Pastor Josephine Perez Erece was chosen as a Modern Hero awardee last 2011.
Pastor Erece is a missionary and pastor of the Rivers of the Living Water Church.
She had enough of seeing teenagers as young as 13 working in videoke clubs in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat, so she brought them home. It was not an easy decision to make, but Pastor Erece says her heart breaks whenever she sees them. “So I prayed about it, and it was like God said: This is what you’re going to do.”, she said. Despite of the harassment from military officers whom she says owns the bars, she still did what she thinks is best for them. She says she was surprised when soldiers suddenly occupied the house next to hers, as if keeping an eye on her. Although there were threats of harassment, her mission to keep young girls from prostitution continues.
Many of the girls lived in the clubs or in dorms that were “worse than pig pens” since they lost their homes and parents to the conflict in Mindanao. “These are not like the prostitutes there in Manila who probably live better,” she said.
Finding them other ways to support themselves was an entirely different challenge. According to the latest government data, around 35 percent of people in the province live in poverty, which drives girls into prostitution. “I talked to them, and they said they did it because they needed the money,” she says. Without options, Erece knew the girls would go back to prostitution soon enough. “I saw that they wanted to change, but had no way to do it,” she tells Yahoo! Southeast Asia. So she set up the I Care-Mission for Asia foundation and linked up with a U.S.-based charity. She has led the girls through therapy for their trauma and plans to have them learn to style hair or other skills that will help them find work.
In the meantime, she has made sure they have PhilHealth coverage, food, and shelter. Some of the girls tested positive for sexually-transmitted infections, and she has made sure they get treatment for that too.
“It would really help if they could get vocational training from TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority),” Erece says, although some of the girls she has rescued are already doing better even without skills training.
One has found a job tending an Internet café, two work at a bakery, and another helps a local tailor. They may not be glamorous jobs but they keep the girls away from sexually-transmitted infections as well as from abuse.
“I try to find jobs for them. I won’t let them move out if they don’t have jobs yet,” Erece says, knowing they might go back to the videoke clubs. Erece takes care of 10 girls, but the girls living in her house now are a second batch. “Once the girls have jobs and can support themselves, I look for others to save,” she says.
Even those that refuse to come with her get help and counseling too. Erece often invites them out to lunch to talk about why they do what they do, and to tell them that there are other ways to make money. “Many of them have lost hope, and we need to give them that hope,” she says.
Pastor Jo Bing Perez Erece of the Rivers of the Living Water ministries and tribal mission , Isulan Sultan Kudarat , was appointed as Director of Unlikely Heroes Philippines by the founder of Unlikely Heroes Erica Greve.
Recently, Pastora Erece met with Bishop Dan Cagape, President of Asian Harvest, College and Seminary to finalize the free schoolarship for the rescued girls.
Pastora Erece concluded that she will meet with the religious leaders in Davao City to discuss on the setting up of Davao City Unlikely Heroes and have her courtesy visit to the Davao City Mayor Sebastian “Baste” Z. Duterte.