Awaiting a Rebirth

The loss of moral values in any society results in oppression and violence. The re-establishing of values is a formidable task and requires an awakening on a national scale.  The entire world is in need of such an awakening.  Jesus referred to this awakening in his metaphorical use of human birth.  Humanity awaits this marvelous change, this birth that transports us from darkness to light.  The reign of God is at hand and it is our hands that help bring about the birth of a new world. Will our hands be supported by the hands of others or by nails in a cross?  Will Jesus be crucified again in the life of those that seek to follow him?  Will those that are his people have enough faith to envision a world changed by the love of God?  The pain of poverty, of sex slavery, of hopelessness should not exist in our world, nor should it be tolerated.  I apologize to the poor often for the lack of care they suffer while gaudy displays of wealth by Christians pollute the airways and bring their tragic comedy into every crevice on earth.  We must be different and bring more than encultured religion corrupted with materialism and militarism.

Hell’s Kitchen ‘Calapandayan’

By Shaun Galford

The atmosphere of the small town of Calapandayan, Philippines is dark and filled with lust, greed and violence.  The women are victims that experience systemic abuse of the "sex tourism industry."  The town sits outside the city of Olongapo and in its seclusion almost anything 'goes.'  The activity that happens here is horrific.  Young women are forced to please their customers and the mamasan will ensure that they do so - whether she pulls their hair and forces them, or fines them so that they do not receive any money.  As we pulled up and parked in the heart of the main street of Calapandayan,  it was rainy and dark.  We walked down the street and men aggressively attempted to get us into the bars.  As we enter the bars, I watch as these sexual predators barked orders at the girls and shouted degrading remarks.  One man yelled at a girl and commanded her to strip.  These foreigners are not looking for love, but rather women that can be dominated and used to fulfill their evil desires.   In their arrogance, the men believe the women actually enjoy them.  The women are treated like animals by the bar owners and used as objects for profit.

Life without Resolve

By Rachel and Mrs. Garner

We have visited the bar girls in the midst of their enslavement in the bars and in homes that are little more than ‘stables’ for keeping stock.  This  week we were able to see yet another horrific aspect of their reality.  We learned about life for the women after they have aged out of working in the bars.  Walking down a narrow, wet, dirty path, somehow squeezed between buildings, naked children and skinny malnourished women greeted us with welcoming toothless smiles.  The path opened up into the area they called ‘home’, a place of dirty shacks precariously built on a steep rocky hill.  This impoverished community of mostly women and children exists just around the corner from the slew of bars in Calapandayan.  These former bar girls were now too old to attract the even older foreign predators.  The pain and suffering of the years of abuse was evident in their malnourished bodies, some full of scars from the violence endured during their enslavement.  Through oozing wounds from continual suicide attempts, the deep psychological trauma blatantly exposed itself.  The presence of many mixed kids revealed the reality of the bar girls and their years of continual rape and abuse, resulting in pregnancies by white men.  Where are the fathers?  They are home in America, in Austrailia, in the Netherlands collecting retirement and living without care.

Personal Lessons on Poverty

By Austin Bennecker

Poverty is disorienting.  It alters the way a human being views and interacts with the world. Poverty strips a person of their consciousness, their will, and their motivation, replacing it with hopelessness and chaos.  Poverty causes a person to accept living with death instead of fighting it.  As I met people from the Pag-Asa slums in Olongapo I realized that they hope for something better in order to mask the unbearable pain of their existence.  We met an extended family of 18 that live in two small buildings.  Initially, they seemed happy and hopeful.  The grandmother spoke of the college scholarship her grandson was about to receive and about her children and grandchildren.  The mood changed as we began asking about the details of their lives. We found that the city promises scholarships but rarely delivers.  This leaves the poverty stricken families with a loan to pay.  Beneath the smiles we found pain, fear, and frustration at the perceived inability to escape their world.

Instead of fighting, many give in to death by failing to prevent even simple health problems.  The poor of Olongapo believe the countless banners plastered around the city that praise the city for being “#1 Kid Friendly City!” or state that the mayor is the “Straight Ticket!”  The city's propaganda aims to incapacitate the poor giving them false hope that their world will change for the better.  As we walked the dirty streets in Pag-asa it became clear that the city doesn’t care enough to relieve their poverty. The poor need the transforming power of the people of God who are willing experience life with them and empower them with education and faith.

Systemic Complicity of Government Health Care and the Sexual Exploitation of Women

By Kristin Bennecker

The shock of seeing buckets of used speculums on the floor of the gynecological smear room is an image that will remains in your mind.  Every week, the girls who work in the bars of Olongapo must report to the city hall health office to receive a mandatory STI (sexually transmitted infection/disease) smear.  If the results come back negative, they are free to return to work.  However, if the results are positive their bar owner is notified and they are suspended from work for two weeks.  We decided to visit the health office in order to gather more information about the medical requirements placed on the girls.  The more questions we asked, the deeper we saw into the complexity of the exploitative system the girls are trapped in.  As we squeezed into the exam room to speak with the nurse, we quickly realized these women were being subjected to completely inadequate care.  The exam table was covered in cracked leather and the room was not stocked with the resources needed to properly sanitize between patients. In comparison to the high-tech care in the States, where fresh paper covers exam tables and women are given clean gowns, this unsanitary treatment of women reveals the perspective of the city health department and the system it serves.  In truth, this weekly exam is not done out of concern for the girls, but for the protection of clients that come to the bars.  Every day a flood of girls line the halls of the health office, waiting to receive their stamp of approval.  On average, the nurse examines 100 girls daily.  As she told us about her experiences, we soon discovered that guilt does not lie on one party. Not only were the city health department and the clients/patrons of the bars involved, but the U.S. Navy donated the examination speculums to the health department to ensure their military personnel would be protected from contracting various STIs or diseases.  Ultimately, the city participates in the maintenance of a system that oppresses its own women in order to preserve the industry and the health of foreign men.  Between the insatiable desire for financial gain and a controlled system, girls are forced to submit to the evil cravings of men and suffer dehumanization.

Educating and Empowering Indigenous Peoples

By Brett Madron

At the end of every road leading into the Zambales Mountains, a person can walk only a short distance and find an Aeta community, an indigenous group who has chosen to live separate from mainstream Philippine society.  Since the inception of our movement’s work in the Philippines we have worked with 7 different communities of Aeta in the Zambales region.  While we certainly want to honor the resilience of the Aeta to live apart from modernized society, we also recognize certain fundamental needs consistent with each community that we, as development workers, will work to meet.  I sat with a middle-aged Aeta man named Morris this week as he took a break from building a Nipa hut, the traditional bamboo home of the Aeta people.  As he told me that he, his sons, and a few friends working collectively would finish the home’s construction in 1 day, I was reminded of the necessity of the Aeta to cooperate with one another to survive.  At the same time, as I observed the malnutrition and poor health conditions of Morris’ children, I was reminded of the great need that exists in these communities for more education, particularly as it relates to the health of their people.  I walked away from this visit with the Aeta both informed and burdened concerning the very practical needs that exist among their communities.

Behind the Flashing Lights and Illusion

by Breann Bennecker and Sarah Mascaro

There is a prevalent myth here in the Philippines invading the lives of the most desperate and impoverished women.  They are led to believe that by leaving their families to work in the bars of the city they will earn enough money to alleviate their family’s poverty.  The flashing lights of the club and smiling faces of women can easily deceive the average tourist.  The bar owners perpetuate this myth as they promise the women shelter and money for their work.  As our team continues to forge relationships with these endangered guardians we have made our way into their “homes” to spend time with them outside the bar.  A recent visit to one such “home” revealed it to be little more than a hot concrete box for the foreign pimp to store his women.  A few weeks prior, the team met some girls and found out where the bar owner was housing them. On this particular day we visited their home again to give them care packages containing a bra, underwear and basic hygienic necessities.  Twenty or more girls live in an approximately 800 square foot, 2-story building not far from the bar.  Their personal space has been eliminated, as their furnishings are limited to a fan, a bathroom and the mats that they sleep on.  These women are stabled here like horses, let out for their 10-hour shifts at the bars and let back in to sleep during the daytime. There is virtually no escape from the constant monitoring where even outside of the bars they are ‘supervised’ by 2 mamasans, one who lives with them and another who comes by to sell them food.

Our purpose for going into their homes is to continue our relationships with the girls and to demonstrate the love of Christ.  Each moment we spend with them is an opportunity to show that they deserve to truly be loved.  They deserve more than the stable-like living quarters that they inhabit.  We refuse to believe the myth that they are living well with the money they earn from this job.  Instead the team persists in visiting their "homes," reaching out to them and being a sign that God hears the cries of the afflicted.

Another Generation?

By Joel Olson

As old men stroll arm-in-arm with teenage girls down the streets of Barrio Barretto, they are often solicited to buy little bags of peanuts from children.  I have watched as some men treat the children kindly, others aggressively tell them to leave, while still others just ignore their presence all together.  Ranging in age from 10-13 years old this group of children are paid $2 or less to work the streets from 6pm to 4am every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night.  Last night we shared a special moment with these children as we fed them dinner in one of the restaurants on the strip of Barretto.  One of the little girls named Ginalyn said with a huge smile on her face “Isang Pamilia,” which translates as “One family” in English.  We smiled as the children waited for all the food to arrive at the table before eating, demonstrating they truly did treat each other as a family.  This industry knows no limits.  We asked Ginalyn, “do you know what the men are here for?”  Her smile vanished as she hung her head and said, “yes, I do.”  The kids tell us they are there working to buy school supplies.  But these pens and papers are being paid for with something much more precious than pesos, their innocence is being spent each night they walk the streets.  The kids do have homes and families of their own, but their freedom to go and spend the weekends around the dangerous men of Barrio Barretto shows how deep seeded this issue is.  Tonight we plan on bringing the children some school supplies as a part of our multi-faceted attack on the sex tourism industry, but the children’s presence on the streets will always be a sign of the strength of this industry to affect generations of Filipino families.