Philippines: Fr Shay writes on 'a day in the life of Anna Maria'

 Anna Maria, 15, is recovering at the Preda Centre. She goes to school and loves to learn. She travels to school with 35 other children who are also recovering and overcoming the trauma of abuse. Given care, affirmation support and good therapy, victims are not damaged forever. They can recover and make a success of life. That is the goal of the Childhood for Children Life Recovery Programme. There are 53 children recovering in Preda at present, not all are ready for school. Arriving from school on the Preda bus, they are laughing, boisterous and full of life, simply happy. They have a meeting on their return to Preda and tell about their experience at school. The staff members listen and help them deal with any school problems. It is so important to listen to children. After the meeting and story telling, they all go to wash up and have a shower and change clothes. They come together for a meal. A buzz of noisy conversation and chatting fills the room. Some of the girls are assigned to wash the dishes, others clean the dining room and sweep the floor. The Preda social worker helps and encourages them. teaching by example. Others are allowed to watch a serial story on TV for 40 minutes. Only positive inspirational and education programmes are viewed. Then it,s time for homework. Some of the children work on the computers. A teacher arrives in the study hall and Anna Maria is always eager to do the home work. The children know that education is the only way out of the pit of poverty. After doing their homework, the children have evening prayer and a reading from the gospel. Through the Gospel, the children learn that every individual is important, precious and valuable, and has rights as a member of the Family of God, as a human person and especially as a child. It is not only the group that is important, but each individual. Taken for granted today, it was a revolutionary idea 2000 years ago. An individual can never be sacrificed for the sake of group or family interest. This is a typical day in the life of Anna Maria. She is happy and laughing and doing well in school. But when she first came to Preda, she was depressed, suicidal and filled with fear and anxiety. She was alone and lost, far from her parents and home. She was a victim of forced child prostitution. It all began when she was taken out of school at 14 by her impoverished parents to work as a domestic helper in the city to send money home. They did not know that the owner, Dom Pedro, was a member of the political elite and a wealthy sex club owner. She washed and cleaned in his sumptuous private mansion. Anna Maria never received any payment and was not allowed to leave the compound. There was no escape. One night, Anna Maria was set upon by the 20 year old son of her employer. A week later she was taken out to his friends and they abused her too. Soon after she was brought to the sex club and made work serving drinks in the club. A foreign sex tourist fancied her, paid the manager and dragged her to a back room where she was sexually abused again and again. She was traumatised, shocked and crying. In desperation, she climbed out a toilet window and ran away. A good hearted woman vendor in the market heard her story and immediately sent a text message to Preda. She was a member of the "defenders of children, a group trained by the Preda Community Education Team to report child abuse. Within twenty minutes, the Preda child rescue team van arrived and Anna Maria was saved. She is now a strong minded young lady and empowered to testify against her abuser. It is only a government that is corruption free and cares for the dignity of women and children that will close the sex industry and stop supporting it. They can do it, with political will, and by canceling the operating licenses and permits. That will save thousands of children like Anna Maria. It can,t come soon enough. Contact Fr Shay Cullen at the Preda Centre, Upper Kalaklan, Olongapo City, Philippines. E-mail:

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