Vienna Moilliet, left and social worker Cheryl Domingo celebrate the purchase of three hectares of land which will become the new home of Refuge of Hope International. (Facebook/Refuge of Hope International)

Vienna Moilliet, left and social worker Cheryl Domingo celebrate the purchase of three hectares of land which will become the new home of Refuge of Hope International. (Facebook/Refuge of Hope International)

Vavenby woman opens refuge ministry in Philippines

Vienna Moilliet co-operates Refuge of Hope International in Tabuk

She expected to have a career delivering babies, but Vienna Moilliet has found herself caring for youth instead.

The Vavenby woman is involved in running Refuge of Hope International (RHI) in the rural community of Tabuk City in the Philippines. Since opening in June 2020, 13 girls – many of whom have been sexually abused by family members – have come through their doors.

“We started off not really sure what the big need was going to be,” said Moilliet, 29, noting most of the girls referred to them were under the age of 18. “We realized there wasn’t any place for women who had been sexually abused within their family.”

The idea for a refugee centre in Tabuk arose while Moilliet was completing a midwife program through an American-based school that provides academic studies and clinical training at a birthing facility in the Philippines in 2014. After spending two years at the northern rural facility, she and a school friend decided someone should open a shelter to help women and girls feel safe.

Sex trafficking and sexual abuse are a big problem in the Philippines, said Moilliet. There are many shelters throughout Manila to support women and girls affected, and the justice system takes cases very seriously, as a perpetrator can be sentenced to 25 years in jail if they are convicted of rape. But in the small rural city of Tabuk, there aren’t many shelters, if any at all, that support girls who have been sexually abused by their family members.

The two women visited a few shelters in Manila before returning home in 2017. Moilliet took her board exam later that year and decided she wanted to return to Tabuk City to open a shelter. She fundraised that summer and, in September 2018, travelled to Manila to train at a shelter called Safe Refuge International.

“I was just training, learning, doing whatever they needed me to do,” she said.

When she returned to Tabuk City, Moilliet met a social worker named Cheryl Domingo, who also had aspirations of creating a ministry for abused women and girls. After chatting further, they teamed up to create Refuge of Hope International.

They were offered space next to a church that was not being used and just had to pay for the renovations. With the funds Moilliet had saved, they were able to renovate the space, adding an additional bathroom and living quarters for about 15 people.

When RHI opened, they found they were filling a need — social workers were able to send girls to a safe place where they can be protected from their family members until either their case goes to court or they find other safe accommodations.

Moilliet figures, however, that a majority of the girls currently in their care will be with them for a while, some until graduation, because there are no other safe options. As a result, Moilliet and her team fundraised enough money to purchase three hectares of land where they can build new accommodations that can house up to 25 girls and provide them a safe place away from Tabuk and other city centres.

The land, she said, will also give the group a way to be more self-sufficient by growing their own produce, as well as providing additional learning experiences, such as gardening and taking care of animals.

“We’ve been taking them up there lots to experience it,” said Moilliet. “We’ve talked about getting horses and doing equine therapy, which would be very rare there.”

Running the shelter and parenting 11 girls can be stressful, especially considering the trauma the girls have experienced. But Moilliet said what keeps her going is “seeing those everyday victories.”

The refuge had three sisters referred to them and when they arrived, they were mean and swearing at each other, said Moilliet. But now, they communicate more effectively and treat each other like siblings.

“I realized that the best thing that seems to be the most effective for the girls is just teaching them how to live in a normal family environment,” she said. “Because we’re living with them and we’re living in this family environment, as things come up you can address them right away, you can talk about them right away versus waiting a whole week for a (therapy) session.

“The therapy and counselling and care are ongoing and it happens so naturally.”

The next step, she said, is to build. She came home for a few months to spend Christmas with her family, but also to fundraise, raise awareness and to thank those who have already donated, such as the Vavenby Christian Church and other churches in the area.

The shelter is also completely run on donations, except for small grants they receive from the government for each child. Costs can vary month-to-month but on average, she said they need about $3,500 each month to cover living expenses for each girl, as well as the salaries for shelter workers, including herself. They aren’t paying rent for the space they’re currently occupying, which helps lower costs.

Those who would like to support Refuge for Hope International or would like to learn more can visit www.refugeforhopeinternational.com or visit their Facebook page.



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