Cameleon’s Laurence Ligier and Shaline Gamala.
Jesse Bustos
Help for another ongoing disaster
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - January 21, 2020 - 12:00am

Six hundred thirty-four volcanic earthquakes have rocked Taal and its neighboring towns since Taal Volcano erupted last Jan. 12, after keeping calm since 1977. Some 150,000 people and hordes of animals continue to be displaced by the eruption, many living in evacuation centers, uncertain of what tomorrow will bring. A total of P3 billion in damages have been reported in the agricultural and fisheries sector.

Eruptions like those of Taal Volcano are acts of nature, which we cannot prevent. We can only mitigate their effects on lives and livelihood.

But there are disasters that are preventable. Disasters like the sexual abuse of little girls, some of them babies! The fallout from such disasters cannot be washed away by power hoses, but perhaps, in time, those covered by the searing ash fall spewn by sexual abuse can cleanse themselves of the trauma, heal, and live as normal a life as they can.

French-born Laurence Ligier, who has lived close to 25 years in the Philippines tending to victims of incest and sexual abuse in the Visayas, bears ugly scars on her left arm, sustained from a knife attack in the dead of night in a riverside hut in Passi, Iloilo several years ago. For her courage and dedication to her work with sexually abused children in the Philippines, Laurence was awarded the Legion of Honor by French President Francois Hollande in October 2014.

She survived the knife attack, believes Laurence, because she trained in martial arts and because she refused to die. So many little girls depended on her.

The attempt on Laurence’s life came after a death threat from one of the suspects in a child sexual abuse case. Laurence was undaunted and appeared in court nevertheless to testify against him.

Cameleon recently inaugurated its third Cameleon Center in Silay City, Negros Occidental. (From left) BDO Foundation VP Rosemarie Espinosa, Cameleon president lawyer Jose Cochingyan and founder Laurence Ligier, Cooperation Humanitaire Luxembourg president François Prum, Silay City, Negros Occ. Mayor Mark Andrew Golez, BDO Foundation president Mario Deriquito, Zonta’s Rita Dy, Mita Rufino and Elsie Gonzaga, Cameleon executive director Heide Foulc and Zonta’s Yvette Carreon and Ana Cawaling.

Laurence is the founder of Cameleon Association, an NGO dedicated to rehabilitating young girls in Western Visayas who are “survivors” of sexual abuse. Laurence and the other members of the organization prefer to call them “survivors” rather than “victims.”

Cameleon has been in the Philippines for 23 years now, but the problem persists. It’s an ongoing disaster.

“In the conservative culture of the Philippines, crimes such as rape and incest are considered sensitive and taboo. Due to this stigma, victims, who are often women or young girls, are forced to keep their silence and not report the crime. Unfortunately, rape victims, not the perpetrator, are often at the receiving end of the public’s judgment. This breeds the feeling of shame in the victim and further encourages the culture of silence,” says Laurence.

Founded in 1997 by Ligier, Cameleon has been providing shelter, rehabilitation and healing to young girl survivors of sexual abuse in its two centers in Passi City, Iloilo for 23 years now. The girls, aged five to 22, receive holistic support from the association basic necessities, psycho-social intervention, educational assistance, legal aid, and recreational activities to help them recover from their trauma. When they are ready, they are reintegrated to their families if deemed safe and to their communities.

“The children have made me stay in the Philippines all these years, knife attack and all,” explains Laurence, who speaks Ilonggo as fluently as she speaks French and English. “If I have done something good for those who are in life’s worst situations, if I have done something good for children who think they are already dead or crazy, I have the energy to go on and on.”

The association also runs two programs in support of its mission: the Advocacy Program and the Community Development Program. The Advocacy Program organizes awareness campaigns to educate parents, teachers, stakeholders, young children and the general public about child sexual abuse. On the other hand, the Community Development Program provides educational, health and livelihood support to 300 economically disadvantaged children and their families.

Laurence reveals that for every 100 sexually abused girls, about 20 were raped by their father. She cites the grim case of two sisters who delivered their father’s child almost at the same time. Our stomachs churn when she matter-of-factly describes how fathers accused of raping their daughters behave in court. “They act like it is their right and that they own their daughters. In all my years with Cameleon, only one father has pleaded guilty.”

***

Kindness is contagious. In October last year, Cameleon inaugurated its newest home center in Bonbon Village, Brgy. E. Lopez, Silay City, Negros Occidental. Cameleon Negros Center sits on 8,000 square meters of land donated by the local government of Silay City. Being the first of its kind to provide specialized care in the province, the center will serve as a haven for young girl survivors of sexual abuse in Negros Occidental. 

The project was made possible through the efforts and dedication of its local and international partners, like Zonta Club Philippines. Mita Rufino (Zonta Area 5 director) introduced Cameleon to Mayor Mark Golez of Silay City, Negros Occidental and the association was able to secure the land as the site for its new center. Rita Dy (immediate past president of Zonta Club Makati-Ayala) was key in helping the association connect with BDO Foundation, which contributed 50 percent of the total cost of building the home for the girls. The foreign aid counterpart came from the government of Luxembourg, Cooperation Humanitaire Luxembourg, NIF Foundation and other generous donors. 

Cameleon Association also won a grant from Zonta International’s Centennial 2019 for the purchase of information technology equipment such as computers, and for the training of 40 girl survivors of sexual abuse in the Negros Center.

The eruption of a volcano has far-reaching debilitating implications. But there are also eruptions of kindness that are just as far reaching and life changing as a furious volcano. Kindness heals, kindness changes destinies. 

Laurence is proud to say that of the estimated 1,000 sexually abused girls Cameleon has raised and nurtured, less than five have turned to prostitution. Hundreds are now in college, one is pursuing her master’s in English, one is a dentist, one is a midwife and two are professional circus trainers. The other success stories are the happily married housewives.

Eruptions of kindness should never cease.

(For more information about Cameleon, e-mail laurenceligier@hotmail.com and donorsrelation.cameleon@gmail.com.)

CAMELEON’S LAURENCE LIGIER
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