I’m about 12 hours in to my 13 hour flight to Taiwan, sitting in 53K on Eva Air flight 017. Dicaprio’s Gatsby plays silently on the screen in front of me, the breakfast dishes have been cleared, and I managed to fitfully semi-sleep through much of the duration, woken once when I thought I heard our dog, Mochi, barking. Haha! Wrong.
From Taipei I will head straight to Cebu for seven weeks (with a week’s break in Taipei to meet Doug and zero out my visa.) This will be shoot #3, and the longest time I’ve spent in Cebu. It will also be the second round of participatory video training, this time to include editing. Editing is where your piles of footage becomes a movie and the girls truly get to become digital storytellers, so I have been looking forward to this for a long time.
I have also started reading Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book, Half the Sky, and it bolsters my commitment to telling the stories of these girls. They estimate that worldwide, 2 million girls “disappear” because of sexual discrimination –be it through neglect, gender-selective abortion, delayed medical care, dowry killings, spousal homicide –basically, the devaluation of girls and women. The unequal treatment of women has always angered me, but the more I learn of the outrageous exploitation, the violence, the shocking inhumanity of forced child “brides,” of sex and labor traffickers, and of men against who act with such brutality toward their own wives and children, the more flabbergasted I am. How can people knowingly inflict such pain on other human beings? (To be clear, traffickers and abusers are also, sadly, women, who participate in violence against other women and girls for survival, status, profit, or out of their own emotional dysfunction). While Kristof has his critics, his reporting is extensive and and his storytelling is compelling, and I recommend his book. (I even bought a copy for the college girls, who are avid, serious readers).
The stories of the girls at My Refuge House traverse not only this unbelievable dehumanization, but also the positive proposition of Half the Sky --that educating girls will transform not only their lives, but their children’s and communities as well. I have now seen five of these girls graduate from high school and start college, tutoring and encouraging younger girls in the home. I’ve seen them be a great influence in their own families, encouraging younger siblings, connecting them to resources, and becoming positive role models. It’s not easy, and it’s not inevitable – a reality underscored by a few girls who have dropped out of the program and face a far tougher road ahead.
But Hope, Mandy, and Maggie are all studying social work, and plan to work toward helping children thrown into unfortunate circumstances, like themselves. Sara is working toward her criminology degree to become a police officer, and has developed a passion for penal reform. (Names are pseudonyms but aspirations are real.) In cold economic terms, the investment made in these young women will pay out across hundreds or thousands of lives in the next decades. On a personal level, they have gone from being treated as commodities, without rights or agency, to bright leaders who aspire to be agents of change.
Since starting this blog post, I have landed landed in Cebu, stocked up on construction paper and glitter glue (part of the video training) and managed to chip my tooth while flossing. (Ya, flossing. Weird.) I’ll be going to the house in a couple days to be catch up on the last few months and plan out the 7 weeks I will be here. Wifi is a bit slow there, so apologies if I don’t keep in touch as much as I should. But rest assured that the tenacity and humor of these girls will continue to inspire me throughout my time here, and I hope to bring back that energy and share it with all of you.