Philippines (MNN) — As rescue and relief efforts transition to rehabilitation and development in the Philippines, one threat grows daily.
According to the 2013 U.S. State Department’s Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report, the Philippine archipelago is an established source for sex and labor trafficking victims. Typhoon Haiyan’s wrath is adding another layer of risk.
“The specter of human trafficking requires serious integration of protection initiatives into both emergency relief and recovery efforts,” said U.S. Congressman Chris Smith earlier this week, returning from a fact-finding visit to the Philippines. “This must be a very high priority.
“The world’s response to Typhoon Haiyan must include serious and sustained efforts to combat potential disease epidemics and the cruelty of sex trafficking.”
EFC Philippines church leaders and EFCA ReachGlobal are ringing the same alarm bells.
ReachGlobal director Mark Lewis says, “Of the 13 million people affected by the typhoon, about four-and-a-half million of those are kids. UN information is now saying that about half of those–about two million kids–are at-risk of exploitation and trafficking.”
EFC Philippines church planter, Pastor Sam, visited affected areas with Lewis last week and helped him grasp the scope of Haiyan’s damage.
“Families are facing huge challenges: the loss of housing and then the related security and stability that goes with that: the loss of the economic base and the livelihood for the family,” notes Lewis.
He says there were “huge hits” on palm oil and coconut production, an income source for so many families, as well as bananas and mangoes. Fishing boats were wrecked by Haiyan’s wrath, and poultry houses were completely destroyed. Rice fields were clogged with debris or contaminated with salt.
These realities spell hopelessness for families in East Samar and the small town of Hernani. According to Pastor Sam, around 80% of the people living in this region depend on palm and coconut production for their livelihood.
In addition, Lewis continues, the wide displacement of people and extensive destruction of school buildings weave despair into the next generation’s future.
“The environment that I just described is exactly the fertile environment where…predatory behavior or predatory opportunity would find root,” says Lewis.
ReachGlobal and EFC Philippines are reducing the risk and weaving new strands of hope in the lives of at-risk families through development strategies.
“Focusing quickly on recovery and development aspects are going to be so important to preventing that predatory outcome,” notes Lewis.
ReachGlobal is helping church partners in the Philippines develop response teams within the local churches to deal with emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of Haiyan survivors. Those church-based teams will also set up safe places for children to gather and learn, since most school buildings were destroyed.
Lewis says the ministry is also equipping church teams with chainsaws. This way, they can convert downed trees to lumber and build new homes. They’re “hoping this restores a measure of security so people have safe place to live.”
To meet spiritual needs, counselors are being equipped to help people process emotional trauma through a Gospel lens.
“Soon we’ll be helping to clear out rice fields and resourcing fishermen with the ability to repair boats,” states Lewis.
These strategies are “going to be key to help the community recover; but at the same time, they’re going to address the effects that lead to this increased risk and vulnerability.”
Involving local believers in disaster relief efforts can often mean the difference between success and failure. Lewis says all of these strategies flowed out of the assessment and conversations with Pastor Sam.
“The local church has the relationships in the community; it has the pulse and the understanding,” explains Lewis.
“They’re invested and they’re going to be there for the long-term, which is essential for disciple-making and…for community recovery efforts that are really going to express the transformational power of the Gospel.”
Ask the Lord to give local church leaders wisdom.
“Pray that teams could be formed in the local churches that can provide a long-term, sustainable response for the benefit of the community,” Lewis requests. Pray that development strategies will be helpful to those response teams.
“Pray against this predatory opportunity that’s there,” asks Lewis. Pray also “that God would protect kids.”
ReachGlobal is hoping to raise $500,000 to help restore broken lives and livelihoods in Eastern Samar. Click here to help.