Members of Talikala, Inc. pose for a photo after their interview at the Institutional Communications and Promotions Office, 3rd floor Ricci Hall, Community Center of the First Companions, Ateneo de Davao University. [L-R] Executive Director Jeanette Laurel-Ampog, Co-founder Felicidad Prieto, and Board Member Carina Sajoña.

Right there in the trenches battling for women’s rights against exploitation and trafficking is Talikala, Inc., this year’s recipient of the Drs. Jess and Trining de la Paz Award given by the Ateneo de Davao University. Run by women for women, Talikala—also the Cebuano word for “chain”—is a non-stock and non-profit social development organization that offers support, advice, training, and counseling to women and girls who have been forced into the sex trade in Davao City. The organization was founded to help these exploited women establish new lives after prostitution, empowering them to break free from the figurative chains of their literal enslavement.

Talikala, Inc. was founded on August 7, 1987 by three women of diverse backgrounds: American lay missionary Cindy O’Donnell, Filipina social worker Elizabeth O’Brien, and former night club dancer Felicidad Prieto. Originally, the group was formed to help protect the prostituted women and children in Davao City from the crisis wreaked by HIV/AIDS, but it has since grown able to respond to the challenge of totally emancipating these exploited women and children from the bondage of human trafficking and prostitution. Current executive director Ms. Jeanette Laurel-Ampog, for example, is a major voice of the opposition to the decriminalization of prostitution, asserting that only the prostitute herself has to be decriminalized, and not the profession.

Thirty years on, the organization has helped numerous women through their direct services, which include counseling and therapy. These services come to the aid of on average 200 women every year. Talikala, Inc. also offers diverse programs to serve those who seek their shelter: development of peer educators, formation of self-help organizations, peer education training on reproductive health and women’s rights, sensitivity sessions on personality enhancement/gender and stress management, skills development on alternative livelihood, counseling and therapy sessions on sexually transmitted diseases, crisis intervention and paralegal work on violence against women (VAW) cases, resource mobilization for medical and legal assistance, establishment of support groups and linkages with strategic sectors that handles VAW cases, campaigns and lobbying advocacies on women’s issues, documentation of VAW cases, and finally, information/education/communication development.

While the challenges intrinsic in Talikala’s struggle remain tremendous, the group does not consider them insurmountable. Even though, as Ms. Ampog says, that she feels real frustration at seeing all kinds of women come to them bearing the same set of problems as those who have come before them. The Talikala team instead channels these feelings of frustration and disappointment into a renewed and reinvigorated push to help even more victims of prostitution and trafficking, the least of their sisters.

Talikala, Inc. counts as part of its major successes the self-help organizations of women in prostitution that began in 1993 with Lawig Bubai in Davao City, which then expanded to Tingog sa Kasanag in Cagayan de Oro City (founded 1995) and to Sidlakan in General Santos City (founded 1996). The Talikala group had helped these organizations find its footing by providing essential technical support until these groups themselves became independent and fully self-supporting.

Also, the Talikala group has organized groups of men as partners in their advocacies for women’s protection. The group Men in Valuable Partnership with Women and Children (MVP) started as a grassroots and community-based organization of men that provide perspectives about prostitution from its demand side. These men engage in activities and seminars that aim to teach other men about their own role in preventing prostitution and their own ways to treat women as equals—all so that the men in their communities can function as gender equality advocates to the rest of the men in the larger society around them.

The Drs. Jess and Trining de la Paz Award is only an appropriate acknowledgment of the thirty-year-long selfless service provided by Talikala, Inc., and the Ateneo de Davao University is filled with pride and gratitude to present this award to the organization. Indeed, this award is another significant contribution to the group’s greatest success, according to Ms. Ampog—it is to make even more victimized women in the community aware that such an organization exists, and it wants not to judge them, but to help them, because they need it.