A Typhoon Destroyed Her Family’s Farm; Now She Has to Dance for Men

While on a short term trip in the Philippines, Adventures Staff Meghan Tschanz met a girl who used to dream of getting an education to support her family. But thanks to a typhoon destroying her family’s farm, she had to do something she never would have chosen in a million years: dance in the Red Light District.

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.

Cigarette smoke clogged the air, and the dim lights barely concealed the filth of the bar. Some pop song pounded in the background, making it hard to have a clear thought.

I’ve been to the bars on Walking Street in the Philippines before, several times in fact. You would think that I would be prepared for the desperation I see there, but every time I go, it hits me like a ton of bricks.

The walk from the hotel leads us through streets crawling with cockroaches, scuttling between cracks and in gutters. People line the streets with vendors peddling everything from cigarettes to snacks, shriveled beggars gaze at you with arms outstretched, and ladyboys gather in groups, vying for your attention. It’s a different world.

But the scene I’ve just described, as sad and desperate as it may seem, feels like nothing in comparison to what happens inside of the bars. Girls, dozens of them, are on stage in matching bikinis, swaying with downcast faces. Dancers, they call them.

I call it human trafficking.

The numbers and made-up names attached to their bikinis tell the real story. They stand up on stage for foreigners to purchase them for a night. When they are chosen, they get called off the stage with a laser and escorted to men who may buy them drinks or pay for them to leave work early so they can spend the night with them.

I don’t know how any man could convince himself that these women enjoy what they are doing.

The whole scene is reminiscent of a cattle auction; there is no doubt that these women are being bought and sold.

walking street angeles

The first bar we enter, King’s Landing, is decorated with grimy plastic faces of kings, tinged with years of cigarette smoke and neglect they stare from the dim light fixtures. Our small team is made up of a hip soon-to-married couple, Paula* (a feisty Filipina woman who left the bars two years ago after attending the girls getaway and is in her third year of college), me, and a journalist seeking to tell the story of how climate change was sending more Filipina women into the sex trade.

We sat there for a few moments when a girl on stage caught our eye. Out of all of them, she looked the most sad. We got our waitress’ attention, letting her know that we wanted to talk to her. Our waitress shone a little green laser on the girl, and you could tell that as soon as she realized it, her heart sunk. I’ve often witnessed girls pushing others into the laser light, hoping that they were not the one chosen.

Human trafficking is never a pleasant experience for the woman being trafficked.

We watched the girl as she walked toward us and witnessed her relief and confusion when she realized we were not some old, gruff man.

She sat down, and we introduced ourselves. Her name was Rae*, she was 20 years old, and she was one of eight children. Her parents are farmers, and when a recent typhoon hit, most of their crops were destroyed. Left with few other options for survival, her cousin contacted her to let her know about an opportunity in Angeles City.

Rae accepted, not knowing that on her first night she would be given a pair of short jean shorts and a bikini top and told to dance on stage. When she overcame her initial shock, she realized how thoroughly she hated it, but where was she to go? She had no education and no prospect for another job.

It was two months after her first night that we met her. I asked her what she wanted to do when she was a little girl, she smiled at the table and said her dream was to finish her education and support her family. A noble dream if I had ever heard one.

We started telling her about Wipe Every Tear and the hope that they offered, about the opportunity to go to college, about the opportunity to one day provide for her family.

She smiled and began rapidly talking to Paula the woman with us who had at one point left the bars herself and was on her way to become a police officer.

It was around that time that we were all interrupted by the table next to us. Two small Indian men had invited (forced) two young Filipinas to dance on their table. They were stuffing 20 peso bills (the equivalent of about $0.40) in the girls’ underwear and were making the girls throw three or four bills out at a time at the dancers on the stage. Pretty soon a crowd had gathered, fighting over the bills, pushing one another out of the way for a chance to get a single bill.

It felt dehumanizing, girls dancing and fighting over so little money, but when you know the abject poverty they come from, perhaps it isn’t so surprising.

I chanced a look at Rae, and she looked embarrassed, like her coworkers made her uncomfortable and she was guilty by association. I didn’t know where to look after that, I didn’t want to add to the attention the two Indian men were so clearly desperate for, and I felt that my gaze embarrassed Rae. So I made a study of the drink I held in my hand, praying for the men to stop making a commotion.

After 10 minutes, they did stop, and Paula and Rae began to speak again. She handed her our business card, and Paula informed us that Rae was very interested and would be reaching out soon. We all hugged Rae goodbye and left to go to the next bar before we overstayed our welcome.

I left feeling heavy and dark. That bar was full of desperation, and there was nothing light or fun about it. The girls on the stage were desperate for survival, and the men who bought them were desperate for some sort of fulfillment. The older men who lingered in the corners may have come for companionship. The small Indian men thought power and attention would fulfill them. Others came for sex, but none of these would satisfy.

I wished for a single moment, with a touch or a glance, that I could stop these men from searching, that I could provide a future for the women on the stage. Because this waiting for change felt too slow. The problem seemed too big to fix.

The truth is that I am not the savior of the story.

Neither is Wipe Every Tear, our ministry partner in the Philippines. The real hero of this story is Jesus Christ. He is the only one capable of changing hearts and minds, the only one who could give a future to someone who has none.

I can only speak to what I know, and that’s this: Jesus is the only one who changed my heart. He is the one who whispered to my soul and promised me abundant life.

It’s because of this I believe He can do the same for all who find themselves in the darkness of Angeles City. And it is He who can lift you out of the darkness you may feel today.

He gives me confidence to go to the dark places where humans are sold, His light carries me through. And I believe it’s Him alone who can light up the darkness found in Angeles City.

*indicates name changed