The following story illustrates the collision of two systemic issues in the Philippines - the lack of maternal and newborn care and the sex slave industry, which preys on the vulnerability of young women desperate to provide for their families. The story highlights the growing friendship of G.O.D. Int’l development workers Ty and Meg Mathews and a young lady they met in a bar named Liza (name changed for privacy). Ty is focused in the social work realm, particularly with at-risk youth. Meg has been trained in the Childbirth Education Program at the Institute for G.O.D. Int’l and helps manage NOVA birth services in Nashville, TN.
Ty and Meg Mathews first met Liza in October of 2013. She had been working in a bar for a little less than a month. Desperate to find work, Liza had moved far from home at 21. She was told the bars would pay her well. For girls like Liza, working in a bar means being paraded around and forced to dance nearly naked with 15-20 other women for 10 hours without a break. This dancing is interrupted if a guest at the bar pays to take the girl out of the bar, most often expecting sexual favors in return. The girl has little choice in this exchange.
Upon entering the bar to learn about the conditions these young women work in, Liza stood out to the Ty and Meg. She stood out because she was different from the other girls. As the Mathews spoke with her, they realized that she still had a faint hope of a better life. With this realization, the Mathews began spending every Tuesday with Liza, trying to help her see that working at the bar was not the only option for a better life and, in fact, could destroy her.
With each meeting, they learned more about Liza’s story. They learned that she was the youngest of eight children and that, for the last 40 years, her father had supported his family through bicycling passengers in a sidecar. They also discovered that just a few months before they had met, she gave birth to a baby boy. He was born healthy. But, after four days, he developed a fever. Liza’s family lacked the funds to admit him to a medical center. The boy died at five days old, with a high fever, likely to a curable illness.
Four months after the death of her son, Liza’s father suffered a stroke and was unable to provide for the family. Liza was contacted by a family connection, and she was told that if she wanted to make money for her family she needed to move to Luzon (a northern island) to work at a club. Her first day on the job, Liza was expected to perform sexually with male customers, most of whom were tourists from the West. She became confused and depressed. She hated her work, but she knew that her family was in desperate need. She feared for her family’s well-being, as well as her own safety. She was now subject to the profiteering priorities of the bar owners.
The Mathews began to think and pray of opportunities to remove Liza from her despairing conditions. Often they would go to bed in tears, knowing the abuse she was enduring in those hours, and pleading with God to protect her. They prayed and trusted that God would help her to have the faith to leave the bar.
In the midst of the Mathews’ time with Liza, Meg spent her days offering extensive education to pregnant women, midwives, and local hilots (birth attendants without professional training). After meeting a hilot in a remote mountain village, Meg knew she needed to return with more supplies and further education, but she needed a translator. The Mathews invited Liza to accompany them as a translator. Over the course of this time, Liza began to learn more about birth, newborns and motherhood, and the need for people to be trained to help them in this very vulnerable time in their lives. She was made aware of many other mothers who could experience loss similar to her own, especially if they were not given proper education in birth and newborn care.
When the Mathews’ trip was drawing to a close, they offered to spend their last week accompanying Liza to go see her family. Although she appeared excited for this opportunity, she knew that leaving was a risk. Girls employed like Liza don’t get time off, and violent punishment is a common consequence if they choose to take it. Despite these risks, Liza resolved to go with the Mathews to visit her family.
After a week of reuniting with her family that she hadn’t seen in over a year, the Mathews were hopeful that Liza would choose not to go back to the bar. They recall a particular evening when they shared the story of the Woman of the City in Luke 7 with her. She was moved to tears as she related herself with the woman in the story who, despite being afflicted and rejected in society, was moved to faith and belief that Jesus could help her. Liza prayed that God would bring freedom and healing to her.
When the Mathews offered to financially support Liza to go to school instead of return to the bar, she courageously accepted. She decided not to return to her work in the North, but instead enroll in the University School of the Visayas. She told them that when she received the opportunity to translate for Meg’s educational seminar with the hilot, she knew in her heart she wanted to be a midwife. At that moment, she said, she realized that she can help women never have to endure the sadness she went through when she lost her son.
Liza is now in Mindanao with her family waiting the school session to begin in Cebu in June. It is very difficult for women in this line of work to quit their job, without returning to it when circumstances are unsure. This is particularly the case if they have been there for an extended period of time, Thankfully, Liza is now four months removed. She is doing very well - healthy and happy. She emails the Mathews weekly to share her enthusiasm and thankfulness for the privilege to attend college - something she could previously only dream about.
Liza’s story is typical of numerous young women across South East Asia. Continue to pray for our development workers in this region as they trudge through the complexities of this corrupt system in hopes to offer its victims like Liza another way. And continue to pray for Liza as she begins a new journey towards an education that will empower her to meet very real needs in her country, and leaves behind a life that demanded her to sacrifice her body for the vile pleasures of men.
Written by Brett Madron and Ty Mathews