At Shechem Children’s Home, children who have been exploited online find a safe place after being rescued. There, they live and begin the healing process. The Church of the Nazarene in the Philippines created this assessment center for survivors as a response to the prevalence of online sexual exploitation of children in the country, fueled by demand from buyers in the United States and other places overseas. Caring adults like house parents, social workers, pastors, trauma-informed therapists, and educators support each child as they grapple with their experiences and imagine a new future.
Anabel*, age 16, needed the resources that Shechem provides. Beginning at age 13, she was exploited by family members in order to bring money into their home. “To help my parents was the only thing in my mind since I was young,” she explains. “Through this mindset, I ended up agreeing to [this] activity.” Anabel dropped out of school and had a baby at age 15.
Her story is not unique. Most children placed at Shechem are rescued from parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, or other relatives, who succumb to the pressure to abuse children in their care in the face of overwhelming poverty. It can be especially confusing for a child who loves and wants to trust their family. When that trust is broken, it has devastating psychological consequences, which is why the staff at Shechem work hard to help children understand that they are more than just a means to an end.
“At first, I thought I was fine as long as I earn. However, I realized that ... life is more valuable than money because we are God’s creation,” Anabel shares. Reminding children of their infinite worth in Christ is a key part of the ministry at Shechem.
The staff report that Anabel responded well to trauma-informed therapy and is studying hard in school. “She considers her experience as a breakthrough which let her to thrive in life despite all the challenges she experienced,” says one staff member.
Every night, when the children of Shechem gather for devotions with their chaplain, they are reminded that God has a great plan for their lives in spite of the abuse they lived through. Over time, these messages sink in, finally allowing children to dream of a safer and better future.
“Awit ng Shechem” means “Song of Shechem”, and it’s the composition of a child who found hope and healing after experiencing trauma at home. Now, all the children who stay at Shechem learn this song by heart as a sign of the recovery journey they walk together.
*Children’s names are changed for protection.