Filipina ‘rock star’ to kids is human trafficking warrior
By Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:54:00 04/28/2011
MANILA, Philippines—In the company of children, Filipino human trafficking warrior Cecilia Flores-Oebanda is a rock star.
“I was shocked by how the kids welcomed us. They were running toward us, cheering for us. It was really inspiring. They showed us that we were their heroes,” Oebanda said Wednesday by phone from Stockholm, narrating how she and fellow child rights advocates met with a group of children in the Swedish capital.
“Ang sarap-sarap ng feeling (I love the feeling). It’s really inspiring, energizing. It gives me more fire to fight,” she said.
The chair of the Visayan Forum Foundation, a multi-awarded nongovernment organization that fights human trafficking, is one of two winners of the World’s Children’s Honorary Award in the 2011 World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child.
She shares the award—a recognition accorded child rights advocates from around the world—with Monira Rahman of Bangladesh, who was cited for helping victims of acid attacks.
The top prize went to Murhabazi Namegabe, who has long worked for the release of child soldiers and sex slaves in his native Democratic Republic of Congo.
The three will receive their awards from Queen Silvia of Sweden in a ceremony in Stockholm on Thursday. They will share a cash prize of $100,000.
Global vote by kids
Oebanda said 30 nominees were considered during the search and selection process.
At least 24 million children from 101 countries participate in the global voting for the annual awards.
Among its laureates are the beloved South African leader Nelson Mandela. A Jewish girl, Anne Frank, who wrote poems and stories and recorded her life experience during the Nazi regime for two years until she died in a concentration camp at age 15, was given a posthumous award.
“For me, this is the most important and precious award I have ever received because I got votes from the children for whom I’ve been fighting for for 20 years,” said Oebanda, who has received international recognition for her advocacy over the years.
She said she received some 3.2 million votes from around the world, 100,000 from the Philippines, over six months.
“Schools are their majority partners,” Oebanda said of the award organizers. “They discuss what we do in the schools, so it’s really educational.”
A chance for change
For Oebanda, her latest award serves as a fresh push to continue her battle against human trafficking, a persistent transnational problem that preys on some 300,000 Filipinos annually, including minors.
“It’s really a humbling experience. It gives me more fire and strength and courage to do more,” Oebanda said.
“Sometimes, you think you’re alone in this fight. But you see that people are getting together. That’s why it moves me to tears to see the children. You’d see that we have hope in this world, that in our generation, there is a chance for change,” she said.
In a report, Agence France-Presse said Murhabazi Namegabe of the Democratic Republic of Congo was awarded for his “long perilous struggle” to free child soldiers and sex slaves in his homeland.
“Since 1989, Murhabazi and his organization BVES (a French acronym meaning office of voluntary service for childhood and health) have freed 4,000 child soldiers and more than 4,500 girls who have been sexually assaulted by armed groups and taken care of 4,600 unaccompanied refugee children,” the organizers said in a statement.
In all, some 60,000 children have been helped to date by BVES, which today runs “35 homes and schools that offer some of the world’s most vulnerable children food, clothes, a home, healthcare, therapy, the opportunity to go to school, security and love,” the prize jury said.With a report from Agence France-Presse