Pioneering Pilot Program Created Sustainability For Philippines’ Human Trafficking Survivors In Cebu

10ThousandWindows in the Philippines

On November 4th, two nonprofits working different angles in two different continents on addressing human trafficking issues, Willow International in Africa and 10ThousandWindows in the Philippines, joined forces and merged as EverFree. Their first joint project will be christened in Belize. 

Pioneering Pilot Program

I have a great respect for subject matter experts who work faithfully with a smaller project before scaling up. I have known Kelsey Morgan of Willow for many years now as she attended my “Trafficked” screenings and spoke on one of my panels. At that time, she was focused on her work in Africa. However when she presented recently, the Philippines was added to her resume. This piqued my interest and she introduced me to her new partner, Jeremy Floyd of 10ThousandWindows.  I interviewed Jeremy and got to hear his pilot study in Cebu, Philippines and the success over a decade. 

Economic Self Sufficiency & The Selection of Cebu

10ThousandWindows got its start in 2007/2008. The organization International Justice Mission received a $5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reduce the prevalence of child trafficking and exploitation in Cebu, Philippines. Part of that effort was focused on working with law enforcement to remove children from places of sexual exploitation. But another part of that was connecting them with service providers on the back end to help them in their recovery process. 

But IJM had the experience of knowing that unless they were able to provide these victims of trafficking with an opportunity to become economically self-sufficient, and sufficient upon their reintegration into communities, that they’re sadly likely to be re-trafficked again.

IJM, as a part of this grant from the Gates Foundation, started a pilot project that was focused on increasing realistic and sustainable opportunities for economic self-sufficiency for trafficking survivors, providing societal reintegration support. 

The pilot project was so successful that they wanted to keep this going. This was not IJM’s core competency but there was an entity based in the Bay Area that was hungry to do something in Asia. They heard about IJM’s pilot and decided to find it, creating 10ThousandWindows in 2010. 

10 years later, 10ThousandWindows has worked with over 1,000 survivors, helping them find employment. Jeremy says, “This is meeting a need and fulfilling a gap that is in our anti-trafficking response. So much money and so much effort is understandably, trying to remove people from a situation and providing the short term care that they need, but what is too often neglected is providing that long term support so that their their reintegration can be sustainable and so that they can find lasting freedom.”

International Justice Mission looked at about 11 different locations, but Cebu was chosen due to its unique geography, situation and local buy-in. “There’s a lot of sex tourists that would come in from the West to visit brothels in the Philippines. So being a tourist area, being a place of high poverty, high unemployment there are all of those risk factors, not unlike many other places where there is poverty and lack of employment opportunities. But what IJM found was a willingness of local government officials and the police force to address this issue. So it was the right mix these push factors, plus there was buy-in and political will. And so if we could demonstrate that we could reduce this prevalence through a holistic response, Cebu was a great place to do that.”

The Emotional Impact of Trafficking From Jeremy To The Survivors

Jeremy’s background as a college football player and his faith led him to care about developing people and leaders, and also caring for the oppressed and the vulnerable in the world. In 2005, he watched a DVD and saw little girls being sold and in the midst of watching his young children, he was inspired to protect innocence. When a friends foundation was starting and he was asked to do research, the timing was perfect. The side job soon became full time. 

From a 30,000 foot view of dozens and dozens of organizations, there were two things that stood out to Jeremy.  “Number one is, if we can’t help people find economic self sufficiency, their chances of re-victimization are really high. And then I noticed there’s a lot of small, locally led organizations that have really great work, but aren’t sustainable without a little bit of business savvy fundraising prowess and connection to the global movement, and I really cared about helping those small organizations. And we did that as a foundation. When 10ThousandWindows came into my view,  I jumped on it. I couldn’t say no to it.”

Jeremy cited the things that get the media attention including in the video he watched, such as big raids, and rescuing people. But when he went to Cambodia in 2008, to visit a organization running a shelter, he actually saw some of those girls that were rescued, in that video, were there. The organization didn’t know what to do with them. 

Jeremy started visiting the communities where survivors were reintegrated in the level of poverty that was there. And the lack of opportunity was just always in his face as he visited and learned about these issues. “We’re sending people back into the same circumstances where they were trafficked.” Jeremy wanted to create true sustainability with a little bit more investment.

The emotional component is striking to Jeremy. In the Philippines he speaks of a typical story where you have a teenage girl that is living in the “provinces” on an island, and her dad’s sick, and they don’t have enough money to take care of him. She has a friend of a friend that knows of a job as a hostess in Cebu. When she gets there, it’s not what she was promised. And she knows that she has to send money home. But the way that she earns money is by servicing men. And the emotional isolation that this particular woman feels adds to her feeling of having no choice. She is fearful of her own life and fearful of her father passing away, because they can’t provide medical care for him. 

One of the survivor that now works for 10ThousandWindows went through the program and said, “I want to give back, I want to be a social worker.” They helped her get through college, and she got her Bachelor’s degree in social work. Now she’s on staff helping people that have been in her same situation and is now one of their best.

3 Important Questions To Survivors & The Community

I asked Jeremy, in that initial pilot project, how they created jobs and sustainability and what that success looks like 12 years later. 

“Now, it’s a great question. I had worked for a funding agency that was funding multiple organizations that were trying to end child trafficking. It was built around economic self sufficiency, and a lot of people took the approach of creating specific jobs for trafficking survivors. They would start a social enterprise and teach specific skills like sewing, baking, cooking, jobs that were super gendered. But what we did is said, ‘Okay, those approaches may have a place, but often those social enterprises are heavily subsidized.’ Those businesses are not sustainable and just as soon as a founder moves on to a different stage of life or different stage in their career, those things shut down. And it can only employ, at best a few dozen people with hundreds that are being identified and rescued. Where are they going to go? 

So there were three things that we did, and have continued to do over the last 10 years. We took a different approach. The first thing is, we ask survivors themselves, what do you want in terms of services? And that sounds simple and straightforward, but it doesn’t happen enough. If you ask a trafficking survivor, what do they want, the number one thing they’re gonna say is I need a job, so I can provide for myself and provide for my family. Then hands down, they’re gonna say, if there’s anything in terms of restorative justice, it’s “Can I just get paid some back wages?”. So it’s really economic. 

The second thing that we did is we actually went out into the business community, HR firms and asked them, what are your needs? What are you looking for at entry level positions? And we wanted to know, do we need to be prepared to teach hard skills? Or is there something else that we need to build our program around? 

What we found consistently is that they can teach the hard skills, but they’re looking for people who have good soft skills, so that they’re reliable, they show up on time, they know how to work with a team, they know how to manage adversity, those types of things.

So, we then created a program that was not job skills specific, but was job readiness training, which taught soft skills. I think we’ve seen here on research on just basic human development, child development, in the West, that academic achievement is really important, but it’s the soft skills that can put people over the edge.  When you come from a more stable home, you’re being taught those things or maybe you’re catching them, from examples of the people that that you’re around. But we found this was new to survivors. We’ve developed a successful soft skills training program. 

The third thing that we did it goes back to asking survivors, what they want. We took a career counselor approach to our work in saying, ‘What are you interested in? What do you like dream of in terms of what your life looks like and and how that applies in your vocation, in your job?’ What we found consistently, again, was that survivors are quite shocked that people ask them what they want. There’s often all these demands that are that are put on them, but we have people come in and allow them to dream about a future and develop a relationship with their counselors, where they trust them to help fulfill their dreams.”

Successful Job Placements

Every one of the survivors work on an individual track toward a specific career goal. Some require completing education, such as going through college. Others get placed working entry level jobs, such as selling sunglasses in the mall, others that work at KFC, Jollibee, or other fast food restaurants, and others in construction industries. 

They have 43 women that have graduated college: 10 are now social workers, helping vulnerable people like them, and who have had that unique life experience. One survivor now works for JP Morgan in the financial industry. “So these are not just jobs where people are selling or making little trinkets, sold in some charitable market in in the West. These are real jobs, and they’re sustainable,” Jeremy proudly says. 

“And our process teaches survivors how to find those safe employers. In those good jobs, and if they are ready to move on, they can find another job. That’s why we’re not just providing this one job that can go away, and they don’t know what they’re going to do. We’re really setting them on a different trajectory for the rest of their career.”

The Job Readiness Process Involves Education

About 15% of those trafficked are men in the Cebu population they work with. The rest are women.  In the Philippines, they found that if an individual wants to find a job with a safe employer that pays a fair wage, provides benefits and adheres to labor laws, a high school education is necessary to be considered for the job. 

If someone comes in and they have a high school education and their diploma, the initial training is about three months, and they can begin to look for jobs, with 10ThousandWindows helping them in that search. They help survivors prepare for interviews and job applications and provide follow up support for up to two years. When they are initially employed, there is a heavier touch, but there is a lighter touch toward the end of the second year. 

Most of the time when survivors come into the program and they haven’t completed their high school education, it is a longer process.  Fortunately, the Philippines has a GED equivalent education program. They provide tutoring services to help prepare individuals to take and pass that GED exam. Unfortunately, in the country, the pass rate is only 14% to 16%. But those that go through the 10ThousandWindows program pass at a rate of 86%. 

“I think it’s the social and emotional support that we provide underneath the tutoring, and the extra help to get them prepared. And this process depends on, did somebody leave off after grade five? Or did they complete eighth grade, and there’s got a couple more years of work to do. It’s foundational to getting somebody to be job ready.”

Jeremy believes it’s of the utmost importance to empower local leaders. While the program was designed by an America, it is implemented by 20 staff members in the Philippines. Strong, mostly female, leaders are carrying on the day to day efforts. Jeremy’s role is to help connect the Cebu operation to the global anti-trafficking community, the bigger strategic piece. The board management in the US side is focused on fundraising, and providing support that local leaders need. 

“And it’s something that we place a high premium on: local leadership and making sure they have what they need to address these issues that are in their communities that they know best.”

Challenges In Manila Led To The Willow Merger To Become EverFree

Jeremy believes that they have a proof of concept that works. And it’s been their vision all along to replicate this in other places. With a 30,000 foot view of the entire sector. This is why 10ThousandWindows chose to merge with Willow International. They both share a vision to grow.

“We did a pilot project in 2016 to 2018 in Manila to see if we could expand by opening a new office there. And we had some preliminary success. But what we found was our program was so focused on the jobs piece that the survivors needed more holistic care.  In Cebu, we worked with strong partnerships, other shelters, and social service providers that could provide those other pieces while we focused on the job readiness training, education and job placement. But we didn’t have those same types of relationships and networks in Manila and it was a little bit harder for survivors to persevere through that time period of completing their education. So we knew from we learned from that: if we are going to grow we need more comprehensive services around survivors. Willow has a program that provides that shelter-based care and community-based care in the short term for survivors coming out of trafficking, but they don’t have the economic empowerment piece and the jobs piece. And so we realized that coming together we can round out our programs.”

Together, EverFree has a vision to grow into trafficking hotspots around the world. The office in Cebu will essentially become a signature site for EverFree, as a center of excellence for economic empowerment programming. They hope to send their staff to different hotspots to train other organizations and how to adopt and implement this model that has been proven successful.

Manila presented a number of challenges. The old vision was creating an office there, hire a bunch of staff that can carry out this work, which is super expensive to do. But they knew they were going to help fewer people if they have to be the ones that are doing everything. So the shift in their thinking now is more about replication versus expansion. It’s more about helping others that are already on the ground, learning to implement a type of model that works, and knowing that there are needs from all over the world from India, Belize, Bulgaria, Indonesia, Cambodia, requesting help. 

Back to Manila, they would be working with providers that are already there, to help them add on a piece of the economic and empowerment program or if they’re doing shelter work, to leverage what Willow has learned in their 10 years of work. 

The real help is to think through models and to help them think through building skillsets and some funding. Jeremy feels like the worst thing for them to do would be to come in and set up shop with funding from the US that would displace local workers. Instead they want to help build the locals up, “because this is their community. They have the relationships, know the stakeholders, understand the problems, and just need a little bit of support. That’s the approach that we will take as EverFree.”

New Frontiers – Belize & Beyond

The goal is to find locations with a high prevalence of human trafficking, but a low availability of services. EverFree’s  first step is to go into Belize, a small country, with zero aftercare shelters to work with survivors of child trafficking. 

Jeremy and Kelsey have friends and colleagues from other organizations who are involved in rescuing children at the border of Guatemala. Yet there’s nowhere for them to go after the rescue. 

The result is they’re taken back to the border, and their traffickers are waiting on them.  “That situation is not acceptable”, Jeremy says. Their first project will be to work through a local organization to help them adopt this comprehensive model that combined what Kelsey has done in Uganda, and what Jeremy has done in Cebu.

After Belize there are other African countries and places in Southeast Asia that need their urgent help. 

Online Sexual Exploitation: A Troubling New Trend

Cebu remains the epicenter of online sexual exploitation, now one of the fastest growing forms of trafficking in the world. Cyber sex trafficking involves people being forced to do things on camera that’s later broadcast to the internet. COVID has increased that risk. 

On the 10ThousandWindows website, there are a couple of write ups about this. Jeremy is proud of his role in helping both prevent it and by helping people find employment to avoid people and their children going into this line of work, especially for those who recently lost their job. 

Thank you Filipino Americans & Americans For Supporting

Jeremy gives a hat tip to the Filipino American and greater American community. “It’s been very generous Americans and oftentimes Filipino Americans that have funded this important work. We have a board member whose mom is Filipino. It’s just always inspiring to come across people that are that are wanting to help. Some will say ‘I want to find tangible ways to help.’ And this work has really been enabled by that, that generosity.” Many understand their blessings being in America and want to help those less fortunate overseas. 

You can find and donate to EverFree, 10ThousandWindows and Willow International on their respective websites, on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and more. 

You can view the full interview with Jeremy here.