Philippines 2017


NVC workshop in the Philippines
Cebu City and Camotes Island, 6th – 15th July 2017

Report of my stay in the Philippines

In the following text I do not say: “a woman, who sells her body for money”, I say “prostitute”. And with “slum” I describe a home of e.g. 6m², with two floors and eight people living in it. The toilette is behind a visible, see-through curtain, belonging not only to my home, but to the homes of my three neighbors as well. When there is heavy rain, the ground floor is flooded.

Since 2003, I am involved in different projects in the Philippines, which focus on children. Two of them are: “Cinemobil against human trafficking” which started in 2008 and is now in phase 4, and “Sexual abuse of children“, which commenced two years ago. Both projects are financed and organized by two foundations and BMZ (German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development — Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung).
in 2017, a national conference was held for both projects in Cebu City. I was invited to give a two-hour talk on NVC to 230 people from different NGOs, the ministry of justice, lawyers, the police, youth advocates, the Catholic church, reporter, teachers, municipalities, support groups, former prostitutes now working as social worker…
The talk was one of the most energetic, interactive presentations in NVC I have ever had. The participants were not even playing on their mobile phone, as many did during the morning session time, and most of them took part in the little tasks I offered. I got many requests for further training afterwards and many satisfying remarks about the two hours themselves.
A statement from the organizer was: “We are also grateful for the time and effort you took to share about NVC. The way you interestingly presented the subject, produced one of the most meaningful parts of the program, and we received much positive feedback about the integration of NVC in the conference. It was indeed an effective way to break the ice and lighten up the intense sessions during the morning program. The enthusiasm of the participants was contagious, which brought out a good degree of interaction among participants. Our participants also expressed their awareness on the importance of using NVC both at the personal and professional level. We hope to incorporate NVC in our advocacy continually.”
I am celebrating. I love the life in it all. I feel alive. I am the change I want to see in the world.
After the presentation, I worked with 17 former ´prostitutes`, who are beneficiaries of the project and some Good Shepard sisters in the self-empathy dance and the circle with “sentences I wished to have heard in my childhood”. These young women are sometimes up to four times mothers with just 20 years or younger. They had to sell their children, saw no other chance. They were “misused” by their fathers or uncles, and others. Sometimes the mother was waiting in front of the door with the next client. One girl was 13 years old. How deeply they were welcoming the appreciation in the “sentence from childhood”.

In the following seminar, we worked for 2,5 days with “Commercially Sexually Exploited Children” in my group and their mothers in the group of Amina Mambuay (PH), Esther Gerdts (D) and Katherine Singer (KR). They all are living in “slums”, and we saw some of their homes. The mothers sometimes only have one tooth left, cannot read or write and had no smile on their face. They said they were beaten, beat their children and have up to 12 children.
At the end of the training, they opened up, asked, smiled, shared their lives, and cried in the circle with “sentences of my childhood”. Instead of ANY person saying a sentence which I would have loved to hear in my youth, I asked the real mothers to stand behind their children and whisper in their ears about what would they would have liked themselves or want to tell their children now. Almost all the humans in this circle were crying tears of relief and deep connection and gratefulness — finally having spoken out, what was and is so dear to them: “I love you” in any form. Their children were quiet, warm and profoundly touched by the words they were longing for, for such a long time, instead of being beaten. I can imagine that all preferred this strategy to express the care for each other. This was the greatest highlight for me in my whole NVC days, mothers and their children in deep connection. I felt connected with my entire heart, and I could hug them all, these people out of a slum. The feedback of the children in the last hours was:

  • My mother never said words like these to me before.
  • I am just grateful to listen to her and that I was able to say so to her because I love my parents. Relationships can be so comfortable, light, precious.

I do not know if these children after the workshop will stop to expose their body in front of a screen or offer their body even physically. It is a big problem and big business in the Philippines. During the workshop I did not focus on this topic. I just focused on empathy and self-esteem. I could understand them so well, trying to get out of these ´inhumane` conditions of the slums. They want a phone, a new trouser, some food. Probably I would do the same.

The next NVC-group took place on the island Camotes. This island is known for “sexual abuse of children”. Tourists from all over the world come here to take boys or girls, even under ten years old, into their hotel room.
Esther was working with the supervising adults, policewomen, NGO´s, municipalities, teachers, support groups… while I was working with some involved youth and many youth advocates, who are the guardians and tell the project people about cases. In the beginning, two drug dealers less than 16 years old, were not at all involved in the training, they were sitting there with open mouth and their tongue coming out, stirring into nowhere. I judged them as weak personalities, not interested in what I was offering.
I played many games with all of them, and in one game the team was on the other side of the ´river`, except the two ´drug-dealers`. So, the team had to get them over as well. They did, and from that time on and with much care from Paul, a priest and translator, who has been in Germany to my trainings four times, they started to listen with open eyes, following the exercises. At the end of the days, they seemed to be present, gave us their attention and even began to read the handout. Wow, I am so happy to get them into the event. At the harbor, the next day I met one of them, he said: Salamat Gitta! (Thank you.).

One former American military man of 70 years takes the children in his big house, gives them toys, spaghetti, a bed, TV. They do not know that they are filmed while taking a bath and some girls sleep in his bed. I was working with one of these girls, who lived in this house for years. The parents knew about it. She accepts what happened. She is 20 years old now and out of this house, too old. Her present boyfriend told her not to become a nurse, but to stay home. This was when Esther and I were shocked again and without words. Education is the key factor for me to come out of these conditions. Here we both needed a lot of self-empathy.

During this stay I was sometimes at my body’s limit, 30 degree and above, humid, noisy, not much sleep, incredibly exhausting seminars with youth who are partly not used to concentrate and just talking, coming 1,5 hours late or coming only after lunch, emotional exhaustion in seeing them in the slums or their ´homes` on the island, the poorest of the poor, I would judge them. I cannot imagine more poverty. I was at my limit.
And now after getting all the feedback from the participants — one boy offered: “Gitta, do you need something on your own?” — I am full of power, willing to continue my walk in the Philippines with a fourth phase of the project “cinemobil” with even more NVC included, another conference to reach out to even more than 230 people and more workshops. I am full of initiative power. I am changed even more now in my personality. As Marshall mentioned, as long as I see one human suffering from hunger, my need for food is not fulfilled. I came back home, and here I have water out of the tap, fresh bread, when it rains, I am protected, and I can walk on the streets and say what I want. What a life! I am feeling happy and grateful, and with all these gifts I feel powerful enough to continue.

In the context of the project “Sexual abuse of children,” one aim is to watch the four harbors. Educated guards watch the tourist coming to the island and leaving. Two of the harbors are already “safe”, and 50 cases of children without a passport or being accompanied by foreigners were caught in May 2017.
We visited a prison for women in Cebu City. There we passed by two former traffickers. They were “misused” in their childhood as well. How is it possible to break this circle? The president killed around 7000 people in “collateral damage” up today. Drug dealers are penned in the prisons more than ever before. The prison is crowded twice as much, as it is officially possible to take. So, each woman has less than 0.5 m² to sleep, live, be.
My way out is education, getting a job and enlarging self-esteem of every single young person, with schooling and Nonviolent Communication, a long-term project and the only way I see.

I thank Amina Mambuay and Katherine Singer for being with me in the first training. We had some exchange of ideas on how to work with the mothers. They supported me in the small groups during the conference. Thank you for your contribution.
I especially thank Esther Gerdts who was my companion for the whole time. When a big part of the participants came 1,5 hours late, we were mutual empathic with each other. We were bewildered seeing the two drug dealers, their home and realizing their cognitive capacity. We smiled and laughed together, shared our doubts, hopes and mutual appreciation. Esther, I love to be with you, my dear friend, and hope we will be again.