Catherine Bridgwood, the Columban Faith in Action volunteer 2018/19, took part in the Invitation to Mission programme visit to the Philippines at Easter. Here, she recalls and reflects on the group’s visit to the PREDA home for girls who have experienced abuse or exploitation.
I entered the experience of visiting these places with some apprehension, not because of any kind of uncertainty about how we would be welcomed (the Filipino welcome we experienced everywhere was second to none!). This apprehension was more to do with my own position going into a place where I was there as a learner, not really bringing anything to contribute, and I suppose I questioned what right I had to so briefly step into the lives of these children.
We were first taken to visit an impressive new residential building for the girls recently opened, but the earthquake two days’ prior had caused some damage, so the girls had moved back in to the older building and this is where we met them. The girls at this home had been victims of sexual abuse, either in their home situation or in the commercial sex trade, and as they went around the room introducing themselves, I think the age 14 was most commonly said. Just children.
We were welcomed with some amazingly choreographed dancing, which certainly put the pressure on us to deliver something impressive! We had come armed not with dancing feet, but with pink balloons. Thanks to John and Marina (our amazing teacher representatives) we soon had everyone up, playing and laughing. As John said about the boys’ home, it was heartening to witness children, who we know have suffered far beyond their years, just be children, and a real privilege to witness the mission of PREDA in this area.
A significant part of PREDA’s work is the legal advocacy on behalf of the girls. Preparing the girls in their care to make statements in court and bring perpetrators of abuse to justice forms part of the process of journeying with them to a point where they are able to return home. The support does not stop there and many of the girls stay in contact with PREDA. Shortly before our visit, they had a reunion of some former residents, now finding their place in the world.
The scale of the abuse of children we learned about through our experience at PREDA was really shocking. Abuse in any form is such a violation against human dignity and God’s creation. We pray that the PREDA’s work will continue to be one of love and healing for the children they advocate on behalf of.