Trafficking Survivors Inspire: "Now We Can Help Other Girls"

Nonita* is gathering with other trafficking survivors and their IJM social workers to celebrate another milestone in their journey of restoration.
Nonita* is gathering with other trafficking survivors and their IJM social workers to celebrate another milestone in their journey of restoration.
Charina is one of the trafficking survivors meeting for the regular support group. Today she stands before her peers and says, "I am happy and thankful for the positive changes in my life."
Charina is one of the trafficking survivors meeting for the regular support group. Today she stands before her peers and says, "I am happy and thankful for the positive changes in my life."

CEBU, THE PHILIPPINES – A group of young women laugh and chat with one another as they pull plastic chairs into a circle. They are excited and at ease with one another. They've been meeting together like this for the past six months – it's a support group for trafficking survivors.

The Reintegration Support Network (RSN) is an innovative partnership between IJM Cebu and the local government, providing medical and psychosocial support to trafficking survivors who have moved out of aftercare shelters and back into their home communities.

The RSN group meets regularly in a local government office. It's a time for government social workers and IJM staff to keep providing counsel and skills the independent young women need to thrive. The survivors can receive free dental and medical care. It is also a time for the survivors to encourage one another, peer to peer.

"Now We Can Help Other Girls"

IJM Cebu social worker Holiday Albo remembers that the young women were shy and hesitant to share at first. But now, she says, "They are showing more courage in sharing with each other. They feel free to express themselves without fear of judgment from the other girls and they help each other by giving encouragement and positive feedback."

The young women have learned about healthy relationships, establishing healthy boundaries, domestic violence and parenting. In today's meeting, they are gathering to celebrate the completion of another step in their trauma-focused therapy – every milestone in this widely-respected therapy model is significant.

They begin the meeting by reading a "bill of rights," a list of declarations they wrote together. In unison, the survivors read aloud: "I have the right to say 'no.' I have the right to my own body. I have to right to stand up for myself. I have the right to be loved."

They begin the meeting by reading a "bill of rights," a list of declarations they wrote together. In unison, the survivors read aloud: "I have the right to say 'no.' I have the right to my own body. I have to right to stand up for myself. I have the right to be loved."

Charina,* 20, is one of the young mothers in the group. Since she was rescued from sex trafficking five years ago, Charina has persevered through many struggles to become the strong woman she is today. On this day, she stands before the group of other trafficking survivors and describes how much her life has changed since rescue.

"I am happy and thankful for the positive changes in my life," Charina says with confidence. She points in the direction of the pier where she was once routinely sold and exploited: "If I was not rescued, I would still be standing over there." Charina goes on to say that she has learned to respect others and respect herself. She looks around the room of fellow survivors and said, "Now we can help other girls."

One by one, each girl comes forward to accept her certificate of recognition. The others echo Charina's sentiments, expressing gratitude for the RSN group and the difference they've experienced because of their time together.

One Of Its Kind

The young women, like Charina, have experienced remarkable healing and transformation since they were rescued from sex trafficking years ago. IJM Cebu Field Office Director Andrey Sawchenko notes that the RSN is also a remarkable program, calling it "one of its kind in the Philippines."

In August 2012, in a great step forward for ensuring the long-term sustainability of this program for all trafficking survivors who want to take advantage of it, the Mandaue City Social Welfare Services assumed responsibility for the RSN group. IJM will continue to attend the meetings and help the government social workers plan activities and train other volunteers. One of Cebu's leading papers, the Sun Star, reported on the support network, highlighting the kind of innovation that is possible when NGOs and government agencies work together to create change.

 

*A pseudonym has been used for the protection of these IJM clients.