All posts by Ara Reyes

A Sister Not Forgotten

“Do you accept siblings?” Mikaela only had one question as her hopeful eyes looked up at me at the end of our referral interview. At 15 years old, Mikaela was referred to Safe through the Philippine department of social welfare. As we talked and I began to get a grasp on her story, it became clear that Mikaela was very concerned about her 11 year old sister, Maggie.  When Mikaela was 13, teachers saw signs of abuse and an investigation showed that Mikaela had been a victim of sexual violence and neglect for 8 years. They removed her from the home and placed her in an orphanage but left eight year old Maggie in the home where the abuse had occurred. For two years they were separated; Mikaela cried every night, tormented that she had ‘abandoned’ her sister.


During that time, Mikaela was molested again by an orphanage staff member. A social worker with a heart for sexually abused girls knew Mikaela needed to be protected and referred her to Safe Refuge. Through all of this, Maggie remained Mikaela’s number one priority. She didn’t want her younger sister to experience the pain, fear and abuse that had stolen her own childhood. Mikaela wanted to be in a place where she could go through the healing process and feel secure but she knew that could never happen if she was unable to protect her sister when her life was at great risk.


When I asked, “Would you like your sister to be with you? Would you feel at peace if she stays with you?” tears filled her eyes as she slowly nodded. She let out a deep breath and it was as if she was releasing a load that had been much too heavy for her young shoulders. The sad and disturbing truth is that her worries and fears are all valid.  I can’t count the number of times we’ve heard stories from those who have been victims of molestation, sexual abuse and exploitation with siblings who also become easy prey for the abuser. This is especially true in cases like Mikaela’s where the abusers were family members. More often than not, statistics show that these siblings are likely to end up working in the bars prostituting themselves or being pimped out by their abusers. The vast majority of girls we’ve talked to who currently or used to work in bars were first abused in their homes.


Our social worker and the referring party worked together tirelessly to get custody of Maggie and a few days after Mikaela came to live with us she was reunited with her sister. They’re now living together at Safe as they begin the journey of healing and rebuilding. For the first time in their lives these precious little girls are being protected and watched over, for the first time in their lives they get to be children.



A Little Girl’s Doll..


She used to have a doll; her name was  “Yellowbell.” 

 Growing up in an orphanage with no father, no mother, no brother, no sister. She belonged to no one and no one belonged to her,              except her yellow doll. 

 Her doll witnessed all her tears and loneliness, loss and sorrows. Yellowbell heard of her desires to feel belonging and to be a part of a family where love and acceptance are free.

 Her hopes were dashed, time and again. Once she even went home with a family but the father was brutally murdered in front of her.  

Even her only companion, Yellowbell, was taken away from her.

 Because of the constant abuse and deprivation this little girl suffered she wished to stop being a little girl and to become a full grown adult quickly where she could gain control and power over pain and hurt.

Some fragment of her mind decided to start thinking like an adult, to speak like an adult, to act like an adult.

She feels protected from people when she pretends.

She denies any raw feelings to cover up her vulnerability She puts on a happy face all the time but it’s not real, it keeps failing her.

 She still is a little child after all.

Scared. Confused. Questioning. Little child.

Deprived but wanted to be understood.

Abandoned still she wanted to be loved.

Robbed of her childhood but wanting to be a child.

A broken little girl.

 Her part of journey to healing at Safe Refuge is through                      play therapy.

She loves playing with her teddy bear she calls “Pinkbell”. 

She protects her like a mother would, feeds her as a sister would and talks to her like a friend would. She gives her baths and puts her to sleep. She reads her stories and prays with her. She makes sure that her Pinkbell will not starve and won’t feel alone and will be safe in her care.

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Written By Ara Reyes

Staring at her bible for a while, I wondered if she was only trying to avoid my eyes so she wouldn’t have to share her bible reading from the book of Psalm. Little did I know, it was the opposite of what I thought. In reality she was so ready and just waiting for her turn to speak about her personal devotion that day.  We made eye contact and her beautiful face was lit up in a big smile, excitedly she said, “Dito sa Awit 40 verse 17… (Here in Psalm 40 verse 17…)” then she went on..

“As for me, since I am poor and needy, let the Lord keep me in his thoughts.

You are my helper and my savior. O my God, do not delay!”

She explained, in her simple words but sincere thoughts, that she was a person who was in desperate need before she came to Safe. Poor on a lot of levels, and God did something in the midst of that. She expressed how she felt when she suddenly realized that God thought about her so much in those times – her and her baby in her womb – that It was His hands who brought her into Safe Refuge Family. Teary-eyed she said, “… and even until now God is helping and providing for me and my son here at Safe. I believe now that He will not forsake us.

Dela’s life story is a classic example of a child who went through serious trauma at a very early age but never had a chance to process it. Intense fear, emotional pain, and abuse of every kind, shaped her beliefs as she was growing up and turned her into an adult who would rather be isolated, alone, and reserved on anything that has to do with relationships or family.                   She grew up teaching herself to be tough and a fighter in life. She built walls and created a hard shell around her heart. Stubbornness became her key to survival. She would hardly listen when you give her advice or instruction and would insist on whatever it was she knew to be “true”. Even hitting rock bottom barely budged her in receptivity or understanding; it just made her more bitter since “Rock Bottom” was a place she knew all too well.

She believed there was a God. She would even pray when she thought she had to lift up something for a blessing or a need but she thought that this God is so distant and indifferent. He would punish her if she did something wrong and would reward her if she did things right. But this God doesn’t really care about her as a person, as a woman or — as a child. Why would this God help her? Especially because she has done stupid things, He’s mad. He’s not going to help her. She will be on her own. She is on her own.

Her years of living and working in a factory in slave labor were the better years of her life.

Before that, her mother and sister were brutally murdered and she lived a lifetime of extreme poverty and neglect. At least in the factory she had a place to sleep, food to eat, and a pseudo sense of security.

It was totally unfamiliar and a foreign experience for her to have someone reach out and ask her how she was feeling, or how her day was going, or did she need anything?  She saw that as “non essential” and she believed that she didn’t deserve such attention. So her initial response to such care and love was always rejection and a stubborn attitude towards anyone who would lend a hand or try to help her. Little by little she has adjusted to life within a family who look out for, and take care of, one another. She sees that she isn’t the only one who went through incredibly tough life experiences. Hearing the stories of other girls and women has helped a lot for her to see, even a little bit, that something or Someone must really be with us in our suffering and pain. That she is not on her own – she doesn’t have to be. She has a family – that is us, Safe Refuge Family and God is her big loving Father in Heaven who placed all of us together for each other.


Ara has served on staff with Safe Refuge since 2007. As a daughter of manila, a wife, mother, and passionate lover of Jesus; she pours out her life everyday. When Ara was a young girl she dreamed of being a journalist. Today Ara uses her gifts as a communicator, to love those who have never been loved, to see the broken healed and whole, and see the enslaved set free.