Posts Tagged ‘Samaritana’

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As many of you know, we try to be frugal: food from Grocery Outlet (discount store), clothes from Thrift Town, baby clothes from friends, (one) car from eleven years ago. But even after our year overseas, and the re-evaluation of our lifestyle, there are still a few things we’ll spend top dollar on: chocolate, coffee, and Christmas cards.

Why those? Because they can all be bought fair trade, meaning that unlike cheapo Hallmark cards or Hershey’s chocolates,* the people making them are guaranteed a fair wage and livable working conditions.** They don’t grow cacao or coffee at Samaritana, but they do make greeting cards. These are a great way to broaden awareness of the human beings on the other side of every purchase, while also investing in relationships with your family and friends. At Samaritana, each woman signs the card after she makes it, and it also includes a few sentences about how the purchase helps that woman build a new life.

We saw the difference fair trade makes firsthand during our time in Manila. Although the Samaritana women are also trained in catering, house cleaning, jewelry making, and sewing, the card business is their best income source. Two of the women we knew not only fed their children this way, but also paid for electricity to be connected to their parents’ rural home. For a few dollars more than the generic brand, these products helped an entire family—and that, in short, is the power of fair trade.

Granted, five dollars a card might seem like a lot–but it’s comparable to other handmade cards you’ll find at specialty stationery stores, and not that much more than customized photo cards you get online. But best of all, every card you buy is a step toward the kind of world we want to raise our children in.

Cards (Christmas, holiday, and general greeting) made by Samaritana women are available at Samaritana’s US partner, Sanctuary Spring.

–Nate

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*Historically, Hershey’s has been a notable violator of fair-trade practices. They recently committed to certifying 100% of their cocoa in the future, but have been vague on which certifications they will adopt. The upshot is, whether it’s Hershey’s, Nestle, Dove, or any other brand, unless you see the black-and-white Fair Trade logo on the wrapper, it was likely produced using slave labor.

**We’re happy to report that most of the major coffee chains now sell a fair-trade variety, including Caribou, Dunn Bros, Dunkin’ Donuts, Peets, Starbucks–and even Costco and Wal-Mart! For a longer list of shops selling fair-trade coffee, plus other fair-trade foods, you can scan this guy’s blog post. (Just remember that you have to ask for the Fair Trade coffee, since in most cases these places won’t automatically serve it.)

Nearly a decade ago, Nate handed me a copy of National Geographic and told me I should read the story there about modern-day slavery. It was the first time we’d heard the number 27 million (in reference to the number of modern-day slaves) or the name Kevin Bales (cited as the world’s leading expert).

Tonight Nate and I will get to meet Dr. Bales and hear him speak to the hundreds of people attending The Slave Next Door in Berkeley. For people who haven’t read much about human trafficking, the name Kevin Bales might not mean anything, but for me, it’s like meeting the Michael Jordan of the modern abolitionist movement. Not only is it thanks to Dr. Bales that we learned about the topic in the first place, but his book Disposable People played a large role in convincing us to spend a year of our lives in the Philippines working with victims of trafficking.

Along with Dr. Bales, the keynote speaker, we have an all-star supporting cast. Bay Area trafficking survivor Minh Dang will tell her story, followed by a panel of local experts including Nathan George from Trade As One, Officer Holly Joshi from the Oakland Police Department, and Tashina Manyak from M.I.S.S.S.E.Y. Nate and I are also humbled and grateful to be speaking as well. The evening will end with a fair trade bazaar including artisan chocolate tasting, crafts and gifts, and a chance to meet local heroes fighting trafficking.

Sounds great, right? But we need your help.

If you’re local, please attend! Invite your friends. Tell everyone you know about it. I’ve had the chance to attend and help plan many events on this topic over the past five years, and this is the most exciting one I’ve been a part of. While the topic is grim, there’s a lot of hope to be found in this evening. The message tonight is not that life is depressing, but that there is so much we can do to make a difference. Come to be inspired. Come to make a difference. Every ticket purchase goes toward Samaritana, New Day for Children, and M.I.S.S.S.E.Y.

If you’re not local, I’m asking you to pray today and this evening (the event will take place from 7:00-9:30 p.m.). While it’s not an explicitly Christian event, I believe it is an event that God would love to bless. The Bible is filled with the message that God cares about the oppressed, and this event will benefit the women and children here and around the world who need it most. We have seen firsthand how powerful prayer can be, and know that this event will be a shadow of what it could be without it. Pray that the event will be well-attended. Pray that things will go smoothly for everyone involved. Pray that people will leave the event changed, that they will find it in their hearts to care. Pray that this would be the beginning of something big!

Thank you to everyone who is partnering with us both here in the Bay Area, and around the world.

-Laura

Princess, daughter of one of the women at Samaritana, and one of about 3 billion people in the world living on less than $2.50/day

Almost exactly a year ago, living in Manila, we joined our church back in Oakland for the Global Hunger Fast. For Holy Week (Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday), we challenged ourselves to live in solidarity with half the world’s population–and specifically our Filipina sisters at Samaritana–and live on ~$2 per day.  The result was one of the more profound experiences we’ve had in recent years, and the lessons we’ve learned have stuck with us even months after returning to the States.

Holy Week is upon us once again, and we are thrilled that our church has once again taken on the challenge of the Global Hunger Fast, this time with the goal of donating the money saved to Samaritana. Once again, we’ll be chronicling our experience, this time from the perspective of new parents in the United States.

We want to invite you to join us this next week, and to consider donating the money you’ll save to Samaritana. If living on $2.50 per day seems impossible, there are other meaningful, yet manageable ways you can join this fast. Give up your gourmet coffee for a week, or cut out eating out/take-out, or pick a daily dinner that a typical Filipino would eat. You can read more about the Global Hunger Fast (and get more ideas on how to participate) here. You can check out last year’s Global Hunger Fast here.

Please let us know if you’re joining with us and post comments so others can be encouraged. We hope that once again this experience will not only challenge and change us, but be a huge blessing to Samaritana and the women they serve.

–Laura

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To make a tax-deductible donation to Samaritana, please write a check to Mission East Asia National Support (MEANS), and designate Samaritana in the memo. Then mail to: P.O. Box 8434, Bartlett, IL 60103.

As we restart our lives in the US, one of the key ways we hope God will use us here is being able to share our experiences with various groups here. We got our first such big opportunity a week ago Sunday,  back in Minnesota visiting the church Laura grew up in–and where we got the sabbatical idea in the first place. They’d also supported us this past year, and gave us five minutes at their services to present our story. If you’ve wondered at any point “Uh, where’d they get that crazy idea? How’d they do that?” and so forth, here’s the answer:

Nate: It was a Sunday morning in 2002; Leith was preaching, and I was half listening, half worrying about school work. But then God dropped an idea on us that would pull us across the planet, take a year of our lives, and bind us to a topic that makes most people squirm.

Laura: The sermon was on Leviticus 25, where God tells the Israelites to take a Sabbath year every seven to break from ordinary work and trust in his provision. We weren’t “missionary types;” Nate was studying advertising; I was applying for MFA programs in fiction writing. We were just regular people, but that Sunday, we asked ourselves how life might be different if we took a year off to serve God.

Nate: Then we got married, I graduated, and we moved to California for Laura’s grad school, but the Sabbath year idea was gestating.  We made friends. We bought a house. We were putting down roots—but God was only going to let those roots go so deep. By 2008, we were still committed to the Sabbath year; we wanted something that would challenge and change us, but we didn’t know the who, what or where.

Laura: Then a friend lent us Not for Sale, where we read that there are 27 million slaves today. We went to see Call+Response, a documentary on sex trafficking and prostitution. Walking out of the theater that cool Berkeley night, we realized that this could be the focus of our year.

Nate: For the next two years, on top of our full-time jobs were meetings with our financial planner, contacting dozens of organizations, and Laura applying for (and God providing) a Fulbright scholarship to fund research on her novel about sex trafficking in the Philippines.  Thanks to Wooddale, family and friends, we raised the remaining funds we needed, packed up our lives, and two days before our flight, found tenants to rent our house. We knew the year would change us, but we had no idea how much. On July 25, 2010, we flew to Manila.

Laura: No amount of research could prepare us for what we found: one of the dirtiest, most densely populated cities in the world—and one of the worst hubs for sex trafficking. Manila rattles and roars with the energy of twenty million people hustling to get by, stray dogs and roosters roaming the streets, jam-packed jeepneys careening through traffic, acres of tin-roof-and-cinderblock slums, and grilled intestines competing with diesel fumes in dense, sweaty air.

Nate: It also smells of the broken dreams of countless women who come to escape chronic poverty, but often end up being trafficked or selling themselves instead.

Laura: As part of my research for my novel, I interviewed many women and girls whose stories often left me in tears. Victoria’s friend convinced her to move to Manila to waitress; only after she arrived did she find out that the restaurant turned into a brothel after dark.  Caroline was just a teenager in the wrong place at the wrong time when she got rounded up by the police; she was drugged and raped by an officer, and so distraught that she later turned to prostitution to feed her children.  Gemma moved to Malaysia to work as a maid, but upon her arrival was imprisoned in a brothel.

Nate: As awful as these stories are, we are happy to say that when we met Victoria, Caroline, and Gemma, they could smile thanks to Samaritana, a shining light in the dark night of prostitution. Samaritana is a small Christian organization that helps women leave the spirit-crushing life on the streets and start anew. It became not just our workplace, but our Filipino family.

Laura: Samaritana’s holistic approach includes education, spiritual development, counseling, exercise, and livelihood skills. God’s love seeps through the daily activities, and also through the daily grace that the women feel from the staff and volunteers.  It is the most joyful place we have ever been.

Nate: Samaritana convinces women to leave the streets by building friendships first, then by offering them sustainable work. But when we asked the women what the best thing was about being there, every one of them had the same answer: “I came to know God here.  I learned how to read the Bible.”  One woman told us, “I accepted Jesus into my heart, and he accepted me into his.”

Laura: When we left for our Sabbath year, we naïvely thought we would just return to our normal lives. Now that we’re back—jobless and with a mortgage looming—Nate is looking for work, and I’m finishing my novel. But we’ve never felt so grateful, or had such a deep sense of how much we have to give. We’ve been ruined for the better.

Nate: Along with a taste for rice and mangoes, we came back with a passion to continue serving the women at Samaritana, and to urge others to expand the definition of who our neighbor is, to love our neighbors both here and around the globe.  We’re also asking God where he’ll take us in 2017, and trying to bridge our Western world with the impoverished one we left behind.

Laura: We want to close by asking for your prayers for Samaritana and for all the women still on the streets. As with Wilberforce and Lincoln fighting slavery in the 19th century, fighting human trafficking today is a chance for Christians to change the world. The Bible exhorts us repeatedly to serve the poor and oppressed, as in I John 3: “But if anyone has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.”

Take Back the Night is just 15 days away.  As we do our best to prepare for the fun run/race that will, we hope, raise the funds needed for Samaritana to accept the women who are currently on the waiting list, we are grateful for prayers, encouragement, and support from all of you who are near and far.

We’ve recently been asked by a few people back in the States if it’s possible to sponsor a Samaritana woman (or multiple women) to run this race.  The answer is yes!  The whole point of this event is to raise money for Samaritana; whether that money comes from race registrations or donors overseas, the result is the same: more women can get off the streets and start a new life.

There are currently 21 women at Samaritana.  Many of them hope to run and finish their race on June 4.  Please pray for these women, for sponsors to support them, and for all of the planning we’re doing during the next fifteen days to make this a great event for everyone involved.

If you would like to sponsor the Samaritana women, you can follow these 3 easy steps below:

1. Send an email to info@samaritana.org to let them know that you would like to sponsor a woman (or multiple women) for Take Back the Night.  For example, you might say, “I’d like to give $25 for every Samaritana woman who runs and finishes the race.”

2. Write a check to Samaritana’s non-profit partner in the US, Mission East Asia National Support (MEANS), and designate Samaritana in the memo. Samaritana is certified by the Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PCNC); your donation will be tax-deductible.

3.Mail your check to: P.O. Box 8434, Bartlett, IL 60103.

We’ll post pictures, race results, and other news after the race on June 4!

-Laura & Nate

Surprised by Joy

Posted: March 31, 2011 in Our work
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I always expected it to be difficult.

As soon as we decided to spend a year working with victims of sex trafficking and prostitution in Manila, I knew that while there would be good times, the work would inevitably be depressing, discouraging, and challenging. I was traveling through my own dark season of life, and I knew that if my daily American struggles of workaholism, broken relationships, and disappointed dreams could leave me feeling crushed, then the women at Samaritana would certainly feel even worse.

But the most surprising thing happened: instead of sinking into depression, I rediscovered joy. There have been days when I’ve felt discouraged, when I’ve cried because I didn’t know what else to do—but then I go to the airy, tranquil haven of Samaritana, and my spirits are almost instantly lifted. The women crack jokes and we laugh while eating meryenda (mid-morning snack); I give high fives to a few women who ran farther than they ever have before during Super Babae, our daily fitness group, and tell them how proud I am of them; they give me hugs and I tell them again and again that their brown skin is beautiful; a woman grabs my hand or my arm (an endearing cultural norm that I will definitely miss) as we walk home at the end of the day. There are far more smiles, laughter, and singing than tears or anger. The women I call friends are kind, generous, and incredibly sweet—but it’s not just that. They overflow with joy that I’ve only occasionally experienced in my own life.

I’ve puzzled over this again and again. How can it be that women who have experienced some of the most awful things imaginable radiate pure, unadulterated joy? I have seen them, on occasion, mourn the things they have lost and that have been done to them. But sorrow doesn’t sink them, and hope is never far off.

I think that unlike me–most of the time–these women really understand grace.

I think Samaritana is Christianity the way Jesus meant it to be: full of love and acceptance, but not without a call to something better. The women here are cherished just as they are—even if they choose to stay at the bars—and also challenged and encouraged to start anew. The amazing thing is that it actually works. Every day at Samaritana, the women have love heaped on them, and are shown again and again how special and precious they are. It’s not just through the quiet, contemplative moments of morning prayer, or the validating livelihood training that allows them to make more money than their daily allowance if they are diligent and excellent in their work, or even the counseling administered by staff and volunteers who are at Samaritana for the sole reason that they love the women. God’s love seeps through the walls and circulates in the air in this place. Even short-term visitors can’t help but feel it. No wonder these women have such joy; they’re the recipients of deep, untainted love and grace, and they know it.

I knew that this year would change me, but I never expected that I would receive so much by the very women I came to help.  We  recently booked our return tickets, and are startled to realize that in spite of the many things we love about our life in Oakland, we are sad–really sad–to know that on July 23, we will be leaving these women.

They challenge me to be brave, to stand strong no matter what life throws at me. They remind me of how beautifully resilient the human spirit is, and how my past mistakes or regrets need not define me. I think it’s God’s grace and love that allows them to heal–but what I hope to communicate to them in our remaining time here is how much God has used them to heal me.

-Laura

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Quezon City, like most of metro Manila, is a cloud of exhaust, a cacophony of roosters, stray dogs and permanent traffic, a wet blanket of heat. But step through the doors of Samaritana Transformation Ministries, and you find yourself in an open-air courtyard with a stone labyrinth set in the grass, a soothingly trickling fountain, and the airy feel of freedom in every room. Women sing as they cook or clean, and others laugh as they make earrings or greeting cards to sell in the Philippines and the U.S.  You may also see women working on their English language skills, sharing past hurts in Tagalog Bible studies, quietly talking in individual or group counseling, or more recently, gathering together for yoga or strength training in our newly-formed Freedom Fitness group (more about that later).

Samaritana has been sending volunteers and staff out to the bars to build relationships with prostituted women since 1992, when then-seminary student Thelma Nambu and other friends met to pray for, visit, and befriend these poorest of the poor, lowest of the low who make the worst kind of living by selling themselves each night for the equivalent of $2 or $3. The ministry was inspired by the story of Jesus meeting an outcast woman at a well, and showing her the way to a new life that didn’t involve men using and then discarding her. Bringing that story to life today, Samaritana is a haven for women who have left, or want to leave, their lives on the streets.

During an orientation meeting for new volunteers, we learned about Samaritana’s extensive programs: in addition to the daily schedule for “women friends,” there are scholarship programs for children, medical missions, police training (to educate them about sex trafficking and to view prostituted women as victims, not criminals), partnerships with faith-based and secular feminist NGOs alike, and visits to squatter communities to spend time with new women friends who have not yet left life on the street—just to name a few.  To hear the women’s stories of abuse, poverty, and shame, it’s astounding that anyone can recover, and yet we see daily proof that healing is, in fact, possible. The same young women who have been pushed to the edges of society (both culturally and geographically) are now giggling as they watch Nate wash dishes (kitchens are generally women’s turf here) or teach us how to eat fish and rice with our hands.

Healing from lives of abuse and shame is slow, hard work, but it’s clear that Samaritana has spent every bit of the last eighteen years figuring out how to best serve these women, and that God has blessed that work.  We’re honored to be a part of it, and grateful to all of you who have supported us (and Samaritana) in our work here!