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Deadline extended for travel study seminar to Hong Kong, Philippines

Issues affecting Filipino workers among those to be highlighted during May 2020 trip

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Young Adult Volunteer Angela Williams harvests rice in the Philippines. A travel study seminar to the Philippines and Hong Kong is scheduled for May 1-15. (Photo by Cha Cha Rosales)

LOUISVILLE — The deadline to sign up for the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program’s Travel Study Seminar to the Philippines and Hong Kong has been extended to Feb. 1.

The two-week seminar, focusing on forced migration and labor trafficking, is scheduled for May 1-15. It will include about seven days in the Philippines, five days in Hong Kong and two days of travel.

The seminar will give participants insight into the forces that lead Filipinos to migrate to places like the Middle East, United States and Hong Kong for purposes of employment, said the Rev. Cathy Chang of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) World Mission, who is co-leading the seminar.

This phenomenon, driven by political and economic forces, such as poverty and a lack of local employment opportunities, places a strain on families and can lead to harsh conditions for employees, such as domestic workers.

Reportedly, thousands of Filipinos leave the country each day to work overseas. They include not only domestic workers but also nurses, engineers and teachers, Chang said.

“If people in the Philippines had choices, they’d stay home,” she said.

A pedicab in the Philippines honors the work of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), including Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. (Photo by Dayna Oliver)

Some workers find themselves being taken advantage of by unscrupulous recruiters or by employers who mistreat them or impose unreasonable restrictions. For example, Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong may not be given days off.

“This (seminar) is a real opportunity for us to hear from people who have been directly impacted,” said Chang, World Mission’s regional facilitator for addressing migration and human trafficking in Southeast Asia.

Participants will spend time in communities in Manila and northern Luzon, where children and parents have been left behind, and see what survival looks like.

Supporters hold a pretrial prayer vigil for Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipino being held on death row in an Indonesian prison for smuggling heroin in the lining of her suitcase. Veloso has maintained her innocence, claiming the individuals who recruited her to work in Malaysia tricked her and used her as a drug mule to Indonesia. (Photo courtesy of Snap Mabanta)

“Participants will meet our partners who advocate for the protection of the rights and welfare of our migrants,” Chang said. “These colleagues are ensuring that overseas Filipino workers like Mary Jane Veloso will speak her truth and be released from prison in Indonesia. From the earliest days of her pending execution in 2009 until now, PC(USA) has been involved with the campaign to save and free her.”

During the second part of the trip, seminar participants will meet and worship with a congregation of mostly domestic workers in Hong Kong. The group will interact with workers gathered in public places and visit organizations that support and organize migrant workers. 

“It might surprise you to know that overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong are engaged and mobilized when it comes to political and social concerns,” Chang said.  “During the earliest years of their overseas employment, these migrant workers organized to protest and to overturn some Philippine government-imposed actions related to their remittances.”

The seminar is open to anyone but would be ideal for students or others interested in the topic of labor trafficking, which is a form of human trafficking, as well as for churchgoers who want greater insight into the root causes and social costs of migration.

“We have a number of PC(USA) congregations engaged in human rights-based anti-human trafficking work in their communities,” said Carl Horton, coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. “This seminar is an ideal opportunity for those who are doing this work and concerned about this issue to learn from our partners and to see the challenges faced in another context.”

Members of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and other Compassion, Peace & Justice staff arrive at a community in the Philippines to take in rebuilding efforts following a typhoon. (Photo by Mienda Uriarate)

Organizers hope at least 10 people will sign up for the seminar despite recent political unrest in Hong Kong and the eruption of the Taal Volcano near Manila in the Philippines over the weekend.

“We monitor situations and use extreme care and caution in the planning and implementation of all of our travel study seminars,” Horton said. “We provide safe and hopefully transformational learning experiences, including opportunities for solidarity and unity with our partners engaged in ministries of peace and justice. This seminar and our time in the Philippines and in Hong Kong will be no different.”

Participants in the Peacemaking Program’s travel-study seminar are not expected to be close to the protests or to take part in any protests, Chang said.

“According to my colleagues in Hong Kong, there is still instability and unrest.  People are still going to work and school and using mass transit,” she said. “When we first started making plans for this seminar, we didn’t foresee these protests. What people don’t realize is that these pro-democracy protests also impact the foreign domestic workers. This seminar gives us a chance to hear from the migrant workers and their families.”

For more information about the Philippines and Hong Kong seminar, visit the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program’s travel study seminar web page or call 800-728-7228, ext. 5805.

The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program’s travel study seminar series is made possible by gifts to the Peace & Global Witness Offering.

The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program is one of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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