Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine Cards From The Philippines!

Our first interview with Crystal Sprague, director of My Refuge House in Cebu, Philippines was exactly one year ago today. Since that time MRH has experienced exciting growth in its capacity to care for girls rescued from the horrors of sex-trafficking and other sexual abuses. One of the highlights and deepest honors of our year here at Conspiracy Of Hope was a package we received from those precious girls. Inside were so many beautiful handmade cards teeming with colors and joyous thanks!

One of the starkest realities of the anti-trafficking movement is the rate of recidivism for freed victims. No one is more psychologically vulnerable to the lies and coercion of traffickers than girls who have been rescued but have no one on the other side to help them heal and reintegrate back into society. And without the testimony of these girls evil people can continue to commit these atrocities unabated and with complete impunity. In some areas known as hotbeds for sexual exploitation, only 1 in 9 girls stay free. It is for these reasons and so many others why aftercare facilities such as MRH are the lifeblood of the anti-trafficking movement. 

Crystal, since our last interview you guys are in the new building? What has that meant for the girls?

We are so thankful to have completed construction and opened our brand new building in May 2011! Thank you Conspiracy of Hope for your contribution in making that possible!

The new building is incredible. It has allowed us to change our entire program and provide so many more needs for the girls. The location is secure and provides us protection and space to take care of 12 girls, enough room for all areas of our program (education, counseling, livelihood, recreation, health, spiritual), while still feeling like a close knit family environment. It is situated in a beautiful, serene location, which by itself provides a therapeutic element that we prayed for, but couldn't really imagine. It also gives us ample space to do livelihood activities like gardening and raising chickens and recreational activities on the grounds. We have been eating fresh vegetables from our garden almost every day now, thanks to the productive tropical atmosphere and the diligent work of the girls! 

Besides the new building what has been the greatest accomplishment for 2011?

Seeing the remarkable transformations in the lives each individual girl that is in our care is the most amazing accomplishment that we could ask for. Watching the former victims transform as they come to believe that there are people who care about them and believe in them. Being able to offer the girls opportunities like education and future careers that they never dreamed possible, and watching them grab ahold of those opportunities and begin to soar, no longer held down by the chains of their past. Seeing the survivors stand up against their perpetrators in court. Watching them find power in their own voice, healing in their own story and hope in a God who rescues them from their past and gives them a future. Those are the things that make this work worth it. 

What do you see as the biggest hurdle for 2012?

I recently went on a tour with someone who has been instrumental in enforcing trafficking laws here, and he was showing me all the establishments that have closed down, and all the areas that still need intervention. We asked him “what is the greatest need you have to be able to continue doing your job well?” He responded with “More aftercare. More quality homes to put the girls in once they are rescued. Without those, trafficking will never end, the cycle will always repeat itself.”

MRH girl getting tutored above and below the house favorite, "The Slipper Game".

My Refuge House provides great care, and we are seeing the evidence of it in the lives of the girls who live with us. But providing good care is expensive, and we always have financial needs. The majority of our finances is spent on staff. People who love the girls and can provide structure and stability to them. And we have plans to continue building, to increase our capacity so that we can care for 45 girls instead of 12. The blueprints are already approved and ready to be build. But we don’t yet have the funds to make that dream a reality.

So finances is definitively your biggest need?

Finances and more quality staff. Finances to keep providing good care, and increase our capacity to take in rescued girls, and good staff who are able to care for them and provide the stability that they need to recover from all they've been through.

Thankfully we were just able to purchase a vehicle which is such a huge blessing and will allow us to have more security and safety when our girls go to hearings and doctor’s appointments. Thanks to great partners, Angelicum College in Manila and Red Window Project we are able to offer our girls high quality education and Job Readiness training and placements. And thanks to our staff, all of our other program needs are met in house.

But the thing that we need most is definitely finances and advocacy. Raising awareness about the work that’s already being done, and partnerships from individuals and churches and organizations that will allow us to continue to do this work!

As compared to this time last year, do you feel that the city of Cebu is headed in the right direction as far as anti-trafficking efforts?

The great thing about Cebu, is that in many ways it still feels like a small town. Although there are approximately 3 million people in Metro Cebu, everyone is willing to work together and cares very much about their city. There are more organizations and great partners springing up every day birthed out of churches and government organizations. If any city has the capacity to eradicate trafficking, I think it will be Cebu.

There is still a long way to go. There are still unimaginable numbers of girls and women being trafficked in and around Cebu daily. However, in the last year we have seen formerly “untouchable” establishments raided and closed and remain closed, as well as at least two completely separate cases of qualified trafficking given life imprisonment judgments. The tides are changing, and my hope and prayer is that it will continue to pick up momentum! 

What are some things interested parties can do stateside to raise awareness and support for MRH? 

We currently have a brochure and a couple of short videos. Also, we are available to assist in any way with doing events or speaking at events if you would like to raise awareness about this pertinent issue.

One of our goals for 2012 is to develop educational materials that can be used in small groups and youth groups/school setting, so stay tuned for that! Please email info@myrefugehouse.org for more information or if you are interested in getting involved further. 

In one of your recent blogs you beamed with pride at a young girl facing down her trafficker in a court room. What a feeling!!! Obviously you must respect the confidentiality of your client, but is there more you can tell us about the lead up to that day?

As you can imagine, the emotions that our survivors face leading up to the trials are wide-ranging. The battle that they face as they prepare themselves for that moment can only be understood by those who have gone through similar battles. The girl that I mentioned wrestled with her testimony and her resolve to give it for months before her court date. She sought the safety of a witness protection program, but was turned down and that’s when she came to us. I’ll never forget though, a couple of days before her trial date, she was going back and forth, debating what to do, scared to face her perpetrator, still angry about what had happened, and in a fleeting moment of clarity she said “I don’t want them to ever have a chance to hurt someone the same way that they hurt me.” From that point forth, she never wavered in her resolve.

For those of you who haven’t read the incredible story, here it is on Crystal's blog.

From the pictures and the smiles upon smiles it seems like Christmas was extraordinary at MRH this year. Is there a moment that stands out from that morning?

Christmas was a huge blessing for us and for the girls. One small youth group in Georgia, primarily made up of girls the same age as the girls in our home (13-18 year olds), dedicated themselves to raise money to sponsor gifts for our girls to open on Christmas Day. They were able to provide two full outfits for each girl: dress, underclothes, shoes and sandals, pants, shirts, bags. A few of the girls said that they never expected to receive so much. One girl said that it was best Christmas she had ever had. There were a few moments of sadness when the girls wished that their families and brothers and sisters could also receive similar blessings, but for the most part the girls were amazed, thankful and felt very loved. They played games and had contests and had a feast of food. It was a great day. 

Christmas, Cebu style.
If the girls of MRH could tell the world one thing what would it be?

“Thank you. Thank you for making it possible for us to have a future.” 

How can we pray for MRH, the staff and the girls this year?

Our most common prayer, among the staff, is for wisdom. God, give us wisdom to address the needs and hurts and frustrations that rise up, and wisdom for the questions that have no good answers and wisdom for our own lives, how to be most effective, how to love well, how to teach well, how to be God’s hands and feet daily.

For the girls, please continue to pray for their healing processes. In the next few months, many of our girls will be allowed to go home and rebuild their lives again. Pray that they are able to find the support that they need, emotionally and financially, as we work alongside them and help their families with community partnerships and resources as well as family counseling. 

Anything you'd like to add...

Thank you again for your support. Check out My Refuge House's webpage for more information!


As always, thank you from all of us at Conspiracy Of Hope for being a voice for the voiceless victims of human trafficking. Please continue to support My Refuge House in their incredible work. You can donate directly here. And please follow Crystal's blog where amazing stories and deep insight always inspire.

Below the girls of MRH have made Valentines to share with the world. You can see the rest of them on MRH's Facebook page!