A letter from Cobbie Palm in the Philippines
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
A few years ago 16-year-old Maya (not her real name) from a small town in Negros Oriental was asked by her mother to dress up nicely and put on some makeup to look older. Maya wasn’t clear why her mother insisted on these requests, but did as she was told anyway. Later that day she was introduced to a 58-year-old Swiss man, Alfred, who evidently was looking for a girlfriend. Alfred liked Maya very much, and weeks later he convinced the parents to let her work in his house as a domestic helper, offering gifts and many promises to the family. A few more weeks later, Maya had gone missing. We heard that she had been brought to Manila, and we followed the lead. We found her working in a store that transforms into a sleazy videoke bar at night. She then recounted how Alfred drugged her one night in his house, and then forced himself on her. The sexual abuse continued until he brought her to Manila and a tip-off of her situation to the local officials led Alfred to just abandon her.
This was not the first time we had faced stories of young girls, especially from poor rural families and communities, who had been forced into horrible situations of abuse and exploitation. When I ponder on the above Bible verse from Proverbs, I feel a tug in my heart every time I am confronted with manifold situations in which adults, including parents, become complicit in the exploitation of the young. How are children being trained in the way that they should go? How can we provide alternative spaces for nurturing and teaching?
This was the challenge that we tackled in our youth ministry with a group called the Youth Advocates Through Theater Arts (YATTA), addressing the issue of human trafficking and other forms of exploitation. As early as 2006 the province of Negros Oriental was identified as one of the hotspot areas for human trafficking. Marriage matching networks and cybersex operations have been uncovered that recruit young victims. Meantime, there is also an alarming reality of young girls being sexually abused in homes and communities, some by their own fathers and relatives. Teenage pregnancy is also a growing concern, leading to unsafe abortions and orphaned babies.
While government intervention mechanisms had been established, such as the interagency councils against trafficking, much is to be desired especially in raising the awareness of young people and getting them to be stakeholders themselves. Working with young people, we realize how important it is to engage more children and youth in meaningful, creative and participatory preventive education so that they gain both the knowledge and the skills that will allow them to avoid potentially compromising and even endangering situations.
YATTA has identified three groups to initially work with. One is the Little Children of the Philippines (LCP), which has sheltered children in difficult circumstances, some of whom had been forced into child labor and have been assisted since. Another is Kalauman Development Center (KDC), a church-related institution that offers educational assistance to orphaned, abandoned and underprivileged children. The third is the Piapi High School (PHS), whose teacher had sought alternative interventions for its students in an area where teenage pregnancy is becoming more pronounced as well as gang-related violence and other risk-taking behavior.
YATTA produced and performed for each group its informance called Redeeming Greta’s Dreams, an informance that challenges the youth to make good choices and take responsible behavior. It focuses on the lives of two sisters who come from a lower-middle-income family but whose life choices are very different from each other. One aspired to be like their father, a public school teacher. The other uses their family’s difficult circumstances as an excuse to spend her time with gang-related friends and figures in complications from her lifestyle.
Then we facilitated workshops for the youth from the three groups in which we led them in a four-day process that allowed them to...
1. recognize their strengths and capacities
2. envision what they aspire to become in the future
3. create their roadmaps to their vision as they identify helpful people and influences, as well as those that will distract or deter them
4. be aware of their rights, and recognize various forms of violence
5. articulate their opinions openly and freely
6. surface issues that are real and urgent to them
7. create advocacy pieces based on their concerns
8. work individually and in teams
One teenager from LCP commented: “I was hesitant to join the workshop. But I now realize I would have missed out so much. I would have just sat at home, doing nothing really. But now I am actually thinking about my future and how to get there.” Another teenage girl from PHS, already pregnant when she joined the workshop, lamented: “I wish I had taken this training earlier on. Then I would have known better, had a clearer goal and made wiser choices.”
After the workshop, each group honed their pieces and performed them at the park. We invited as audience their parents, family members and other community groups who we recognize need to hear the youth’s voices and be part in addressing the issues confronting the youth. Performing in spite of the mild rains, 16-year-old Mikee Beronio was ecstatic: “I feel so lucky to be part of this program and share our stories and hopes to our family and friends.” Mikee was one of the teens from the Little Children of the Philippines who performed a comical but bittersweet play on a topic close to their hearts—child labor.
YATTA hopes to reach more teens, especially from the rural poor communities. Perhaps, in modest ways, we can reach more girls like Maya so that she and others will gain access to other sources of knowledge, skills and perspective. So that they can be trained in the way that they should go, where God’s intentions for them can unravel in a more nurturing environment and ultimately be brought into fruition.
Thank you for your prayers and support.
Cobbie and Dessa Quesada-Palm
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 203
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