Lesley’s parents separated when she was two years old and she was left living with her mother in a slum area. Neither her jobless mother nor her father, a drug and alcohol abuser, could take care of her needs, so her grandparents took her to a nearby island to escape a life filled with extreme poverty.
Her grandparents worked as coconut and corn farmers, but resources were still scarce. By the time Lesley reached high school at the age of 13, she was thinking of dropping out of school given their dire economic situation. Fortunately, the school principal offered Lesley a chance to work in her home while also going to school. Her new employer paid for school projects and exams and gave her $7 a month for her work around the house, which included cooking, cleaning, and washing clothes. Every day Lesley woke up at 4:00 a.m. and slept at 11:00 p.m. in order to have time to do the housework and attend school. She was sick often.
The first three years of this arrangement went smoothly. The principal was not abiding by the child labor laws of the Philippines, but Lesley was willing to do whatever she could to finish her high school education. From time to time the principal’s husband, a seaman, came home between job assignments. Toward the end of Lesley’s third year of high school, he gave Lesley extra money as a gift. She was not aware he was grooming her.
One night while everyone else was asleep, the husband entered her room and forced himself on Lesley. He proceeded to do this two more times, telling Lesley that if she told anyone she would not be able to finish school. Tormented, Lesley kept the secret to herself.
Just as her last year of high school was about to begin, Lesley could not bear her secret anymore. She left the home and told a teacher what had happened. The teacher invited her to stay in her home so she could finish high school, but it wasn’t long before the principal discovered what had happened and threatened her life. Desperate, Lesley told her grandparents and her grandfather convinced her to file a case.
Lesley knew she would not have a peaceful life on the island since many people in the small community had become aware of the situation, so she decided to board a ferry to Cebu where she had family. With $4.50 in her pocket, she paid $3.70 for the ferry ticket. Her teacher reported the case to PLAN International Philippines and ran to the ferry before it left to inform Lesley. She disembarked and stayed with PLAN for one week while the social worker arranged her transfer to a secure government shelter.
While in the government shelter, Lesley was able to complete high school and she was granted a local government scholarship to study BS in Hospitality Management. She graduated in March 2015. Shortly after graduation, she got a full-time job as an office administrator for a nationally acclaimed company. In 2017, the company promoted her to work in the main corporate office.
In addition to safe housing, Lesley appreciates the spiritual support SGI provided her. She says, “Through SGI I experienced the power of God. Before I didn’t give Him all my trust, but now I offer Him all my life and my everything. I realize that we are only given one life. We will treasure it to praise Him always.”
The stories are real, but the names of the residents have been changed to protect their identities.