By Crystal Catalan, Cabrini Mission Corps alum
Today, in celebration of International Volunteer Day, we share this story of one of our recent international volunteers.
Keep us from just singing, move us into action, we must go.
In the summer of 2005, I journeyed with a group of hopeful, motivated, passionate college students to Manila, Philippines, as part of a Christian missions program, collaborating with global-minded students from all across the United States. This was my first missions trip, and more specifically, it was to be my first trip as a young adult, back to my parents’ homeland. In my heart, I had the desire to learn first-hand more about the injustices faced in the hidden corners of the communities in the Philippines, and I wanted to see these Filipinos that I had only heard about through stories from my aunts and uncles.
I was assigned to serve at a foundation that served as a home to young girls who had been abused, trafficked, abandoned and/or neglected, many times by their own parents or close relatives. Here is where my life was forever changed – in listening to the stories of the girls, sharing meals with the girls,
laughing with them, crying with them, and simply just, being
with them. In that moment in time, nothing was expected of me, but to simply just be
and to be in solidarity with my sisters in Christ.
To this day, eight years later, there are still a number of stories and experiences that still remain fresh in my mind from that mission, and it is those same experiences, which have greatly influenced where I am today. I will never forget one of the girls who had been a victim of sexual exploitation by her uncle. Listening to her openly speak with vivid details about the life she was forced to live, until help came her way, nearly broke my heart to pieces. But even more so, it made me angry. It was too, in that short missions trip, where I had first learned about the horrors of human trafficking.
In my yet-to-be-shaken college mind, I could not fathom what human trafficking was. I remember thinking to myself, “Why would anyone force people, especially children, to another country, beyond their own will? My mind could not fathom this reality. It was only upon educating myself with endless conversations with the social workers in Manila, and hearing first-hand stories from survivors of human trafficking and prostitution, that I slowly began to accept that this was occurring all around the world, unbeknownst to me.
At times, I would find myself on the roof of the foundation, get an aerial view of the town and the neighboring communities, and just cry, sing, question, and pray – something I realized the majority of the girls, too, spent their afternoons doing. The difference I found, however, was that, my tears were to account for the sadness I felt from the social injustices that these girls experienced, but also for the countless others all around the world, that share these same horrific experiences. The girls, on the other hand, cried many times because they missed their parents and wanted a place to call home.
I realized through my tears, that what I wanted most was for these girls to understand that they are God’s beloved daughters, and that God has not, and will never abandon them. I wanted the girls to never give up hope. Having this experience reminds me of the importance of treating others with the dignity that God has created them with, but further than that, to be a part of restoring the dignity of those who have been violated and mistreated, especially in abusive capacities.
After this experience, I decided to serve as a missioner with Cabrini Mission Corps in Baguio City, Philippines, where I worked with 150 indigent families through Save Our School Children Foundation, Inc. (SOSCFI), one of the missions of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (“Cabrini Sisters”). Since my first trip to the Philippines in 2005, the Philippines had forever implanted itself in my heart, and so, my heart led me to serve alongside the Sisters at their mission here in Baguio City.
Aside from leading liturgies and bible studies in the communities and parishes, I specifically focused on working with the high school girls, who are vulnerable to influential societal pressures and vices. As a result, I was able to team up with an NGO in New York, LitWorld, to start a “Girls Club” here in Baguio City, with the focus on “women and girls’ empowerment through literacy learning.”
I have since learned from my experiences in Manila, that education is key – both in and out of the classroom. It is through creating these spaces for these young women, that I can then empower them to believe in themselves, to help them recognize the beauty they have within themselves, and for them to realize their dignity, strength, and courage that they have been gifted with. It is through spending time with these young women, being able to motivate them and share their joys and challenges with them, that I can too, remind them, to never give up on hope.
It was not enough for me to just cry, sing, question, and pray on the rooftop on those countless days during my mission in Manila – it was important that my heart went to the root of what injustice I felt so strongly about ending, and move myself towards the next step: into action.
Crystal wrote this article towards the end of her two-year mission in the Philippines, and is now working at a college preparatory high school for women in northern California, moderating their community involvement program and coordinating their immersion trips. Her additional mission experiences may be found on her blog at www.crystalcatalan.com.