Over the last two months we have visited several NGO’s here in Olongapo and in Manila. Our purpose was to familiarize ourselves with other communities of people, functioning as advocates and educators of women and children at risk of, or involved in, prostitution, sex tourism, or human trafficking. As we sat with staff members from various NGOs, we became engrossed in conversation about their work with sexually exploited women and children. We shared our recent experiences, asked questions, talked through a few of the complexities of this endeavor and connected with them through a shared dream for the women and children of the Philippines. One such meeting introduced us to a 42-year-old woman who works on staff as an “organizer” at the Buklod Foundation. “Buklod” is a Filipino word meaning “a bond which brings people together”. This center was established in 1987 as a drop in center for women in prostitution on the doorstep of the former U.S. Naval Base.
The Buklod Foundation now offers education and livelihood training for women working on the streets and in the bars. She is an Amer-asian, the offspring of a Filipino and an American Soldier and a product of the American military presence here in Olongapo. At a young age, she found herself in great need. With no one to help her, she was lured into the bars for a year. Though the scars remain from the abuse and rape she endured, she is one of the lucky few who courageously find their own way out. She now serves on staff with Buklod, working to organize women and inform them about their community and the opportunities available to them there at the center. Part of her work includes entering bars all over Olongapo city to attempt to begin trusting relationships with the girls, whose situations she finds all too familiar. Secondly, she offers them alternatives, including informal education, livelihood training, and other educational seminars whereby they can learn their rights as Filipino women. We have had the opportunity to join her several times recently.
The women of Buklod call themselves “survivors”. In a world where the violence of the sex industry often leaves these women completely damaged or dead, they have found solidarity with one another and in reaching out to those currently experiencing what is now their past. Instead of forgetting, they work long hours, as the center never closes, and revisit their past daily in the lives of the women they help. I saw this very clearly as we entered a bar one Friday night with a woman from Buklod, and after sitting down she leaned over and said, “This is where I used to work”.
The expansiveness of the sex industry here in the Philippines is something we are becoming more aware of every day. Visiting these communities who have been working tirelessly to bring it to an end, only confirmed just how much work we have ahead of us. The uniqueness of our service here in the Philippines must lie in our faith in God – to change hearts, to give us creative ideas, to restore broken women, and to bring about his rule and reign on earth.
By Rachel Olson