NEWSLETTER APRIL 2004
April 3, 2004 ·
Dear friends and defenders of children,
We have just celebrated Easter and in this newsletter I will be telling you some heart-warming stories of “resurrections,” young people who have risen from the dust and ashes of a burnt out life to a new beginning. They refused to be beaten down by hardship and abuse and found the strength to survive long enough until they found us at PREDA or we found them.
The first story is that of Angela whose rescue was extraordinary. At six months old, her father died. Her impoverished mother couldn’t pay for the burial but the debt had to be paid or she goes to jail. The funeral parlour owners said, “Pay with the child and hand her over to us.” The mother had no option. A few months after, we heard that she died and that the child had a good grandmother who could bring her up.
Otherwise, she could have been destined to a life of domestic slavery as some of the rich do with urchins and waifs. They have unpaid servants to serve them day and night, the Cinderella syndrome. The children have no life of their own. We rescued the child and the grandmother took loving care of her. We helped with financial support and Angela grew healthy.
After a year, the grandmother moved away. We learned later the grandmother died and Angela was taken by an uncle and suffered sexual molestation and abuse. When she could, she ran away and was taken in by another family who made her a domestic servant.
Last month, 10 ½ years later we finally found Angela, small and frail-looking, already 12 years old surviving by working as a domestic slave for £5 a month and left-over food. She was donning a surgical mask and rubber gloves daily to see to the personal needs of a paralysed old woman. She fed her, cleaned her body and washed her clothes.
We invited Angela to visit PREDA and immediately she asked to stay. Soon, she will be back at school and already in the children’s home she is developing into a beautiful, intelligent, gentle girl. At last, she is free to have a life of her own with dignity and a good education. There are many stories of children who have endured and overcome similar hardships. They are an inspiration to us all.
Joan graduates from high school
Joan was born to a very poor family in the slums of Metro Manila. Also at six months old, she was abandoned by her parents. Her mother worked abroad and her father moved and she has not heard from him since. She lived with her grandmother and uncle who abused her.
Grace with her mother during her graduation day (left). She is now working in the PREDA Fair Trade Department. On right is Joan in toga with PREDA staff Carina Baldonado. Joan graduated from high school.
When admitted at PREDA, Joan was a timid, shy, aloof and sensitive 15-year old girl. She tended to withdraw from the other children. With constant affirmation and support, she has become sociable and has developed friendship with the other kids in the center. She is now an empowered child and is getting ready to bring her abuser to trial. Last March, she graduated from high school and plans to attend college in June.
Grace graduates from college
Mary Grace, a PREDA scholarship student from a poor family, has completed her college course at St. Columban’s College Olongapo. She took a degree course in business management and graduated with high grades. She is presently being employed at the PREDA Fair Trade Department. Her graduation is another happy, success story.
Fil-Am students graduate as nursing aides
This April, three Filipino-American boys have graduated with top marks from an intensive twelve-month course at the Metro Subic Colleges in Olongapo City and qualified as nursing aides. They grew up in poverty after they and their mothers had been abandoned by their US Navy fathers. Despite the Philippines being a tolerant society, as children they still had to endure racial taunts and jokes of their peers and a fragile family situation. In 1993 soon after the Senate voted against a new treaty with the United States to retain the bases, thousands of children fathered by the sailors were abandoned.
PREDA social workers were already helping many Fil-Am children but with so many more abandoned, the PREDA team decided to do more and began a campaign with the mothers of the children to lobby for child support from the US Navy. The mothers organised themselves and held marches and rallies. A newspaper article was published in the San Francisco Chronicle about these Fil-Am children at the PREDA Center. A California-based lawyer offered to help with a class action suit in the US International Court of Complaints.
We went to the USA with some of the children and mothers and argued in court that the women were for the most part common law wives of sailors and their children had rights. The court refused to recognize the claims of the mothers.
Then with the help of US Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, Fr. Shay lobbied with the Congressional Women’s Caucus and they recommended the USAID to give as much as $2 million but they gave only $650,000 for the children to a US charitable organisation. PREDA received none of it but we found charitable people who donated to an education fund that is still operating today.
Educational and emotional support
Many of the children succeeded in finishing school and received training and emotional support from the PREDA youth organization. Now, Michael, Shawn and Norman completed their high school and were talented and intelligent enough to go on for nursing school and scored high grades in all subjects especially in medical ethics.
Being of strong spiritual convictions, this Holy Week, they were the leading actors and organizers of the “Senakulo” or the street play about the life and passion of Christ. Shawn played the lead role of Jesus, Michael was King Herod and Norman, John the Baptist. It was a moving performance. The PREDA children went to the presentation and were edified as were many onlookers.
This week, they successfully graduated to the delight of all. They have had extensive hospital experience as part of their nursing aide course and are presently undertaking an additional Red Cross Emergency Response Training to be able to deal with any emergency. They will be given assignments working with the street children that abound in Olongapo City and who are being helped by the PREDA street contact workers. The nursing aides will provide instruction to the street kids on personal hygiene and drug abuse education. They will conduct street clinics, dressing the children’s sores and wounds, skin diseases and other treatable ailments. For serious conditions, they will refer to the PREDA doctor or to the hospital.
Special additional courses
The three graduates will be taking a special course in computer operation to be skilled in all the office software and data control. Although good in speaking and understanding English, they are also attending a specialized English speaking course at the PREDA Training Center. This is being taught by Paul Fuller, a social work graduate and volunteer from England.
Youth rescued from jail find new home
More good news is the release of more children from the prisons. These are 11- to 17-year old boys. There will be twenty-three of them in the new home by the time you receive this Newsletter. They all have some medical condition as a result of the dungeon-like conditions and psychological disorientation, too.
The new PREDA nursing aides are trained in youth counselling, too. They will have lots of experience helping the youth before applying for work abroad in an English-speaking country. Lucky for the family, hospital or nursing home who employs them!
Former child sex worker now rights campaigner
Mary Ann was only 13 when she was rescued with six other minors from a sex bar in Angeles City, one and a half hours drive from the PREDA Center.
She had a good home with her brother Raymond, her Australian father and Filipina mother. Mary Ann’s mother had a boyfriend and soon the Australian husband died under mysterious circumstances and the mother and friend disappeared. The children were abandoned. Mary Ann, like hundreds of stray children, was picked up by a pimp and put to work in a sex bar. She was rescued quickly before being seriously abused. Raymond became a street vendor. Both were found and received into the PREDA community.
The two children have recovered well at PREDA. Mary Ann has testified against her pimps and the sex bar operator where she was trafficked, incidentally operated by an Australian national. Most of the sex clubs in the Philippines are run by foreign nationals. PREDA is pursuing the case against the sex club operators and another American national suspected of trafficking the other children.
Congress against child labour
Mary Ann is a very outspoken child against the exploitation and trafficking of children and has attended several workshops. Courageous and brave, she has been selected as one of the child representatives of the Philippines at the World Congress Against Child Labour organized by the Global March in Florence this May 2004.
Non-stop preventive education workshops and seminars are conducted by the PREDA preventive team. They go to schools, colleges and community centers to develop awareness on children’s rights and how the community can prevent the abuse and children can protect themselves by knowing their rights. These seminars also help prevent substance abuse, HIV-AIDS infection and family violence. Hundreds of young people are reached every week.
PREDA theater group
The PREDA-AKBAY, a youth theater group is also being re-trained to present educational performances on the trafficking of children through a musical drama. This toured in Europe and Canada in past years and may do so again this year if there are sponsors. It helps train young people to be strong, outspoken advocates for children’s rights.
A youth singing group has also been trained and made an outstanding performance at a public youth concert at Subic Bay Arts Center last month. They worked out a moving choreography for a new PREDA song, “On the Wings of Freedom.” Bernd Wenzel of Hasch mich records, a German child advocate and composer wrote the music. Fr. Shay wrote the lyrics. Another song, “Open Your Hearts,” a cry by children for a non-violent world is having music written for it by Bernd. Soon, the PREDA Children with Bernd will record their songs on a special CD for distribution to schools and radio stations to promote the rights and aspirations of children in today’s world.
The boys and girls at the PREDA’s Children’s Home will participate in lots of summer activities. The boys now at PREDA who survived the steaming hot, overcrowded cells with hardened criminals were amazed when they visited the rainforest and ocean near PREDA, which they had never seen before. An American investor, John Corcoran, operates the successful Ocean Adventure with false killer whales and seals performing. He donated free passes for the children. The young kids were thrilled to see this spectacle. The Summer Sports Fest is getting underway and the girls are getting ready to fully participate by practicing their volleyball everyday.
Education through mass media
An important part of the work is to encourage the mass media to cover the issues of child exploitation, trafficking and abuse to bring about global awareness and action. Focus Asia a news feature programme of Star TV, an Asian-wide TV network, broadcast a report on the imprisonment of children that included interviews and footage made by PREDA. ABS-CBN, one of the largest TV network in the Philippines, also made a news report March 16 and interviewed children rescued from the jails live. In February, ARTE TV station, which covers southern Europe, broadcast a documentary on the work of PREDA.
Last March 24, Focus Magazine based in Germany published a strong story by Wolfgang Bauer and photos by Martin Sasse on the trafficking of children and the work of PREDA helping them recover. A 50-minute dramatised story on the life of one of the PREDA children is being readied by a national TV station. The Guardian reporter Stephen Moss also came to interview Fr. Shay and report on the work of PREDA. A documentary is also being prepared by NHK television, the biggest in Japan, this coming May. Alex Hermoso, PREDA programme director, was also interviewed for Philippine national television.
Children abused in the Puerto Galera sex tourist industry- much yet to be done
Local authorities who tolerate and even encourage sex tourism in the bars and beach resorts as a form of foreign investment and employment pose one of the biggest challenges to defenders of children’s rights. Police turn a blind eye to abuses committed by foreigners and prosecutors are bribed to decide in favor of the accused despite mounting evidence of child abuse.
Despite our successes, much has yet to be done. Last January, we were alerted to the abuse of children in Puerto Galera a popular tourist destination on Mindoro Island because of its beautiful beaches. An 11-year old grade schooler disclosed to her teacher that she and another friend had been abused by an American national.
The local police were slow to file charges against the alleged abusers. The chief refused to turn over evidence vital to the prosecution. The social welfare department (DSWD) rescued only three children and left the others. We are offering to give protection and therapy but the DSWD refused it.
Even worse, one of the Germans bribed his way out of jail after paying huge sums of money and died two days later under mysterious circumstances branded as suicide. Paul Jeffrey Anderson is still detained while Reinhard Havikost has gone into hiding.
We at PREDA and other child rights organizations have offered to take the children into custody, help them recover and bring their abusers to trial. It seems that our initiatives are blocked because the reality of sex tourism will be revealed. The children remain in dire circumstances under the influence of their abusers due to inaction by government officials.
We need your help to protest the delay in rescuing the children. We suspect a cover-up and more children will be abused if nothing is done. You can address your short letter of concern to:
Department of Social Welfare and Development
Constitution Hills, Batasan Complex
Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines
Fr. Shay Cullen and the PREDA children and staff