It feels as though time is moving faster now, in the second half of my year of service. I reside in the Philippines, within the Visayas region in Dumaguete City. Dumaguete is a small yet bustling city and is well-known throughout the Philippines for Silliman University, a world-renowned University.
My time in Dumaguete has been filled with many highs and lows, adjustments and new comforts, challenges and triumphs. Yet, what has buoyed me is the warm and sincere hospitality shown by Filipino people, as well as moments to witness God's grace.
As a Long-Term Volunteer with Global Ministries, I have a concurrent appointment with the Presbyterian Mission Agency as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV). As a YAV, I volunteer with two organizations, YATTA or Youth Advocates Through Theater Arts, and GWAVE or Gender Watch Against Violence and Exploitation. They each do great work to empower women and young adults. YATTA creates performances and workshops aimed at addressing Filipino social issues, including protecting the environment and indigenous land rights. My volunteer work with YATTA includes serving as the unofficial chaplain of YATTA.
Gender Watch Against Violence and Exploitation or GWAVE is an NGO that accompanies and advocates for women and children survivors of physical, emotional, financial and sexual abuse and exploitation. I get to attend court hearings, various advocacy events and home visits.
My time serving in each organization has become increasingly more meaningful. In particular, the relationships that I am establishing within each organization are deepening. One event that enabled the fortifying of relationships was a Valentine's Day party for the youth that I work with. In both YATTA and GWAVE, a desire to foster community and increase self-worth in God were issues that had been discussed as important and therein became themes for the party. I hoped that the Valentine's Day party would be a time to be reminded that each person is cherished by God and their peers.
In planning this party, some leaders from each organization believed that in terms of delegating responsibilities, the teen abuse survivors of GWAVE are overwhelmed by their traumas and should most likely work behind-the-scenes in organizing the event. However, I have witnessed these young women's leadership abilities and that they are awaiting moments to share their gifts and passions with others.
Quite a few of the survivors were good dancers, so I encouraged them to teach a Zumba dance lesson. I also knew that a few survivors were artistically inclined, so I invited them to lead an art project that served simultaneously as a vehicle for peer affirmation. The survivors were hesitant to lead activities for their peers but with time to prepare, the survivors increased their confidence in their ability to facilitate activities.
When the day of the party arrived, I was anxious about all of the details coming together. Some things did go awry, including a power outage. Thankfully, though, none of the problems seem to deter the young women survivors of GWAVE. They confidently executed their activities and had fun doing it!
Not only that, but their peers enjoyed the event. One young man, a member of YATTA, said that not only did he enjoy facilitating a game, but he expressed that he was most impacted by the art project and the messages of affirmation that he received from the project. He shared his positive experience with the two women survivors that led the art project. I am grateful to see God use these young women to bless others.
I am very grateful for what I am learning here. Thank you for reading my letter and thank you for your prayers and support.
Kitakits! (See you soon)
Lauren Robinson is a member of University Church, United Church of Christ, Chicago, Illinois. She serves with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. Her appointment is possible due to gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission, and your special gifts.