By ShuQi Liu
Trudging through the slums of Davao City, I am overwhelmed by the stench emanating from the murky waters of the city’s river delta, filled with feces and rubbish. Yet, as bad as it is, the smell is not nearly as vile as the human trafficking crimes that are committed here.
On a trip with The Chain Reaction Project (TCRP), I traveled to the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines to learn more about human trafficking and raise funds for a safe haven that protects and empowers people directly affected by the modern-day slave trade.
Together with thirty-two other change-makers (better known as “catalysts” at TCRP), we plan to climb Mt. Apo, the Philippines’ highest mountain with an altitude of nearly 3000 metres.
Our first stop is a town close to the coastal crossroads of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines called Davao City, a hotspot renowned for one of the country’s largest organised crime syndicates. I quickly learn that not only are women, men and children trafficked overseas, but that trafficking within The Philippines is a huge issue as well.
At a halfway house, a young girl recently rescued by the Centre of Hope – the safe haven that we are here to support – shares her story.
“Marie” tells us she was promised a good-paying job working for a local family in Davao City when she was 16 years old. Her family needed the money and Davao City was also her hometown, so she took the job. But then, against her wishes, she was taken to Marawi, a town that is 350km and about a 5-hour drive from Davao City. There, she was forced to work in a household of sixteen people, where she was frequently starved, physically abused and not paid the wages due her.
ShuQi with a girl in Davao city, a hotspot for domestic human trafficking
Many of the other girls here in the halfway house were coerced or sold to work in the sex industry. One young woman, now barely 18, was kidnapped from her family and locked up in a brothel. We meet another woman who was mercilessly beaten by brothel owners for resisting customers. Some of the girls here are as young as seven years old.
The girls that I meet are just a few of the 300 women that turn to the Centre of Hope for refuge every year.
Poverty and an insecure future make the women and children living in Davao exceptionally susceptible to human trafficking crimes, social workers from the Visayan Forum Foundation (VFF), which runs the centre, tell us.
In addition to providing shelter and a safe space, VFF counsellors work to empower the women and provide them with new skills to live normal lives again.
Gaining a first-hand understanding of human trafficking stories increased my motivation to raise funds for VFF. The start of the TCRP Ultimate Survival Challenge afforded us the opportunity to put months of rigorous physical training to the test.
Climbing Mt. Apo meant hiking through thick tropical rainforests, sulfurous vents and 87-degree ascents. For many of us, it was our first shot at mountain climbing. Through sheer grit and tenacity, we manage to reach the summit, which at times seems like an impossible task. In the process, we also raise over S$100,000 for the Centre of Hope.
I still cannot believe that I made it to the top, yet I know that the women and children at the Centre of Hope face far greater challenges as they rebuild their lives.
ShuQi, 5th from the left, on Mt. Apo, helps spell “Actually” the nickname for her group of TCRP ‘catalysts’. “
This article was edited by Emma Gatehouse, Rob Teo and Michael Switow. Photos courtesy of The Chain Reaction Project.
For more information on human trafficking and what we can do to stop it, please take a look at ONE (SINGAPORE)’s portal, ‘Stop Human Trafficking!’