I am standing in the center of the spacious main hall, the atrium, of the new Preda children’s home for girls. The light from the transparent roof throws its soft and gentle light on the children playing nosily, shouting in glee. They are happy, running about, playing games, and laughing, cheerful and joyful. They had a sumptuous dinner and gifts and new clothes. It’s Christmas time for them.
They are the lucky ones to have found refuge and protection and a chance to start their childhood over. Soon they will go on trips to the zoo and then to the fun park and other Christmas treats will come their way. There will be Christmas mass and joyful singing and some will have sad memories of childhood before they came to find refuge at Preda.
Maggie is only 14 years old and I see her chasing Elizabeth, they are enjoying the fun. Later they will go to their sports and karate. She is gaining weight in the recent weeks as she eats three times a day with snacks in between. She sleeps in a comfortable bed and has her personal things close to her, a doll to cuddle and friends to listen to her as she tells about her life.
When she first came into the Preda home for girls, Margie was quiet, withdrawn and fearful of what she would find. However the welcome and introduction to the other children and their embrace said they would be her friends. This gave her courage and a smile and her nervousness evaporated. Soon she felt at home, accepted and welcome. This was a place where she was safe from her abusers and free from fear and the control of her human traffickers. This was a happy place where the girls choose on their own free will to stay and find education, affirmation and empowerment through therapy, counseling and education.
Christmas has it joys but there are also the sorrows of life. The poverty and neglect suffered by the Holy Family is one of them. They were rejected at the Inn and Mary had to give birth in a dirty animal pen. In humiliating and poverty-stricken circumstances Jesus of Nazareth came into this world. Then we cannot forget the death threats and flight from the evil murderer King Herod who was committing genocide against the innocent children slaughtering hundreds. The impoverished life as a refugee in a foreign country was how he spent the first years of his life.
Maggie was a slim, malnourished and undersized child when she first came into the Preda girls home a few months ago. She was traumatized and has had a terrible experience. Her mother worked for a powerful man.
During her employment and afterwards, it appears he sexually abused the child and brought her to various other men in hotels around San Fernando, Pampanga. These men sexually abused her also on twenty occasions. The Preda paralegal officer filed the formal complaint against the suspect. Charges will be made and he will stand trial. It is feared that the mother of Maggie was approving of or had allowed the abuse to happen. She may have received money to let it happen.
And it’s only one of hundreds of thousands of children like Maggie in the world and especially in the Philippines where there is a massacre of the youth in a campaign against the use of illegal drugs. The latest report by Unicef and the Philippine Council for the Welfare of Children in the report named, National Baseline Study on Violence against Children (NBS-VAC), tells us the horror and extent of the abuse: Eight of 10 Filipino youth suffer abuse: verbal, physical or sexual. Young children and youth between 13-24 years of age, one in every five is a victim of sexual abuse, most of it happening in their homes, the report says.
So while we campaign and work to bring Christ into Christmas and save the children, we are unheard because of the futility to persuade government to care for the children to protect them and heal them. We campaign to persuade the moral majority to demand the cancellation of mayor’s permits and close the sex bars and clubs. We appeal to Church people to speak out.
In these dens of iniquity where foreign sex tourists proliferate, youth and children are sexually abused daily. Many are subjected to forced drug use and abortions. Like Maggie, they are helpless victims of exploitation and the threats of powerful adults.
Many corrupt government officials, senators and representatives are morally bankrupt and ignore the plight and suffering of the innocents. They want the death penalty and to make 9 year old children suffer as criminals. We need a strong outspoken and uncompromising leader to bring about a moral revolution in society. Yet none has the courage to emerge.
Christmas is happy and joyful for those saved and healed but so much has to be done to save the thousands more. That moral revolution to protect children’s rights, bring compassion and care back again is just a dream. It was brought into this world by the birth of Jesus of Nazareth but it has long been forgotten. All we have left is jingle bells.
We who still believe in the values that make us compassionate and decent loving humans must take our stand and work to bring about that spiritual revolution of mind and heart that will change the world.