IJM Cebu: Trafficking Survivor Returns to her Hometown to Help Rebuild After Typhoon

Angelita, in the green shirt, and the other girls rescued with her spend their first days in freedom at HerSpace, a government shelter for survivors of sex trafficking.
Angelita, in the green shirt, and the other girls rescued with her spend their first days in freedom at HerSpace, a government shelter for survivors of sex trafficking.
IJM visited Angelita’s family’s home in December 2013, shortly after the typhoon destroyed much of her hometown.
IJM visited Angelita’s family’s home in December 2013, shortly after the typhoon destroyed much of her hometown.
Angelita was part of a relief trip in January 2014, and a group of volunteers rebuilt her family’s home.
Angelita was part of a relief trip in January 2014, and a group of volunteers rebuilt her family’s home.

Two years ago, Angelita* was rescued from a karaoke bar where she had been trafficked and sold for sex at just 14 years old.

Angelita has experienced more suffering and hardship than most will see in a lifetime, and yet her story is marked by resilience. Since IJM helped rescue her, she has begun to process the violence she suffered at the bar, as well as many painful experiences from her childhood.

When Typhoon Haiyan swept through the Philippines in November 2013, more destruction crashed into Angelita’s young life. Her hometown was impacted, and her family lost the home they had only recently built.

Not a Safe Place

Angelita is one of nine children. Her family is extremely impoverished and food was always scarce. They lived in a tiny shanty that had once been a pig pen. Angelita had to drop out of school when she was in second grade to help her family earn a little extra money. Her parents were physically abusive, and home was not a safe place.

Sadly, Angelita’s story is not unlike many of the girls and women IJM has met in the Philippines. When she was 14, Angelita left home to find work in a bigger city. She discovered what traffickers know too well: It’s difficult for young teenagers to find a job, and it’s easy to exploit their vulnerability. Angelita was offered a job at a bar, and she was soon caught up in the dark world of human trafficking.

IJM Cebu worked with the regional anti-trafficking police unit to investigate the bar where Angelita was being sold and raped for profit. On April 15, 2012, IJM helped the police and government social services agency rescue Angelita and four other young women. Police arrested and charged the bar owner and a pimp. The bar remains closed, and IJM is supporting the case as it goes to trial.

Healing in a Loving Home

Immediately after she was rescued, Angelita spent time in a short-term government aftercare shelter. Then, last summer, Angelita moved into a private aftercare home.

At 17 years old, she enrolled in school and is picking up her studies from where she left off in second grade. It is hard work, but Angelita is determined. She is still in regular contact with her IJM social worker, and she receives solid counseling in the home sponsored by a local church.

Angelita still has painful flashbacks and memories of the abuse that marred her childhood, but she longs for reconciliation with her parents. “Forgiveness is a process,” explains the house manager Angelita has grown close to, adding that every day, “Angelita grows more sure that she is loved by God, that she can trust others, that she can let down her guard, that her feelings and thoughts are important enough to express.”

Rebuilding a House, Planning for a Future  

Over the past several months, IJM has joined countless other NGOs, churches and aid groups to help many of the islands and towns devastated by the super typhoon. Despite their own families’ losses, IJM staff have made numerous trips to bring building supplies, food and other aid to clients and families who lost everything, including Angelita’s family.

Earlier this year, Angelita’s aftercare home and a local church organized a relief trip. Angelita and nine other survivors of trafficking signed up as volunteers. The group traveled to Angelita’s hometown. It was her first time visiting home since she had been trafficked, and it was only the second time she had seen her parents.

When Angelita arrived, her family’s home was nearly finished. She ran inside to hug her mother. “The house is much better now and it’s beautiful. I’m very thankful.” After the trip Angelita said she got to speak to her mother on a deeper level than ever before, and she added that bringing tangible aid to people was powerful: “I was really happy because I could help other people. I prayed for them.”

The exploitation and distrust that defined so much of Angelita’s past still casts shadows over some days, but she sees a new future and is making conscious steps forward. Angelita says, “I can see that there is already healing in me and I can also see now what is a healthy family relationship. There is more of that to come in the future.”

IJM staff have participated in numerous relief trips to visit clients and their families who live in areas damaged by Typhoon Haiyan, bringing food, basic construction materials to rebuild homes, and helping families restart businesses by mending or purchasing new fishing nets. You can read about the first trip here.