A petite woman in pink, in a Filipino red-light district, is picked out by a “tourist” as a possible sex partner for the evening. A pimp accompanying him tells him she’s not a good choice.
She’s a nun.
The Mary Queen of Missionaries (MQHM) are a group of Catholic sisters who serve the sex workers in the Philippines. Their order was established solely for this purpose:
To seek the stray and fallen away in the person of the victims of prostitution and in the power that the Holy Spirit gives, bring them back to the bosom of the Father. We search for them in the bars and casas and along streets in the red light districts, offering them a decent way of living in our “Home of Love”, a rehabilitation and livelihood training center for them and their children. Those who are willing to embrace God’s grace of renewed life with Him, are sheltered in the Home of Love with all the basic provisions, free of charge.
The sisters travel throughout the Philippines, reaching out to prostituted women by offering them prayer, hope and a different way of life. They also recruit lay helpers because, as one sister put it, “the work is too big and we are just few sisters in the whole country.” Although prostitution is illegal in the Philippines, it is estimated that there at at least 800,000 female prostitutes in the country, half of them children.
MQHM sisters visit bars, brothels and “mobile bars,” temporary structures that are built during the rice season, following working during the harvest. The sisters typically ask the owner of each establishment for permission to speak to the women and girls who work there, and then they hand out rosaries, prayer leaflets and talk. The sisters carry cell phones, and hand out their numbers so that the women can reach them at any time, either to talk or to leave prostitution.
Women who ask for help for leaving prostitution are placed in the shelter called Home of Love in Cebu where they may stay up to about five years in a place that aims to provide an ambience of a happy family, Culaniban told parish workers. The home provides simple, nutritious food, other basic health care, individual and group counseling and therapies.
Residents are taught skills as part of therapy or as a form of livelihood assistance. Some return to formal schooling and move on to jobs after graduation. Most are brought back to their homes by a staff or member of the programs and are monitored through home visits as part of the reintegration program
Children of the women are welcomed in the home where the residents are taught parenting skills; people who want to adopt the children, many of whom are of mixed nationalities, are refused. “One of our responsibilities is to help [the parents] realize that they have the responsibility to be mother and father to their children. We don’t allow adoption,” Pedoche [Sr. Clare Pedoche] said. She remembers that only one out of more than 100 women who have lived in the home took off and left her child behind.
The sisters consider all the female prostitutes victims, even if they consent to work in the sex industry. They are driven there out of ignorance, poverty, and lack of choices. As in most trafficking situations, the prostitutes come from dysfunctional families, and many have been sexually abused since an early age. Poverty, though, is the driving force behind most of the prostitution in the Philippines:
The nuns’ strategy includes preventive measures focused on fighting effects of poverty, “since poverty is the root cause of prostitution in our country,” Pedoche said. Education support is focused on women in rural areas where 99 percent of women and children in prostitution are reportedly from.
The program provides school supplies and other school needs to children in mountains in Cebu, Negros, Iloilo, Samar and various provinces in the Bicol region. Pedoche reports that there have been no new cases of prostitution in Oslob since her association launched its pilot education support program there.
Pedoche says she often prays while the girls she works with perform in strip clubs, waiting for them to finish so they can talk to her. She says their stories are heart-rending, and she and her sisters rely on prayer to continue working in these situations. She says they try not to judge the women they work with, to be patient, and trust in God through prayer. Pink is clearly the color of strength and tenacity for these women.