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Don’t Let Me Forget

I thought I knew. I thought I knew a lot about the issues of human trafficking and the sex trade. I’ve done my research. I’ve followed my friend Meghan’s blog of true stories of the women she’s encountered along the way of her many journeys over the years. I thought I knew. It’s one thing to hear tales of heartache and abuse of women, it’s an entirely different experience to look them in the eyes and see it for yourself. I thought I knew, but I was wrong.  I’ve learned so much in the past five days, and all I’ve wanted to do is to share it with others.  So here I go…

On Monday we travelled from Manilla to Angeles City.  When we arrived, I noticed one very obvious detail & had one thought:

Where did all these white men come from?

The answer: Everywhere. They come from all around the world for one reason. They come for the girls. Angeles City is by no means picturesque. It’s beyond hot & humid, it’s dirty, it’s nothing special. There are no sprawling beaches, no fancy restaurants, nothing to do.  Just Walking Street. Walking Street is just that…a few blocks of the main street blocked off from traffic. It is lined from top to bottom with bars and clubs filled with girls. It’s hard not to get angry when I think about the men who travel far & wide just to purchase these women for a night. But I’m not here to judge their intentions or their actions because they have a story too.  Unfortunately, a lot of these men believe that they are helping these women. Giving them some money (they make about $2/night), giving them a meal, and some of them even think the women desire their company.

What these men (and many people) don’t understand is that most of these women are sought out & tricked. People come to their provinces and promise restaurant jobs in the “big city” so they can provide for their destitute families . At times, it’s even a family member that does this. When the girls arrive they are told that all the restaurant jobs are taken. Only the “dancer jobs” are available. Because the girls have no money and no means to get back home—they have no choice. They are given a skimpy bikini and thrown up on stage to be sold for the night.

When I walked into my first bar on Walking Street, I had one thought.

How can anyone think these women want to be here?

 They looked miserable. The bar was dark, dingy, and very small. No matter where you are in the bar, the girls are right there—up on the stage, in your face. They shuffled from side to side in order to “dance” to the music. They all wear badges on their bikinis that have their “name” and numbers. Yes, you read that right.  They have numbers. The men pick them out like cattle. They are all herded to the bar and are summoned by the men when they are pointed at or sometimes flashed at with a laser pointer. It’s sickening.  In order for us to talk to the girls we would sit down, order a drink, and then have to pick out a girl and as the waitress to bring her to us so we can buy her a drink.

With the help of our Filapina friends who work with Wipe Every Tear, we are able to share with them that they have a choice. They have options. They can have a home, food, and an education for free. The more we talk to them, the more they smile. I can see the hope rise in their eyes. My friend *Ava had come from their exact situation and was able to tell them that she is getting an education, and that there really is hope for them. We asked them their dreams, their goals, what makes them happy.  These questions were hard for some to answer because they have never had the luxury of thinking that their dreams could come to fruition.  Most of the women we talked to that night were very receptive and excited about this opportunity. They got Karen’s contact information (an AMAZING FIlapina leader with the W.E.T. organization) and will contact her when they are ready to get out.

It was hard in some conversations because they would be speaking Tagalog, and I thought, “well why am I here?” Then I learned that Filapinos are not allowed into the bars on Walking Street without a foreigner (unless they work there of course).  So it was my privilege to be there just so we could connect Filapina to Filapina.

I’ve seen some dark things here. I’ve heard heartbreaking, gut wrenching stories about the pasts of these women. But believe me when I tell you…I am so encouraged.

I have found my passion.

My first day here I had a deep realization that I am supposed to be here. Every event in my life whether good or bad has led me to this very specific place in time. I am meant to advocate for these women and women like them all around the world. There is so much hope for these women. And I believe I was put on this earth to share that hope. I am beyond grateful that am able to be a part of this.

To my friends and family: don’t let me forget.

Don’t let me forget this passion. Don’t let me forget these women. Don’t let me forget the amazing experiences I’ve had here.