Posted June 5, 2009on:
I have an idea…
Inspired by your posts on Obama’s team, Shai Agassi and the rest, why don’t we make it a point to each write about a real life Hero – from the Philippines or elsewhere – once a month. This will remind us that the world is not going to pot, that there are people who care and we’re no different from them – except perhaps we’re not getting off our asses.
And who knows? We could become tight with the people we feature… Really.
So meet my hero (or should I say HERo) for this month.
Cecilia Oebanda is a champion in the fight against slavery. Lest you think that this native Visayan comes a century or two late, the sad fact is, slavery or human trafficking is alive and kicking in the Philippines.
Born into poverty, she became a freedom fighter during the Marcos years, was imprisoned and in 1991 she began the Visayan Forum Foundation which has saved the lives of about twenty thousand women who were or were about to be trafficked into oblivion as undocumented/underpaid/abused laborers or sex workers.
Human trafficking victims can end up in the big cities here or in other Asian countries and even the Middle East. Once they leave their respective provinces, the chances of finding them narrow dramatically so Oebanda works with various port authorities and the Coast Guard. She literally has people at the ports trying to spot pimps and recruiters with their bands of victims – usually young women who have been sold by their destitute families.
Oebanda has also set up halfway houses where the rescued can stay, get rehabilitated and learn livelihood skills. She has saved thousands. One article said 18 thousand, another said over 32. The point is, she’s making a huge difference. And inspite of her impressive achievements, she’s still a David up against a Goliath. Human trafficking is big business. And big business means that it’s organized. Politicians, local government – they’re in on it.
Fortunately, her efforts have been recognized. She was awarded $1 million (as a three year grant) by the Skoll Foundation. This will go to building more safe houses and I presume more staffers.
Here she receives the Iqbal Masih award from the US Congress through Ambassador Kristie Kenney. The award is given to individuals and organizations who work to end the worst forms of child labor.
Well deserved don’t you think?