A few weeks ago in the Philippines, I had the opportunity to visit a number of organizations. One of them was Red Window, which focuses on developing economic opportunities for adolescent girls and young women who have been sexually exploited — many at a high risk of re-trafficking.
Red Window was actually founded by a former board member of Restore NYC who had also previously worked in a number of anti-trafficking initiatives such as Hagar. I was not able to meet Laura unfortunately as she’s actually in New York getting her PhD at Columbia School of Social Work (we’ve swapped locations).
I met with Amy Collins, who was the first social work intern at Restore back when it was just launching and is currently part of the staff at Red Window. After talking over dinner with me about her work at the organization, she invited me to observe a day of class with the students.
A few days later, I hopped on a jeepney and headed over to her building, just in time for a class. I actually recognized a few of the students from working with them at The Haven and at Welcome House and was glad to be able to take part in a bit more of their post-care experience.
I actually connected with Red Window because they had helped Restore quite a bit this past year in developing our own job readiness program for our clients. It was pretty exciting to see where our program first stemmed from and how it’s tailored for the two different populations in NYC and in Cebu.
The lesson I observed was conducted pretty much all in Cebuano by two locals but fortunately I understood enough to get by. The focus of the class was developing their vision statements.
I cannot express how much I LOVED this class and how it was run. The teachers were phenomenal and handled everything so wonderfully. I can’t go into the details of the lesson for the sake of respecting Red Window’s lesson plan and program that they worked so hard to create, but I’ll try to give a small glimpse into it.
After the first part of the class, which entailed an exercise that encouraged the girls to develop a sense of their strengths, interests, and aspirations, they were given a short explanation on how to create and write a vision statement. Each girl was given a card to write out her statement.
After each one presented her statement, they moved on to a self-awareness portion. When asked how they felt about their statements — what thoughts and feelings they were experiencing in relation to the statement — they began to shout out things such as “hopeful” and “inspired” and “excited.” I started to wonder how the teacher would handle the girls having completely negative reactions of discouragement towards this activity. And then the girls must have read my mind because some began to say things like “not real/possible” and “too ambitious” and “inadequate.”
I loved what the teacher did then. She wrote each one down on the board, just as they were calling them out. After the list was compiled, she acknowledged the positive feelings/thoughts and then circled the negative ones. She asked, “These statements are not as encouraging, right? These feelings can overwhelm us at times and hinder us greatly. But they’re not true statements. What true statements can we tell ourselves to counter these negative ones?” And as she went down the list, each of the girls began to shout out things targeted to each negative statement.
As she wrote them down, she had them all say it loudly.
“I will be strong!”
“You can do it!”
“I will be confident!”
I then had to butt in. I turned to them and said, “You shouldn’t say ‘I will be strong.’ There is no need to tell yourself to be strong and confidence because you already are strong and confident. Do you know what I’m saying?”
And they all began to nod and rephrase the counter statements to be assertive.
“I AM strong!”
“I AM confident!”
“I can do it!”
“I will not quit!”
The teacher asked for added phrases or quotes or verses as well. Since the girls expressed that they enjoyed Bible verses (it’s a heavily Catholic society) I shared with them Joshua 1:9 — “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid for I, the LORD, and with you wherever you go.”
Each girl chose one or two statements to write down for herself before sharing with the class. A number of them recited the verse from Joshua, which was encouraging to hear from them. The teacher made them re-say it if they didn’t say these positive statements with oomph too, haha. It was nice.
Before I left, I noticed their goals and dreams collages on the wall, which was the first lesson that Kelly had conducted with our clients at Restore and which I had conducted with the girls at The Haven also. Loved seeing it done in so many places!
Though I was at Red Window just for one day and only to observe, I absolutely loved my experience there. The program is great and the staff is great. The students there definitely display some difficulties in seeing their own potential and self-worth but at the same time, there is a lot of resilience shining through which is being encouraged even more by Red Window’s program.