Local schools and their heroes

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If there’s one thing I have learned after a few projects and researches in developing countries, it is that where there are issues there are people fighting back, and there’s usually a lot to learn from them. That’s exactly what I got to witness this week in Bacolod. I am absolutely thankful for how accomodating everyone (and especially the VF staff from the Bacolod office) has been, making time and arrangements for me to do my research and get these stories of resistance.

The research
Since I am not just here for climbing waterfalls and touring ricefields, I did some actual work as well. A short explanation of my research: As you could read in my first post about the Phillipines, human trafficking and slavery are serious and persistent problems in the Philippines. Ranging from sex trafficking to child labor and international migration issues, the abuses are varying in nature and sometimes hard to identify if you’re uninformed. That is why Visayan Forum started a youth movement, iFight. Students from elementary school up to college can start a chapter in their school or youth association to raise awareness, increase knowledge, and build resilience. Students learn what human trafficking is, how to recognize it and where to report it.

The question is though, is this working? The movement reached and informed many students (parents, teachers) over the past few years and is still growing. To help VF in determining their future strategy, I am researching the implementation of iFight (do’s and don’ts) and some early results. For that, I am interviewing students, teachers, coordinators, and anyone else involved in these chapters. So far, I visited three schools and I have one more to go. And it’s a lot of fun. Especially the focus group with the students is really nice, you can really see their involvement, and the way they organize activities and collaborate with each other is different at each school.

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Elementary school
I visited an elementary school, a high school and a college. This shows the broad commitment of this movement! But especially the elementary school stuck with me (who am I kidding, they all did, but I just want to highlight this one here right now, so anyways…). In a casual conversation with one of the staff of VF I was talking about how I want to learn to trust people more. Although Dutch people are very willing to show the way or answer simple questions, other than that we are sometimes very distrusting of ‘others’. She said that in the Philippines it is the opposite: Filipino’s are very trusting of people. A wonderful trait, but dangerous in the context of human trafficking.

Especially in the case of elementary students. Sadly, there are many cases in the Philippines where the parents are the perpetrators, trafficking their children in an attempt to do something about the poverty they live in. Of course, it is more complex than that, but to paint the picture for you. In other areas (tourist areas…) sex trafficking or cyber sex may be more rampant, here in West Visayas it is mainly working on the sugar cane lands that puts children in a dangerous position.

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So, going to Himamaylan was an amazing experience in that regards. It is not just a local school that picked up on the iFight program, it is the entire district office, including 22 (!!) elementary schools. More impressive, is the attitude and collaboration with which the schools have committed to the program. I visited one of the schools, and they were very professional about implementing iFight. In other schools the drive to learn about human trafficking and spread awareness mostly came from the students and a few involved adults. Here, it is the teachers who ensure a safe environment for the students and who include topics of human trafficking and slavery in their curriculum. Students (that is, 9-12 year old’s) started to open up more and discuss these topics with each other. They trust their teachers a lot, and they come to them with questions, or sometimes, to report a case… The teacher, as a trusted adult is then in the perfect position to report to the right institutions and to take action.

Also, the focus group with the students was just a lot of fun. They were very giggly, nervous about speaking English, but eager to share their own opinion. After the interview part, we spent at least the same amount of time -if not more- asking questions and getting to know each other. They wanted to know everything about my country and other places I’ve been. They also showed me their entire campus and made sure I met ALL teachers, students, and anyone important to them. And selfies. So many selfies. You would think I am used to this by now, being a white 1.80m female sticking out in the crowd almost everywhere I go, and visiting countries where selfies are pretty much an epidemic.

Now what?
Although I first have a lot (no seriously, a lot. I mean, like, a loooot) of transcribing to do, I will visit one more school in Dumaguete (which, conveniently, also happens to have pretty beaches and nice surrounding) and then have one week of ‘vacation’ (did I mention I have a lot of transcribing to do?) in Siquijor and Bohol. So you can look forward to nice pictures and stories again! After that, I have to head back to Manila and spend the rest of my weeks behind a desk hahaha. But first: travel!

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