About the importance of empowering women and giving everyone the opportunity to education worldwide.

"Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandela. I could not agree more with that quote, so let's try to make everyone able to use it.

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A book tip about the importance of empowering women

After I decided to go volunteering, this book fell in to my lap by coincidence. To my surprise, the book was regarding just those issues that had motivated me to go volunteering in the first place to empower women and give more humans the opportunity to education.


The book "Half the Sky" is written by two prominent (both Pulitzer Prize winners) journalists, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

It brings together the reality of some women's lives from all over the world with facts and numbers about the issue in a well-balanced way. After reading this book, you can easily get a more adequate understanding of these issues and the width of them - and how we together can put and end to them.

I strongly recommend you to read this book, see the documentary or to do both. Regardless if you end up not admiring the book as much as I (and the other at least half a million people who bought it the year it was published) it is an extremely well-written book that combines facts with real life stories. 

Beneath is the trailer for the documentary (that involves numerous celebrities, watch and see), which will in brief present you to the issues brought up in the book and documentary.

To see the full documentary:

The authors have this year released their second book on the topic called "A Path Appears". The sequel has also been very successful and was also followed by a documentary. Find the trailer and the full documentary here:  "A Path Appears" - The Film

The sad truth about the influence of many legislations in developing countries

In the Western world we have a tendency to solely focus on legislations. Many countries have for example signed UN's Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) for example both the Philippines and Vietnam. However, what I have learned from my experiences in the Philippines working with survivors is that the legislations might work in the capitals of less developed countries, but not in the country as a whole. 

Many times creating laws are not the problem, it is implementing them. 

That is what makes a difference, not formal words on papers if we want to rescue people from violations of human rights.The story that scarred me the most and made me realize the size of the corruption of the police and people with power was shared with me by one of the women I met in the Philippines. Since it was so excruciating I won't write about the whole story but enough so the real life of her community and society can be shared.  In short, the women I worked with had experienced every mother's and parents worst nightmare, having her very young child molested. This was done by the husband of the friend she was staying at since she had been forced to leave her home due to a similar matter. As a single mother she prosecuted the perpetrator. Even though there are clear legislations about such matters in the Philippines the perpetrator was never convicted, as a result of that his brother was in politics and "took care of it". When she saw my despair after hearing this, since it was utterly unimaginable from my perspective based on where I was raised, she just sighed and explained how she had the opposite perspective based on where she had been raised. It was not an unusual or peculiar outcome for her experiences, but a very painful. 

The legislations are clear, however they are not implemented where they are sometimes the most needed which leaves people in misery without justice. There needs to be a substantial increase in the awareness of this in order to help people with something many of us take for granted, our human rights and justice. Through that we can inspire and support more local persons and grassroots movements to actually implement the legislations where they are just seen as words on papers. 

Promote legislations are just the beginning of what we can do to help, the real think is to make sure that they are implemented to actually accomplish a difference. 

See this short documentary to understand the width of human trafficking

The latest reports estimates that there are from 20 to 30 million humans that are being trafficked today. Being from Sweden, that number is at least two times our whole population and probably more likely to be three times my native country's population. 

It is not hard to understand the difficulties of actually conducting surveys about an issue like this, which explains that there is not one definite number. Sadly, I also assume that many humans end up in grey areas by not having fulfilled the criteria’s but are still treated as merchandise.

This is a huge issue, and it easy to get lost by the size of it and feel that you can not do anything about it. What all of us need to have in mind is that through your individual effort you can perhaps change one of these human’s lives. It might seem small in comparison to the number 27 million but remember the difference that makes for that person.

Watch the following documentary produced by MTV based on real life stories and you will understand more about what I mean:

My personal experience and research regarding sex trafficking in the Philippines (Region 8)

When Imelda was about 15-years-old she got married to the man she loved. They had two children and she was perfectly happy. A couple of years later he unexpectedly left her for another women and she was left heart broken and with two small children to take care of by herself. Devastated, she suddenly needed to provide for herself and her children. She moved back to her parents home searching for a work in the Philippines; a job market where it is currently hard for university graduates to receive a work. Imelda had not even finished secondary school. Therefore she jumped to the opportunity to work as a waitress at a more remote area in one of the islands in the eastern Visayans. She let her children stay at her parent’s house while she moved there in order to earn enough money so that she could provide for herself and them.

At first she was, like all the other girls at the bar when they started, just serving drinks to the customers. Gradually, her supervisor started demanding more services from her towards the customers than just serving. Later on, she had become one of the many victims world wide of sex trafficking, as it was the actual business the bar she was told to be working for as a waitress was conducting.

Imelda was just one of the several girls who, with different backgrounds, that was allured by the belief that they would be working as waitresses to suddenly find themselves deep into the sex trafficking business. Some people might right now while reading this question themselves why the girls did not leave the work when they realized what it actually was. Sadly there are many issues that are prohibiting the girls from doing that. As they get gradually involved, their perspective of the possibility to exit simultaneously becomes more obscure. Remember that often this is, as stated in the story above, girls we are talking about. Under aged girls who have no education or even an idea about neither their legal nor human rights and due to that they believe or cannot argue against what they are told by their supervisors.

Therefore for them, there is no way out. Many of them are so ashamed of what they have done since they see it as their own fault due to the stigma in the society. When the bar Imelda worked for was shut down and the girls and women that worked there got rescued to a women’s shelter, it turned out that Imelda’s family back home had no idea of the kind of work she had been lured in to. In other words, Imelda was to embarrassed to even tell her own family about what the work as a waitress had turned out to be. That is how strong the stigma currently is in the Philippines and in many other different countries, which tells us from the Western world a lot about how little we now about the current individuals that are in the business of sex trafficking and cannot get out of it not only from physical barriers – also the psychological barrier due to the society.

This was the story that Imelda (not her real name) shared with me, as she was one of the many girls that after a rescue operation was living at the women’s shelter I worked at during my time in the Philippines. After talking to the other girl’s that had gotten rescued, as well as the head of the centre about her experiences I wanted to learn more about the regional situation regarding the sex trafficking business. Therefore I conducted an interview at the local Department of Social Welfare with the focal person for Region 8 in the Philippines, which is the eastern Visayans.

She explains how this region, consisting of among others the island Leyte and Samar, are the primary sources for trafficked individuals in the Philippines. The major reasons for this, according to her, are that the region consists of a lot of remote areas and islands. The people living there are especially vulnerable to recruiters due to poverty, lack of education (mostly just elementary) and are searching for work. Approximately the majority of the girls and women they rescue main reason for why they trusted the recruiter was because they believed in a better future. It was and it currently is that common dream the recruiters take advantage of. Moreover, the recruiter usually they have some kind of connection to the girls and women as for example mutual friends, that they are from the same place/island or that they even are family. This facilitates the recruiters work to gain the girl’s and women’s trust as they simultaneously take advantage of the girls and women’s dreams about a better future.

The most common age is 15 to 17-year-old girls and adults, as she referred them to as, between 20 and 24-years-old.

Many assume that as soon as the girls and women have been rescued, the goal is achieved and they survivors will be ecstatic and ready to continue their lives the way that they had dreamt of. That is not the truth. Once they are rescued, the girls and women are not strutting around on rose pedals. Once they have been rescued, they are faced with the stigma of their society, community and often even family. They have traumas and memories that will be a part of them for life. Furthermore, in Region 8 at least about 30% returns back to the sex trafficking business, according to the focal person I was interviewing, uncompelled. For them the dynamics of the business have changed, they no longer see themselves as victims thus instead blame their rescuer for taking away their livelihood. Others will return as a result of a drug addiction that has become to compelling for them to resist. This has been developed as they has been forced by their supervisors to take drugs so that they would work without arguing. 

Consequently, countries and societies not only need to focus on rescuing individuals from the business, they also need to try to prevent them from going back to it through various ways. That is why support and guidance is a very significant part in order to actually help the girls and women back into society, or in plain English to help them regain their lives, their dreams and their ambitions. It is not easy, but of such big of a significance, to help them individually achieve a positive vision and prospect of their future. That will determine whether they actually have been rescued from the sex trafficking business or not, since it is not only the physical rescue operation that can establish that.

What needs to be achieved in order to stop this business right now is in my opinion two major things. Firstly to track down the networks of the business to stop the on going recruitments and close the bars/brothels and so on that are conducting the business. However this is not something that can be achieved over night.

What is easy to forget is however in order to conduct this kind of business, or rather any kind of industry, there has to be one thing. A demand. Without the commercial demand for sex, there would not be anything for the recruiters to recruit for or the businesses and industries to profit from.

What we all can do, and need to, is to spread awareness and educate regarding the subject to prevent people from getting lured in to trafficking in the first place – as well as spot people who are already involved in order to help them.

We have to remember, that it is modern-day slavery we are talking about.

More about prevention, and to learn more about not only sex trafficking but human trafficking stay tuned to the website since I will write more regarding the subject.

A way to cope with trauma and emotional distress

At the shelter, all of the women have been through traumatic experiences. A trauma occurs when we are in situations that  are perceived as life threatening and we feel helpless. Such an excruciating fear can come back to haunt you for the rest of your life, but that does not mean that it cannot be treated.

One of the treatments you can do for an instantaneous change when recalling the traumas is called "The trauma tapping technique". The technique was originally evolved to heal the victims of war, among other child soldiers, but has expanded throughout the world. Even though I was sceptic at first, since it seemed a bit odd, I tried it myself and can truthfully agree with that it works. Therefore I taught it the women today, who really could take advantage of it. But this technique can be used by so many more. As stated, traumas are individual and furthermore is this an excellent way to for example cope with a panic/anxiety attack. 

When the memories comes back of the traumatic experience, our body react instantly with the brain as a starting point where our most primitive parts of the brain initiate a "fight och flight" response (as if we in the present are experiencing danger). Our heart rate and blood pressure increases, adrenaline releases, and so on. In short: Your body and mind starts a reaction in order to stress for survival. The memories of traumatic experiences often get stuck in the mind. By using trauma tapping technique, you can use the body to heal your mind. You can do it on yourself or you can let someone do it to you. Does take about 10-15 minutes - I really urge you to learn more about it and to spread awareness about it to people in need. 

When unwanted memories come back that initiate the body to respond, start doing the following tapping on the picture (1-14). After that, take 2 deep breaths, and continue once again if it has not been effective yet)


Video to demonstrate the tapping: http://peacefulheart.se/videos/trauma-tapping-technique-how-to/

Read and learn more at: http://peacefulheart.se

Confidence makes quite a good accessory

To facilitate learning and increase one's probability of actually learning something and not just memorizing it temporarily, variations is needed. That is the reason for why I try to vary my lessons at the women's shelter so they will not be to monotone. I do not want them to be empowered just during the time that I am there, but rather that it will sink in deeper and become a more substantial part of who they are. 

So therefore I combined a classic Filipino style way of making bracelets (with so called loombands) but incorporated empowerment in it. This by buying many different colours and giving each colour a meaning, which I wrote down next to them in both English and the local language here in the Eastern Visayans (Waray-waray) to ensure that everyone would understand. By having each colour representing something, the women was given the possibility to tailor their own, personalized bracelets representing their strengths. 


Among others, Pink represented "Ready and strong enough to leave the past behind and focus on the present and future" which quickly became a popular colour to use (as you see on the picture above) since many of the women have been realizing the importance of this during my time here. Blue represented independence, Purple strength, Yellow respect towards ourselves, and so on. 

They ended up doing many different bracelets and in the end many of the women was confident enough to make bracelets containing all of the colours and what they represented, feeling that all of the positive traits represented who they are. Before I left I gave each of them a note where I had written down (in both languages) what each colour represented in order for them to save in their pouches so they would not forget it. Each time they look down on their arm they will now be reminded about their individual strength. So as stated in the headline, confidence do make quite a good accessory. 

Picture of some of the first bracelets that was finished


Teaching about gaining self-confidence

Most of the women at the shelter saw self-confidence as something you were born with. That's not the case. 

Self-confidence is a skill that can be trained. It is like a muscle; in order for it to grow strong you need to practice and train it. However it involves both the mind and the body.

When it comes to the mind, you need to practice again, and again, and again ... Repetition is the first key in order to increase your confidence. Secondly it is persistence, to not accept failure. To simplify this I referred to their babies. When their babies was trying to learn how to walk and they fell, did any of them decide to give up trying? (Have you ever seen a grown-up still crawling around on all four because he or she gave up trying after falling?) No. The same mentality is to be used when it comes to one's confidence. Finally does our thoughts often wander away to question ourselves and we need to remember that our thoughts is not the same thing as who we are. I told them that when our thoughts become very negative towards ourselves, thoughts like "the whole world is against me", our emotions will respond and we will feel sad and depressed. However, if you are aware of that your thoughts are not the same thing as who you actually are, you will be able to see that the whole world is not actually against you, that it is just negative thoughts. By realizing and practicing your awareness of your thoughts and the difference between who you are and what your thoughts tell you from time to time, you will be able to strengthen your confidence.

As mentioned earlier, the body is a part of gaining confidence as well. It is scientifically proven that our bodies can change our minds. 

Powerful human leaders, as well as the alpha leaders in the animal kingdom, have in common that they have high levels of testosteron (dominance hormone) and low levels of cortisol (stress hormone), which is correlated with that they also have an expansive body language.

Therefore I taught the women about power posing which is about opening up and expanding your body language in order to make ourselves feel more powerful. Because by using our body language in an expanding way, we can increase the levels of testosterone and lower the levels of cortisol, just by doing it for 2 minutes. 

They had a hard time believing me at first, but after we practiced 2 minutes in silence a power pose, by standing with the hands on the hips, chest out, chin up and some space between the feet (like Superwomen) they realized the impact of it. I gave them pictures of different postures they could use sitting down as well in order to increase their confidence when needed.

Self-confidence is something that they are all lacking due to their difficulties in the past, which is why I really emphasize it during my lessons and often come back to it. They have told me about the nervousness, anxiety, stress and feelings of low confidence they experience during the processes of going through their cases, for example when they go to court to witness against their perpetrators. So I told them to use this new knowledge before those stressful situations by going somewhere where they can practice the poses for 2 minutes without being disturbed, as for example to the bathroom. 

You need to practice and train the mind and the body in order to get a strong self-confidence. However, you can help your mind create it temporarily by doing a power pose with your body. It might sound silly, but as the women at the shelter realized - it does work.

Not allowed to post any pictures of the women at the shelter to ensure their safety, since they are hiding from their perpetrators and others that want to hurt them.

See Amy Cuddy's TED talks "Your body language shapes who you are" to learn more about power posing and how you can use it in your lives.
URL: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_langu..

The rural school I am working at and why

The school i am working at is situated in Cangumbang that is and in Palo, another city south of Tacloban. This area also got badly hur by the typhoon and they have only had the capacity to restore the main building of the school. In the pictures you can see the classroom where I teach which is outside on the ground but with a roof. 

Due to a lack of teachers, the 4th and 5th graders are taught together. When I asked why I learned that it is because they do not have enough pupils from the governments perspective to receive another teacher. However, if they don't teach up to level 5 it is most likely that those children will stop attending school and drop out. This is because other schools are to far away, so most of the families would not be able to afford it both from a monetary and time consuming perspective. That is why I really wanted to contribute at that school, in order to help all children have the possibility to education. Where you were born or the circumstances how you live should not effect that opportunity. 

Beneath are pictures of the classroom where I am teaching and some of the children. Today one of the pupils showed me his drawing he had made before school, "From Ronnel to Ma'am Caroline" which was really touching. 




Preventing damage from future typhoons

In November 2013 typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda called locally) affecting 11 million people according to UN officials. Tacloban, were I am staying is on the island Leyte in the east part of the Philippines. Tacloban was badly hit by the typhoon, due to the strong winds followed by a 15 feet surge that took 6,000 lives. 

Therefore I went south of Tacloban down the coast to help out at a government project to restore after the typhoon. The aim of the project is to plant trees along the shores (especially the Yolanda devastated areas) that can protect the inlands. We were planting the Talisay trees, since they are known to be very strong. You can't to anything about the past, we can only prevent in the present so hopefully these trees will fulfill their purpose in the future. 



The story of a women at the shelter

One of the women at the shelter is above thirty, shy and quiet at the same time as she expresses so much gratitude to her surroundings. She has been living at the shelter since 7 months, away from her home, her husband who she loves deeply and her two children. This might not make much sense to the common ear, until the unveiling of what had happened to her 8 months ago. I will not disclose her name but from now on refer to her as "Nicole". 

To help support her family and provide for her two children, Nicole had moved to a bigger city in the Philippines where she worked as a maid. One day when she was taking a taxi, which she took often to get around, the driver did not drive her to her asked destination. Instead he abducted and raped her. Followingly, she became pregnant. 

Even though her husband loves her he became angry at her since she, Nicole, was carrying somebody else's child. So he decided that he did not want to be with her until the child that was not his was out of the picture, and abortion was not an option since it is illegal in the Philippines.Therefore, Nicole is now staying at the shelter and is going to be here until she gives birth and will give the baby away for adoption. 

She has told me several times how much she misses her family and that her only wish for the future is that her life will become how it was before. "I want to be with my family. It will make me happy."  However, simultaneously she once described to me how she "hope when I give birth that our condition will be all right, that nothing wrong will happen to us" (referring to the baby and her). 

Nicole is a victim of rape and burdensome memories for life. But by her husband and her local community, she is regarded and treated as if she has done something wrong by being raped and subsequently becoming pregnant with somebody else than her husband. Rape in the less empowered societies is very stigmatizing, which is ubiquitous in much of the developing world. In many of the more conservative societies, like in the Philippines, chastity is often regarded as a virtue. As a result the victims of rape can be burden by feelings of shame and by the environments attitude that often blame's the victim for causing the act. Especially the more rural areas, were Nicole is from, do not have the same openness and understanding towards the victims perspective. Furthermore is abortion illegal, which don't leave many options to the women than to have their perpetrator's child regardless if they wish to or not. 

That leaves Nicole, just one of many women, in the situation she is in today. Wishing for it to go back to like it was before the incident. Through education and through spreading awareness about these issues women can become more empowered by getting a proper perspective of how they should be treated by their communities and the options they are entitled to, despite what their society says is the right and wrong. After that of course it is up to every women to make her own decisions in life, but than she is the one who makes them and no one else. I wish that Nicole would not feel the shame and loneliness she is experiencing now, but I can now only be a support for her and teach her about her rights for the future. What we can do is try to prevent others from ending up in her shoes as well. 

Go to "How you can contribute" to see how you can help.