Women's Center | Social Mission | Mission
The shrine has set up a program to meet the challenges and needs of women at risk especially those engaged in prostitution. This program is mainly through the efforts of Oblate Sisters of the Most Holy Redeemer (OSR).
Within the last two years, the OSR were able to save at least 10 women from prostitution and helped them to find other jobs. Many of them are now regular workers at the coffee shop of the shrine—the Sinirangan Coffee Shop.
On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the sisters come to the Shrine. They spend the night there getting up the following day as early as 2 O’clock in the morning. They go out at this early hour in search of these women to extend a helping hand and an open heart. The Sisters’ flock ranges in age from 18 to 43 years. They come to light some candles before the image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help and pray in the church. Some of them spend time around the statue of St. Therese of Lisieux which is located on the Church grounds.
Initially, they are hesitant to open up. But eventually, they speak about their lives, the situation in the bar, their family, etc. The sisters give them snacks, drinks and with their permission register their names for files. For the most part, poverty and lack of education prevent them from getting a job and so are almost forced to end up in prostitution. Child prostitution is also rampant in Manila and Cebu. Sometimes they are living with someone and their ‘partner’ forces them to earn ‘rent’ money and so they turn to prostitution. Many of the women come from Bisayas islands, Dvavo, or Mindanao. Their “customers” who come to the bar are mostly foreigners. In many of the bars, the women are paid 150 pesos (about $3 or £2.3 per night. However, if a “customer” chooses them they may earn as much as 3000 pesos depending on the situation and rules of the bar.
They also face danger from their “customers”. They are often treated very cruelly by their clients and the bar managers will not step in to help or defend them. Some of the bars are run by foreigners. They marry a Filipina and usually it is the wife who manages the bars. There are no social security benefits nor proper medical services made available to the women. Recently one woman who was affected by tuberculosis came to the sisters and the Redemptorists helped her get the needed treatment for her disease.
Mostly what they need and hunger for is someone to talk to. They also desperately want to go to confession. When they open up to the sisters or social workers, they just cry in helplessness.
The OSR sisters and the social workers encourage the women to come to take part in a ‘follow up’ program which meets every Wednesday. They are helped to become aware of the reality of their life situation and are motivated to escape to a new and fuller experience of life. Various kinds of training programs are offered by the Shrine to help these women gain the skills necessary to escape their lives of slavery to prostitution. Training is given primarily in the areas of housekeeping, culinary arts, beauty care, and the food and beverage service industry. This training program is also known as ALS (Alternative Learning System). Some are given scholarships to go to the college, and even in some cases, their children are also given scholarships to attend school. Every month there is a meeting for these women that is especially aimed to give value formation, spiritual enrichment, skills for life and lessons on reproductive health.
When they were asked whether they missed their former job at the bars, without any hesitation, they answered no. They are far happier and fulfilled now in their present jobs.
Some of the women are into alcoholism and drugs. They say at times they need those to endure the nights. They do so to overcome the deep shame and guilt they feel since most of them are born and brought up in a catholic environment. One woman recounted that she drinks as much as five bottles of wine to endure the nights. When the police stage a raid on them, they need to avoid being caught at all cost. The police arrest them and at times take them and rape them inside the jail.