Every Saturday in the Casa Esperanza shelter, Gail (name changed) assists artist-trainer Onna in arts-based sessions for girls who have survived sexual abuse. On Sundays, Gail volunteers as an interpreter for the deaf during worship at the Little Children of the Philippines. Occasionally she performs in an advocacy play produced by Youth Advocates Through Theater Arts (YATTA) on the issue of teen pregnancy and adolescent reproductive health. She is also an officer in the Gender Watch Against Violence and Exploitation (GWAVE) Teen Advocates.
This portrait of a motivated, civic-minded young person is admirable, especially since Gail’s path has been difficult. She arrived at the shelter at age 12 because her mother’s live-in boyfriend had sexually abused her. That was not, however, her first time at the Casa: she had come earlier because of the battering her mother had experienced.
I met Gail during a workshop designed to encourage girls to recognize their strengths and dreams. Afterward, participants collectively composed a song:
We wish to join our families again
We wish to be able to live in peace
We wish to be able to work.
But there are many problems in our homes
We are faced with frequent abuse
We are faced with poverty
Making it difficult to reach our dreams.
That is why we resolve to find our strength
And to do our best at school
Rely on ourselves, our companions, and God.
GWAVE assists girls through counseling and filing legal actions, which may lead to the imprisonment of perpetrators. GWAVE also provides a Survivor Empowerment Program to promote leadership through activities such as train the trainer and peer counseling.
YATTA partnered with GWAVE to produce a fast-paced, witty performance about laws related to gender-based violence, specifically human trafficking, domestic violence, rape and child abuse. The actors portrayed women and girls GWAVE has assisted. In one year, YATTA has performed the piece for more than 5,000 people in government centers, churches and schools, on basketball courts and even under a mango tree. YATTA’s presentation has drawn attention to gender-based violence and has inspired other groups, such as Christian Youth Fellowship members of the Dumaguete United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), to restage the segment tackling human trafficking as part of the church’s program Tahas Dangpanan (Project Shelter).
YATTA also began to develop learning modules on children’s rights, positive discipline, adolescent reproductive health, psychosocial support and community action for survivors of disasters. The workshops are now conducted by the youth themselves, allowing them to mentor and organize youth in schools, churches, communities and nongovernmental organizations. They are able to connect more intimately to the voice, the yearning and needs of other young people, while becoming role models.
Four years ago, Gail decided to join YATTA while remaining active in the GWAVE survivors group. Although she is still carrying a weight from her experience of abuse, her resilience has been affirmed and her artistic and organizational gifts have been harnessed. When she reflects on her journey, Gail says, “All these gave me the strength to journey on. Life goes on.”
Support Dessa and Cobbie’s work in the Philippines at pcusa.org/donate/E200393.
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This article is from the spring 2016 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, a publication of Presbyterian World Mission. To subscribe or read archived issues, visit pcusa.org/missioncrossroads.