Manila, Philippines – From curiosity into knowledge and from knowledge into action–these were the transformations that Ashleen Graham experienced when she went to the Philippines to volunteer for the Women’s Education, Development, Productivity and Research Organization (WeDpro). Hailing from Northamptonshire in the United Kingdom, she volunteered for WeDpro after reading about it in Sex Slaves, an informative book that tackles prostitution and sex trafficking in Asia.
Ashleen helped out as a Workshop Facilitator in WeDpro’ recently concluded project called The Red AVP (Anti-Violence Project), short for Private and Public Faces of Violence Against Women: Addressing Domestic Violence and Trafficking In the Urban Poor Communities and Entertainment Centers of Angeles City and Olongapo City. Here are excerpts from her journal, shedding light on how it is to volunteer in the field of women and youth’s issues.
I was quite nervous when I entered the classroom in Angeles City but as soon as I met the theater scholars, I quickly became relaxed since all of them were very welcoming and friendly.
For the first session, I got the scholars to do an exercise where they would create their own characters. One thing I asked them to do was to make a secret their character. I have done this same activity with a group in England and the problems and cultural difference were made very apparent to me by what they chose their secrets to be.
In Angeles, their secrets included being sexually abused by family members and having stage 4 brain cancer. If someone were to choose this as their secret in England, everyone would be very shocked, but in Angeles, no one was shocked besides me. It was apparent that for them, things like that are part of everyday life.
Today we started on scriptwriting. The original plan was to write a script together as a group but they were all capable and wanted to write their own scripts. So we came up with some themes as a group and the scholars selected the themes they would like to include in their own script.
From this, they developed a plot and the characters they would like to include in their play. They came up with very imaginative ideas and all worked hard and were focused on the task.
The group continued with their scriptwriting, asking me to check their work after they had wrote each scene. We then played some theater exercises and did some improvisation which we did at the start of the week. Improvements could be seen, showing the potential of the group.
In the evening, I went out with two of the scholars and met up with their friends who are Amerasians. They were like a family and really look out for one another, which was great to see especially considering the stories they told me that they have a hard time being Amerasians.
I visited the City Hall and met with Heide, a social welfare and development officer. She showed me some their work, such as a day care center that includes education to the parents about the rights of their children, a temporary shelter offered to abused children, and many more. It was good to see that work was being done at this level and that problems have been recognized.
I arrive in Olongapo and together with some staff, I went on house visits to see some of the women who work in the bars. Glen was the first girl we met; she is now pregnant so has stopped working in the bars. We then met Virgie, a waitress in one of the bars it was great to talk to her and hear her stories about working in the Subic.
We also went to a house where some street women were living and they were playing a card game together. A lot of the street women seem to have girlfriends which doesn’t surprise me, after some of the awful experiences they must have had with men.
Today, the main activity of the Olongapo theater scholars was to create characters based on secrets. Again they all had very sad secrets, like brain cancer and being HIV positive. It only confirmed that there were normal topics of everyday life in Olongapo.
That night I went with Janette and JC to the barangay’s Ms Gay beauty pageant. It was lots of fun and the contestants were very glamorous. It was also great to see entertainment for the locals, as beauty pageants seem to be a common and popular form of entertainment.
In the morning, we had a de-briefing about The Red AVP. In the evening, I went bar hopping with Brenda. It was a shocking experience to see the naked dancing in the clubs.
We spoke to some of the girls about their lives. Some were still studying but still needed a way to find a way to earn money for allowance and tuition. I asked the girls whether they liked their job and they said it can be good and bad. It seems that they have just accepted it as their way of life and there is no other option.
I came to the Philippines with some knowledge on prostitution and trafficking based on what I had read, but hearing the stories from the women themselves was completely different. I believe that there needs to be a lot more education in more developed countries on the problem of trafficking and violence against women and children.
As Ashleen’s experiences show, volunteering for WeDpro can be a rewarding experience. Interested volunteers and donors who want to get involved and support the cause of abused and marginalized women and children in the Philippines can email their letter of interest to email@example.com.
For more information about WeDpro, please contact (+632) 4267479 or visit www.wedprophils.org.