper sense of what this means. In Advent Meditations from the writings of Henri Nouwen’s second Sunday of Advent we see “A waiting person is a patient person. The word “patience” implies the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Impatient people expect the real thing to happen somewhere else, and therefore they want to get away from the present situation and go elsewhere. For them, the moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are, waiting.”
Living in the Philippines has given me the experience of living the situation out to the full while waiting. There are so many people living in poverty and yet I see them also living joy-filled lives. Our girls are behind in school and still they study with the expectation they can complete their education. There is much pollution and people protest for ways to improve this situation. These are all ways of living fully while waiting in hope.
I experience the discomfort of cold showers, different kinds of foods, crowded and bumpy transportation, hot and humid weather, a language that I do not know… Still I am called to live fully in this reality. My life is simple. God is here. I continue to wait for the more to which God is calling me. Life is unfolding.
I have begun Tagalog lessons. In case you have never heard the language, it sounds very different from English. Here are a few of my learnings.
Magandang Umaga! Good morning. Magandang Tanghali! Good afternoon. (noon until about 3:00 pm) Magandang Hapon! Good afternoon! 3:00 until sunset. Magandang Gabi! Good evening (when it is dark)
I’ve also learned how to conjugate Um verbs. Look and see if you can discover the pattern.
English Root word Present Past Future
To arrive Dating Dumadating dumating dadating
To buy Bili Bumibili Bumili Bibili
To make Gawa Gumagawa Gumawa Gagawa
Here is your chance to try! The verb is To write ~ Sulat. Try in your response to do the present, past and future!
And by the way, I now know how to ask directions to the bathroom! “Saan ang CR?”
Who knows… by the end of two years I might understand something!