ECPAT - February 2014

In the 10 month i have lived in the Philippines, I have had some truly amazing experiences. Food, travel and the people i have met are a constant source of inspiration and wonder. 

However, its no secret that my new country has had ongoing crises with poverty, and all that goes along with it. Destitution, famine and suffering are not something you see in Makati, but you don't have to go far to find it.    

This February I was approached to capture some images for a fundraiser for the Annual Australia New Zealand Association (ANZA) Ball. The charity being supported this year was the Philippine chapter of ECPAT - End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography And Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes. An NGO active for over 20 years, they are present in 75 countries. ANZA asked me to visit a girls shelter not far from Makati,  and photograph the shelter and the girls who live there to document the work which still needs to be done. The images would tell their story in a forum they could not. 

I admit to being apprehensive and nervous on my trip to the shelter to meet the girls for the first time. I didn't know what to expect - would they resent my presence? Coming from such an affluent nation as Australia, this was something you might see in a documentary, or read about in Time.

What i discovered was not a place of fear and suffering. I found a home, with amazing carers and counsellors, who quite literally, offer these girls a new life. 

Some were the victims of kidnap, some were sold. Some had never known their mother, and had never had their own bed. To protect their identities, i was not permitted to photograph their faces, but when they turned back to face me once the lens was covered, they overwhelmingly had smiles on their faces. They talked about their school, their friends, and even (surprisingly to me) which boys from school they had a crush on. 

The power of their optimism and gratitude was extraordinary. 

Thank you to the fundraising arm of ANZA, and the local chapter of ECPAT. 

Yes, the shelter needs work, There is much to be done in fixing the bathrooms, providing clean running water and maintaining a safe, comfortable environment.  To support ECPAT, go to http://www.ecpat.net/donate