Sunday, June 20, 2010

I chose the road to...questions?!

I am so torn emotionally. I love Hong Kong. Truly and completely. There is nothing here that I want to leave, yet in 44 days I will be heading back stateside. I miss my family and friends back home in Alabama and cannot wait to see them, still I know that it is going to be miserably hard to leave here in a month and a half. I have totally made a home of Hong Kong and have seriously considered finding work here and making it permanent. But alas, I know that now is not the time and on August 3rd I will depart this adventure to find the next one in my life.

Recently work has been quite a smooth operation. I have grown completely confident in the cases that I handle. It has taken almost the entire 10 months to feel this way. I am able to assist a client, counsel and guide her, certain that I am giving her accurate information and advice. It is a very good feeling to have at last. From an emotional standpoint, however, the work has not gotten easier. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade my ministry for anyone else’s and am certain that God has put me exactly where He wants me. But some days I have to control the feelings of rage that build inside of me when yet another man rapes one of my clients. This month in particular seems to have been particularly difficult with an influx of rape cases. What is it that makes someone think they have the right to violate someone else? Why do some people think that women’s bodies are property or things that they can use and abuse and discard afterwards?

I have given this a lot of thought because I arrived at work one day recently to find that an already established client (and friend) of ours had been raped after going to her part time job. I was distraught on the inside and when I saw her I went to hug her and tell her that I was here if she needed to talk. I later became even more mentally upset because she said “oh Maegan, it’s okay, I’m alright”.

Okay?!?! Alright?!? This girl is brutally raped and she is alright? What kind of world do we live in where someone can be grossly violated but has to pick herself up, dust herself off, and keep moving. Pretending that nothing happened to her. Pretending that everything is okay. Continuing working and supporting her family with a smile on her face because she has no other choice. No time to cry. No time for therapy. No time to collect herself.

If this situation happened to one of my friends or family members today, their world would stop. People would react and action would be taken. But in the lives of so many women in the world, this happens everyday and they have to pretend like nothing has changed. Wipe away the tears, hide the pain, and keep pressing on. What kind of existence is that? What kind of world is this we live in?

I am haunted by the need to rescue these women from the predators in their lives. I am not confused however… I know this does not only take place in Asia. People exploit people everywhere. I just can’t comprehend why.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

I chose the road to...the PIOM

The anticipation mounted as I found my seat aboard the Philippine Airlines flight bound for Manila. I opened my PIOM materials and began reading as I glanced out the window at Hong Kong fading into clouds. I was so excited to finally be on my way back to the Philippines.

The People’s International Observer’s Mission (PIOM) consisted of 86 foreigners from 11 countries who monitored the first ever automated elections in the Philippines. We came from Australia, Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Hong Kong, France, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands. And we visited Northern Luzon (Abra), Central Luzon (Pampanga/Tarlac), National Capital Region (Tondo/Payatas), Bicol (Daraga/Sorsogon),Southern Luzon (Quezon/Cavite), Western Visayas (Iloilo), Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Marawi City), (Davao) Lanao del Sur and Caraga. We were the largest foreign delegation ever to monitor the Philippine elections.

We convened first in Manila at the Orchid Garden Suites for briefing and general “need-to-know” type of stuff. I was feeling a bit intimidated due to the fact that I had decided to go on this mission without anyone that I know. I walked into the hotel conference room and was immediately greeted with warm hugs from members of the Secretariat. My fears began to subside and I found a seat with a table of incredibly friendly Canadians.

After spending a few days in Manila we seperated into teams and I joined my companions on a bus bound for Abra, in the beautiful mountains of the Cordillera. We arrived in Bangued, Abra at 4:00am and settled into our accomodations for a few hours sleep before our busy day ahead.

Our first day involved courtesy visits to the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Governor, the Congresswoman, a Lieutenant Colonel of the Philippine Army, and the Supervisor of COMELEC.

Below is a section taken from the report that my team compiled at the end of the mission:
The stated purpose of the elections was to have an open, clean, and fair process in determining the will of the majority. This process was compromised on several levels, and the integrity of the electorate’s will can be called into question. Specifically, we found evidence of: vote buying; negative campaigning; intimidation and harassment of voters and members of the PIOM team; a disproportionate and heavy military presence; comingling of state security forces with local candidates; breaches of security in the issuing of COMELEC identification passes; an atmosphere of fear; personal human rights violations in the outright occupation of people’s homes in Malibcong by the 41st IB, which is a direct violation of the sanctity of people’s personal space. The team itself was followed, photographed without permission, and questioned by the Army in terms of what our motives were. On more than one occasion, attempts were made to influence the neutrality of the team in an effort to draw the team into existing conflicts.

The majority of precincts did not open on time, and there were delays of as long as four hours because of technical problems with the PCOS machines. We discovered: extraordinarily long line-ups; in the actual precincts, a lack of control of the poll watchers; poll watchers influencing voters as they voted; unrealistic expectations placed upon the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI); a lack of privacy in casting votes; inadequate provisions for the elderly and the infirm, the BEIs and the general population; in many instances, people remained in line for as long ten hours in extremely high temperatures; in those instances when the machine failed, the absence of a contingency plan to secure the ballots; difficulty in the transmission of results from the precincts to the municipal canvassers, and from the municipal to the provincial canvassers.

The provincial canvassing was repeatedly rescheduled, and the final result came in three days after the end of voting. Failure of elections was declared in two municipalities, La Paz and Dolores.

One thing is certain, despite these abovementioned hardships and realities in Abra, the general population is fully engaged in the democratic process and has sought to make a difference by participating in the elections. However, until the underlying causes of extremely limited resources, poverty, alienation, and oppression of dissenting voices are remedied, conflict will continue no matter what system is used to elect representatives.

The use of the electronic machines did not produce its stated purpose. It did not improve efficiency. Voters were still intimidated. The lack of transparency and the breakdown of the communications system led to widespread speculation about vote manipulation in the areas we visited.

In all the COMELEC reports of peaceful elections, “peace” only referred to a lack of widespread, overt physical violence. But this was not a peaceful election. The Maguindanao Massacre for one is a large scale example of mass murder directly related to these elections. Furthermore, the PIOM team in Lanao del Sur witnessed a two-hour gunfight at the Tugaya Elementary School. The firefight killed one woman and wounded two others. The PIOM delegates were caught in the middle of the gunfire.

Given the number of extra-judicial killings, assassinations, and disappearances nationwide, my PIOM team expressed a serious concern for the personal safety and livelihood of those Filipino's who participated and supported our mission. They literally put their life on the line for a chance at democracy, and I will continue to hold them in prayer and ask that anyone reading this would do the same.

I am truly grateful for the opportunity to return to the Philippines and stand in solidarity with others in hopes of bringing about a positive change. No matter where I am in the Philippines, I always feel at home, and I believe I have left there a piece of my heart.

Surwe-e tet-e-wa a mos a e (The truth has been spoken).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I chose the road to...the Philippines

As I prepare for my return to the Philippines in May, I have been reflecting on my previous trip in February which I have yet to inform you about. It was one of the most amazing and exhausting weeks of my life. I say that because I managed to pack a serious amount of traveling into a very short amount of time. From airplane to van, to car, jeepney, to bus, to bus, to jeepney, to bus, to bus, jeepney…well you get the point.

My heart was touched from the moment I arrived and continuously throughout my stay. I made new friends at the National Church Office and Mission Center in Manila who were incredibly hospitable and treated me like family. The best part for me was that immediately everything slowed down from the crazy fast pace of Hong Kong. It didn’t appear that anyone was in very much of a hurry about anything and that was just fine with me for a change.
Filipino time, at last.
I was planning to meet my fellow YASC volunteer Melanie in Baguio, and fortunately for me a few of my new friends in Manila were headed that way the next day. The only downside was that they were leaving at 3:30am. Aiya!! I went to bed early that night, and before the rooster’s started crowing, we left in a tiny car bound for Baguio. It took about 6 ½ hours, but we made it… a little worn out and sleepy. I was so excited to finally be reunited with Melanie and to have her show me around Baguio.

We made a decision to keep travelling that day and hopped on a bus bound for Bontoc around 2:00pm. This was the most entertaining 7 hour bus ride of my life. Not only having Melanie for a seat mate, but the bus radio was playing U.S. country music the entire ride. Melanie and I, along with two cute Filipino guys sitting behind us were singing at the top of our lungs to song after song all the way up the mountain. We arrived in Bontoc and stayed two nights at Bishop Alawas’s house with his family. I really fell in love with Bontoc. It was so beautiful and everyone there was so friendly. The children simply stole my heart.

After two days in Bontoc, Melanie and I took a jeepney the rest of the way up the mountain to her home in Besao. This was really exciting because so far no one has been able to visit her there. It was a beautiful day and I can remember the drive up the mountain like it was yesterday. The air was suddenly clearer and cleaner. It was simply a beautiful place.

I know that Melanie sticks out enough as it is, but TWO Americanos in Besao at once was almost more than they could handle I think :) We definitely got more attention than I’ve ever had in my life. It was quite an experience. I really enjoyed that no matter where we went, everyone in town knew Melanie and needed to know her business. They wanted to know who this person was with her and where we were going at all times. It was pretty funny, but kinda nice knowing they were keeping such good tabs on her all this time!

Unfortunately we were only able to stay in Besao for one day and had to begin our trek back down the mountain the following day. We stayed over again in Bontoc and then I took the rest of the 13 hour journey onto Manila alone. It was very hard to leave Melanie, but I knew that I would be returning in a few short months; which brings me to the present…

I am returning to the Philippines in May for the elections. I am taking part in the “People’s International Observers Mission” (PIOM). On election day, scheduled for May 10, 2010, more than 17,000 offices will be contested across the country including the key posts of President, Vice President along with representatives to the House of Representatives, the Senate, and a range of provincial, municipal, and local offices. The election will mark the end of the tyrannical Presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whose nine years in power have been marked by hundreds of politically motivated killings and enforced disappearances, along with a climate of impunity for those guilty of the crimes.

Our purpose in going is to monitor and investigate electoral fraud and violence, particularly since this is the first nationwide automated election in the Philippines. The goal is to assure that voters are protected and free to vote according to their conscience and that democratic processes are fully respected. The PIOM is organized by civil society groups in the Philippines, including churches, human rights advocates, lawyers and other non-governmental organizations.
As you know I work with Filipino Migrants and I have become attached to not only them, but to their country. I feel very passionate about finding a way to bring peace and hope to the Philippines. Attending this mission is how I intend to do my part. I am asking for your prayers for a successful journey as well as the safety of everyone in the Philippines.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you will join us, and the world will live as one.

**If you would like to make a financial contribution towards my expenses for this trip, I would appreciate the support. In the U.S., you may send checks to Rev. Allison Liles at the address on the right hand side of my blog.

Monday, February 22, 2010

I chose the road to...playing catch up

I have decided instead of constantly apologizing for being the most inconsistent blogger ever, that I would just do the best that I can in the future and hope that my followers will forgive me. I had planned to be a bi-weekly blogger, or at least monthly, but I had no idea how busy I was going to be once I got started with my work in HK and unfortunately it just hasn't been feasible. So enough excuses...

Here is my blog that I should have written in December (LOL)
I really enjoyed the Advent season in Hong Kong because for the first time in my life I was able to truly do some thinking, anticipating, and preparing. For His coming. My holiday season was not filled with thoughts of what to buy and what I was going to get this December 25th. It was an incredibly peaceful time and at certain points I experienced my first bout of homesickness. Not that I really had the desire to go home, but more that I wanted to bring home to me in Hong Kong. I began to miss my family and friends. Nonetheless I kept busy and on Christmas Eve enjoyed the most amazing midnight mass at St. John's. One that I will never forget as long as I live.

The Children's Christmas Pageant was the cutest thing ever.

And as you can imagine, Jesus was the most precious, spirit-filled child of all. He ran laughing all the way up the aisle and then again all the way back down the aisle. It was a sight to behold.

The service was so large it was standing room only.

There were seats outside as well, with a video screen showing the service. The church was so beautifully lit and full of people and there I was for the first time on Christmas Eve sitting on a pew by myself filled with gratitude for the amazing life that I have been given.

It was a glorious day.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------PART TWO -----------------------------------------

Earlier in December we had a special treat. One of our clients at the Bethune House wanted to celebrate winning her case by having a Barbecue at "Monkey Mountain" before she was due to leave to go home to Indonesia. She bought the food and for days the girls were preparing our adventure up the mountain.

We had a pesky monkey that kept stealing food. He stole our corn and ran up a tree with it!!!

We had a wonderful time just being with each other. I become very attached to the girls that live in the Bethune House, I can't even fathom how attached they are to each other. When they leave, as they do weekly, it is so hard to watch them go.

The client who won her case received about 80% of the money that was owed to her and for us that is considered a win. The unfortunate thing is that it took over a YEAR for her to get it. She has been living in the Bethune House the entire time. She was here before I got here. It was very hard to see her go, but I can't imagine having to live in a safe house that long..just waiting, never knowing if your case is ever going to end. I am grateful for her to be reunited with her family and that for us we get a rare, but bitter-sweet happy ending to a very long case.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I chose the road to...a massacre

I have witnessed and listened to some pretty gruesome things in the four months that I’ve lived in Hong Kong, but none quite as life-changing as November 23rd... the day of the Maguindanao (Mindanao) Massacre in the Philippines.
57 innocent people were tortured and slaughtered over political gain. Of the deceased, the majority of them were women; two of which were visibly pregnant. 34 of them were journalists. 5 people were killed because they were just driving by at the wrong time and were mistaken to be a part of the convoy. The Philippines is now the second most deadliest place in the world for reporters, second only to Iraq.

The events that led to this unfortunate loss of life began with a threat by Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr, who vowed to kill Esmael Mangudadatu if he ran against him for the governor’s seat in the forthcoming Maguindanao gubernatorial election in May 2010. Mangudadatu’s wife and two sisters decided that they would file his certificate of candidacy papers to be on the safe side because surely no one would harm a group of women. They invited some human rights lawyers and reporters who had heard of the women’s plans and decided to join in the convoy. The group grew to approximately 40 something people as they went off into Ampatuan Country to file the papers.

They were ambushed. They were shot, tortured, and some were raped. The women were all shot in their genitals. The wife of Mangudadatu was slashed with a knife four times and shot in her genitals, they speared out both of her eyes, shot her breasts, cut off her feet, and fired into her mouth. All I can think of is how long did she have to endure this before she died?

All of the victims were eventually buried, cars included, by a government owned backhoe. The backhoe, emblazoned with the name of Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., was later identified to belong to the Maguindanao provincial government.

The Philippines has long been known as a place filled with corruption and exploitation, but this blatant attack on unarmed, innocent people puts evil on a whole new level for me.
After this massacre I joined an organization called HKCAHRPP (Hong Kong Campaign for the Advancement of Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines). HKCAHRPP is a loose coalition of people and migrant workers organizations interested in peacekeeping and human rights activism. Our objectives are to call for a stop to extrajudicial killings, establish solidarity between filipinos and international organizations, expose the real state of the Philippines, and to participate in fact finding missions. I hope to raise enough money to go on the next fact finding mission to the Philippines in May for the 2010 elections.
The Philippines are infamous for fraudulent elections, especially where the Macapagal-Arroyo government is concerned. Our presence there will be to support people’s efforts to protect their votes and to contextualize the electoral fraud and violence within the continuing human rights violations by giving international pressure.

Multiple migrant organizations along with the filipino congregation at St. John's held a candlelight vigil to honor the victims and grieve this incredible loss. A local Islamic leader came to speak as well and condemned the actions of the Ampatuan Family, stating that despite what some Muslims might say the Holy Koran does not endorse nor advocate murder. He went on to say that he hopes that we can come together as Christians and Muslims to seek justice for the Philippines.

It is my hope that the Philippines may one day find peace. They continue to struggle with government corruption, extreme poverty, multiple typhoons and floods this year, and now it appears a volcano is about to errupt.
Please pray for peace and comfort for the people in the Philippines.