Reggie’s Flight To Freedom

by Fr. Shay Cullen

As if the upheaval,death and destruction of Typhoon Haiyan(Yolanda) was not enough suffering for up to a million survivors human disasters are still ongoing and we are trying to protect children and orphans from exploiters and traffickers. We sounded the alarm months ago and we are still very active in preventing hurt and healing the victims.

Reggie, 17, a victim of human trafficking from a remote village in Bogo, Northern Cebu, one of the towns badly affected by the most powerful typhoon (Haiyan/Yolanda) in history to hit land. Desperate  for a job to get food for his hungry family and grandmother, he was lured by criminal  human traffickers to join a large fishing boat with six other victims.

After many days of hard work day and night, the fishing boat made land in Batangas port on Southern Luzon Island to sell the big catch. They helped off- load  the fish. To their shock the boys,several of them minors, were not paid but ordered back to the boat. They refused and ran away from these harsh conditions.

Reggie found his way to Metro Manila after walking for almost two days carrying his few pieces of old clothes in a yellow plastic bucket that was his only possession. He begged for food along the way.

Arriving in Manila, instead of getting help and protection from the authorities, he received additional misery and hardship when he was taken  off the street for being a vagrant and was put into a youth detention prison in Pasay, Metro Manila. There Preda socialworkers ,rescuing other children, found him behind bars malnourished,hungry and forced to sleep on the concrete floor in an mosquito infested cell that was as hot as a boiler room.

He was left there and forgotten without a legal complaint or charge made against him or a court hearing. That’s  the plight and  injustice suffered by thousands of children around the country. Our campaign  to change the system is meeting stiff resistance.

There was no one to listen to Reggie’s story or help him. He was left in the jail with other youth,some as young ten years of age in sub-human conditions. Every day, he survived on only a handful of rice and a spoon of vegetables as his daily food.

He felt abandoned, lost and very frightened and threatened by the bigger boys who controlled life in the cells and took most of the food for themselves and made the younger ones wash their shorts and T-shirts and forced them to sexually comfort them.

His day of release was a happy one for him. He almost cried when brought out from detention by Preda social worker Emmanuel Drewery and father Shay and was taken immediately to a restaurant for a good meal as he was famished, malnourished, weak and depressed.

This is the first time I have ever eaten in a restaurant, he told them. He grew up in an impoverished village in the remote part of Northern Cebu island which was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). It was that extreme poverty that drove him to look for work on the fishing boat where he was put into forced, unpaid labor.

After his rescue, he asked to stay at the Preda Boy’s home where he was happy and recovered his physical and emotional strength. He joined the  other lucky  forty youths who were also released from horrific unhygienic and psychologically damaging conditions of bare jails and prisons by the Preda Foundation workers. They got a court transfer order by writing to the judge.

They were jailed by police without charges or for what amounts to a misdemeanor like stealing food but greatly exaggerated and made appear to be robbery so the policeman could meet his quota or get a promotion.

Reggie was free and loved to play basketball and go swimming with the other boys there in the no-gates ,no-guards open living home staffed by nursers and social workers. Troubled youths don’t rebel when they are respected and properly cared for. Reggie was free of the traffickers but had suffered greatly because of them and the uncaring authorities.

After several months of recovery and rest at the Preda Home for Boys, he was ready to travel home and experience his first ever airplane flight which was a great thrill for him. He went with Mr. Francis Bermido, the Preda Executive director and his assistant director Emmanuel Drewery. Besides attending to the administration of all the Preda projects, they frequently join in the field work and direct and supervise the Preda relief and anti-trafficking training seminars in Tacloban and Palo.

There the Preda education and psycho-therapy team are helping hundreds of traumatized  survivors cope with the greatest natural disaster to hit the Philippines.

They also distribute thousands of packets of vegetable seeds. to help the small farmers grow food. The greater unnatural disaster is the slew of politicians that are plundering the treasury and stealing the money that could be used to help the victims.

Reggie was thrilled when together, they took a low cost flight on Air Asia and landed in Cebu. Within a few hours of  travel through the wrecked countryside of torn up coconut trees and shattered houses Reggie was happily and tearfully reunited with his family. In the middle of such widespread disaster from the typhoon where the trafficking of children and youth is spreading this is one of several happy endings.

Preda Foundation will provide more help to the family of Reggie to help them recover from the losses to their livelihood and the near destruction of their little house. Thanks to the supporters and donors,better times lie ahead with a scholarship for Reggie to finish his education and get good employment.

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