This is part 2 of a capsule diary of our seventh shooting trip to Cebu. Please read part one if you haven't already.
Day 21. We went to the south of Cebu Island, about three hours in a rickety crowded bus with no AC. We went to give Ashley's mom the chance to respond to the claims that she had been abusive when Ashley was a child. Ashley volunteered to go with us, a pretty brave thing to do.
We were surprised that the mother opened up and admitted that she was abusive, explaining that she, too, was violently abused by her brother as she was growing up. She asked for forgiveness for the first time.
It was a huge turning point and very emotional.
Our return required a 30 minute motorbike ride through green mountain passes, the best four bucks I have spent in Cebu. What a thrill! No, of course there are no helmets for us, but that meant we felt the cool mountain wind in our hair as we zipped down passes with ocean views. Ashley said that this was the first time she'd gotten to ride as a solo passenger, how free she felt.
Day 22. Back in the city. We had our interview with Carrie, someone who we’ve seen go through traumatic ups and downs. She is proud that she is able to provide for her family, and can relieve her mother of the job that she had before, which was cleaning shells with acid, using her bare hands.
After an almost 3 hour interview, we took her to lunch. Afterwards, I said, “do you want some ice cream?“ And the smile she gave broke my heart. She ordered a single scoop, her indulgence so modest.
Filmed with Amber in the morning --whose baby just turned one month old! Her partner seems sweet, baby-faced and cradling the baby in the bedroom while we did the interview. In the afternoon we filmed Carrie and Cindy at their first full-time jobs at the social enterprise company.
Later, I met Ashley at the MRH office, and we went to Colon Market to buy three guitars for the consent retreat. Each guitar cost about $57 USD; these were the higher-end guitars made of better wood with some nice inlaid work on them.
Day 24. Filmed with Sara at her home. She cried when I told her this is the last shoot. She wanted her story to end with success, but she says she just has problem after problem. We had a long talk. I explained that her ongoing childhood trauma means it could be difficult for her to make long-term plans or to always act logically, and encouraged her to get counseling.
Her neighborhood flooded before I left (a regular occurrence) .. meaning, to depart, I had to walk through a sludge of garbage and sewage-laced water. I donned some (leaky) plastic leg covers, and returned to my condo to disinfect and shower. I am painfully aware that Sara, Hope, and hundreds more in the squatter community walk through this almost every day, and don't have a hot shower at the other end of the trip.
Day 25. Three interviews today. We learned that Jackie was trafficked at age 11, but thankfully, rescued before she arrived at the brothel. We also interviewed the girl who cancelled before. I have realized on this trip that she covers very well, but lives with daily fear, anxiety, and flashbacks from her abusive past.
In our hotel we see old white men with young Filipinas every day. It's a painful reality of power and economic disparities. But today I saw a girl who looked about 13, with a man with white hair. I made a report to the human trafficking hotline.
Day 26. Departure day for our consent retreat! Our facilitators arrived from the US and the Netherlands. I was worried about all the moving parts, and in fact there was a mixup: the van company sent only one van, instead of two. But eventually we were able to load up all the kids, the luggage, the participants and the crew... But I completely forgot our guitars. Nonetheless, we finally all arrived safely.
Day 27: Our first full retreat day, and the first time the girls are watching their stories. They were each given their own room to watch about 90 minutes of footage. Several were triggered, and I was grateful for the group therapy, which they left with much lighter attitudes than when they arrived.
The girls told us what they wanted removed from their films -surprisingly minor things, like a girl who was singing the wrong lyrics to a song, or another who didn't want to be seen criticizing her friend. One participant does want some major traumas excluded from the film because she still fears her perpetrator and stigma from her family. Of course we will respect their wishes.
Day 28. The girls watched the rest of their footage, followed by another round of group therapy. The girls all agreed that having therapy and being supported as they watched their footage was critical. I am seeing some places where I could have improved the program, in spite of the dozens of hours of planning we did. And our songwriting workshop is in jeopardy unless I can find a way to get our three guitars that are an hour down the mountain, locked locked in my condo.
It felt like folding a corner of the universe with the concerted effort of Hanz, Jethro, Sharon, and the brother-in-law of one of our participants, but we got the guitars from my locked condo to our hotel (an hour away) in time for Jethro to teach his songwriting workshop. Truly a group effort.
Day 28. Today is a big day: an attorney is coming to go through the girls' rights, the clauses in the consent agreement they signed back in 2015, and the changes they would like to make. The biggest request they had: they are concerned about security and would like to add a security protocol to the consent agreement. This is a fantastic idea - for us to consider and prepare for security issues that might come up for the participants when the film comes out.
Day 29: Family day: I was so happy that the families of our participants made it! We wanted to have an informative and engaging session, but also some fun. So Omar led zumba, and Maitet and Sharon led a fun icebreaker... and, we changed the schedule so that everyone could swim.
By nightfall everyone made it home safely, (though I witnessed a few close calls). Exhausted, I cried several time during dinner.
Day 30. Took the day off to recover… but still couldn’t sleep. Downloaded footage, sent out my laundry, went shopping, but was semi catatonic.
Day 31. Follow up interview with Hope, then we went to the cemetery to visit the grave of Lloyd, the father of her child. His grave was collapsing and crooked, and someone had stolen the decorative tiles from it. You rent plots here for five years and if you don’t pay to renew the lease, they remove your bones and replace you.
Day 32. B-roll day: Filming the former workplaces of Sara, plus the hotel where a girl was rescued. It was depressing, a seedy budget motel with tiny rooms and aging fixtures.
Day 33: Hope's daughter's preschool graduation. Why would you ask preschoolers to sit for hours and listen to speeches by politicians for their graduation? Teachers and administrators actually did a dance to celebrate how they hope Cebu will become a mini Singapore.
In the evening, MRH Director Rose Ann and I meet with Attorney Ian Manticajon, who is such a gift. He provided his consult with the girls pro bono, and then offered to help amy girls who needed legal help, which we took him up on right away.
Day 34: Filming with Cindy, who wanted to share a story of early childhood abuse that she had never told anyone else before. It was pretty intense.
Day 35. Took a 2 hour ferry to Bohol to film with Sara and her girlfriend, Liberty. They have been together for 10 years, but they have the banter and teasing of puppy love. Liberty says she believes that same sex relationships are a sin, but that Jesus came for sinners, so there is still hope for her.
Day 36. Hanz and I went to Jackie’s home in the morning to film her daily life - cleaning, drawing, hanging out with her boyfriend.
In the afternoon we met Hope to film her at her childhood home in Lapu-Lapu, a pink concrete building that has been turned into a church. The last time she was there, she was moving out with her family in the dead of night to avoid the back rent due to the landlord.
We also visited Maggie, Hope's best friend who gave birth a month ago. Maggie had declined being in the film but now asked if we could include her! I have always wanted to have her story be part of the film but at the end of our last shoot, it’s just not possible.
Day 37. I went with Ashley to film her registering for the new semester! After three years of hiatus from her education, she is returning with a new scholarship from MRH!
Dashed to the business park to film Jackie and Hope going in for their job interviews. I hope this will be transformational for them. Then dashed back to MRH to interview Rose Ann.
Later, went to Ashley’s boarding house to film her drafting architectural plans. It was a simple house but showed how much technical understanding and knowledge she all ready has from just a few semesters. I have high hopes for her.
Day 38. Departure day. I went for one last time to film Hope and her siblings. Her new job prospect might turn things around, not only for Hope and her daughter, but also for her three sisters, brother-in-law, two nieces and nephew, and on-the-lam brother. It’s a lot of pressure.
Came home, showered, packed, and went to SM Seaside mall for dinner with Sharon and her family. She’s been a bright spot on this trip, someone who really understands where the girls are coming from.
2 am flight to Tokyo. We did it. I’m going home.