August 8, 2016 — By: Edrina.
Last night was one of the most difficult and emotional evenings throughout my time here in Cebu, Philippines. I said goodbye to the children and teenage girls at the shelter where other IJM interns, fellows, and I would visit twice a week. Although I have only been in Cebu for a short two months, the relationships I formed with these sweethearts will certainly be written on my heart forever. While I wish to share every detail about these wonderful children and teenagers to give a small glimpse into who they are, confidentiality restraints prevent me from doing so. However, one attribute among them is certain. These sweet souls, despite the abuse and hardships they have suffered, love without hesitation, fear, or suppression.
This government shelter is where many IJM clients are brought to live after they are rescued out of sex trafficking or from online sexual exploitation. Leading up to my first visit, I was nervous that my knowledge of the harsh truth of their suffering would make it too difficult to build relationships, and that putting faces to the names of our casework would be a hindrance. When I walked through the gates of the shelter for the first time, the children immediately came running and grabbed my hand. They were so excited to meet me and asked me what my name was. When I answered them, they kept repeating, “Ate Edrina! Ate Edrina!” “Ate,” pronounced “ah-tay,” is a Filipino word that means older sister. My heart melted… they had won me over.
It certainly was challenging to love these children and teenage girls so much while being painfully aware of the reality of their lives. Yet, it was truly a privilege to love them in the midst of their circumstances. While I thoroughly enjoyed my role as a summer legal intern assisting IJM’s private prosecutors to prepare for trial, prosecute perpetrators, and seek justice in the courtroom, the opportunity to connect with our clients far exceeded my expectations for this summer. There are many moments at the shelter that I will always remember, whether it be reading “A Voice in the Wind” to the teenage girls, cuddling with the babies, playing hide and seek with the children, or just listening to the clients as they shared the sensitive details of their lives, trusting me completely.
Despite the painful realities of these clients’ lives, they showed me how to love in a new way, breaking down my barriers and expanding my comfort zone. Their love was joyful, innocent, and freely given. I doubt they will ever understand how the love they displayed and showed me has changed me forever. I can only hope that they trusted me when I said that I would always love them and that I would always be their “Ate.”