By Rhonda Hirst
Joy*, 49, has eight children. She lived a basic yet comfortable life in a remote community in the rolling hills of Ormoc, Philippines. Her husband made coconut wine and sold two large barrels a week for 5,000 pesos, about $100.
“We were happy before Yolanda,” she explains. (“Yolanda” is the Philippine name for Typhoon Haiyan.)
Like many others, Typhoon Yolanda flattened Joy’s home, and their family’s income source disappeared when all the nearby coconut trees snapped in half due to the super typhoon’s overwhelming wind gusts.
“I had to find work to feed my family. We had no house and no food,” she says. She found a job as a domestic helper close to home for 2,000 pesos per month and worked alongside two other women hired to do the same work.
“After one month, my boss’ sister asked me and the other women to work in Iloilo for 3,000 pesos for just one month of work. My husband was against it, but it was only a month, and we really needed the money. So, he allowed me to go.” (Iloilo is on a nearby island, about 11 hours by ferry and taxi.)
Awaiting the women upon their arrival in Panay Island was an employer that forced them to work as domestic helpers, kept them confined, and took away their means of communicating with friends and family.
“We were trapped there for seven months with no pay. We were beaten badly, and she threatened to kill us if we tried to escape. We were so, so afraid,” she shares, wiping away her tears. “I didn’t think I would make it out alive. I thank God every day that I am still breathing.”
Joy’s story is a classic example of a seemingly good job opportunity that turned into a nightmare. Lured by the promise of additional money, Joy fell into a trap typical to trafficking stories, where victims are forced to work far from home and drawn into the situation due to desperate need.
Traffickers prey on boys and girls, women and men. Sometimes they have local contacts that facilitate recruitment. These contacts seem trustworthy and can even be known friends, neighbors, or family to the people they are recruiting.
Through the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Through Sustainable Livelihood Recovery for Typhoon-Affected People program, World Vision and the U.S. Embassy Manila’s United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have been educating communities in Ormoc, Western Leyte (island) to recognize the signs of human trafficking and heighten their awareness about potential schemes.
Likewise, village leaders have learned how to detect, respond, and report cases of human trafficking, which resulted in the successful rescue of Joy and the two other women from her village.
“If people are aware of the common themes and the risks, they are better equipped to make informed decisions,” says Angelina Theodora, World Vision Typhoon Haiyan Response Manager.
“Sadly, recruiters prey on the vulnerable. The education campaign is part of our work, but World Vision is working to ensure that the poorest of the poor have means of making an income. This way, people are less likely to take risks that they otherwise wouldn’t.”
Encouraging people to come forward with concerns is a key aspect of the campaign. By raising their voice, community members can save lives, like in the case of Joy. After Joy’s story emerged, the local referral pathways were activated and linkages were made to local enforcement and social welfare authorities to ensure that she and the other two women could access psychosocial support and legal assistance should they decide to pursue a case.
USAID and World Vision have a history of partnership to prevent human trafficking, but right now these programs are being threatened by 31 percent cuts to foreign assistance in the U.S. President’s proposed FY18 budget. Take a few minutes to make three phone calls asking your members of Congress to reject cuts to U.S. foreign assistance.
*Name changed to protect identity
Photo: Joy*, 49, endured seven months of unpaid work and physical abuse. © 2016 World Vision/ photo by Rhonda Hirst