More

These 6 photos show what life is like in a Philippine refugee camp.

The Philippine native people have been forced out of their lands. Here's where they ended up.

These 6 photos show what life is like in a Philippine refugee camp.

They call it bulawan, the gold beneath their lands.

It's one of the many catalysts of a war that has displaced many people in the Philippines. Gold is one of the biggest reasons behind shadowy paramilitary killings, behind the millions who've left their homes, and behind the bullets that rain over the country's ancestral lands every day.

In 2011, Philippine President Noynoy Aquino started an operation he called Oplan Bayanihan.

It was a counterinsurgency plan to provide peace, hopefully by fighting against the New People's Army, an armed revolutionary group.


The president also hoped to offer an easier route for local and international companies that wished to log and mine in the country's ancestral lands, the same lands where the New People's Army was said to be camping.

These were also the same lands that a group of indigenous Philippines, the Lumads, had been protecting for generations.

As a result of this operation, the Lumads found themselves in the midst of a hellish war.

Women, even young ones, were accused of being wives to rebels. Men who stayed too long on their farms were accused of farming for the rebels. The Lumads even said that militaries identified their schools as NPA-supervised schools and forced them to close down. Now, they say they have little chance of being educated.

After decades of evacuation, the Lumads are getting fed up.

Usually they hide in forests, waiting for a temporary ceasefire. But now, even those forests are being watched by the military. So they're leaving their lands and walking miles to a refugee camp in Davao City, hoping to find safety.

A Davao City refugee camp. All photos by Fatima Danan.

These people, the roots and the peasants of Philippine culture, are the backbone of the nation. Now, they have nowhere to call home.

This week I visited a refugee camp in Davao City, located on the grounds of UCCP Haran, a church-owned private property. There I asked some of Lumads I met about their lives and culture.

These are their stories.

Meet Nat'uloy, a disabled man who makes kudlungs, a traditional musical instrument.

Nat'uloy has been crippled for two years, so his wife carried him to the refugee camp on her back. She also took over the farming work back home.

“We couldn't bring food because the military would suspect that we were fleeing," he remembers, “so she carried me for about two days, and both of us and our children didn't eat anything."

Now, at the refugee camp, Nat'uloy makes artifacts from his homeland to keep their culture alive. He makes kudlungs, a string instrument similar to a guitar. It's a piece of home, he says. It takes him three days to finish one.

“Yes. Sometimes we sell it. But sometimes we just play it after my neighbors do their farming at home. At dusk, we play."

Meet Merlyn, a kind woman who has adopted two children during this crisis.

“I adopted two kids from different parents," she told me. “One of them, her father died of tuberculosis and her mother found another man. The other one also lost her parents from TB."

Meet Lora, a farmer by trade.

“I work in the sugarcane field. Sometimes I plant sweet potatoes, eggplants, anything," she says of life back home. To get to the Davao City camp, she walked for five days.

Because there was no food, we ended up eating raw vegetables," she remembers. “I miss home. And working."

Meet Jenny, Malonie, and Bernadette, three little girls with big dreams.

From left to right: Jenny, Malonie, and Bernadette.

“I'm 12 years old," Jenny told me. “My father's already dead and my mom has another man."

Jenny and Bernadette were adopted because their parents fled or died during this crisis.

“It's hard to move from one relative to another. Now, I live with them," Bernadette explained. “My adoptive father works as a farmer and I help him every day."

Malonie, on the other hand, does not want to work in farming. “I'm a majorette dancer," she told me.

And meet Tungig, a young leader in his community.

Last year, Tungig brought more than 1,300 Lumads to Davao City. “I've been evacuating since I was 5 years old," he told me.

He explains that it takes seven months to harvest rice, which grows commonly in the Philippines and is the livelihood for many Lumads. By the time the Lumads return to their lands, the rice will be dead and they will need to start from square one with planting. It will take seven more months, then, for them to produce the food they need to survive.

It has been five months since the day many Lumads burned their slippers, used them as torches, and walked day and night to reach Davao City.

Since then, 12 babies have been born in the camp, and many pregnant women are worried about where they will give birth: in the refugee camp? Along the road as they walk home?

The Lumads want to go back to their ancestral lands, but that's still not in the picture. Instead, they fight with their voices as weapons, joining the massive support from locals in the city. Instead, they wait.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
True

In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

Keep Reading Show less
True

When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."