Do you know that it was a Frenchwoman who spawned the act for the protection and rehabilitation of sexually abused girls in the Philippines?
Cameleon Association Inc. founder Laurence Ligier has been living in the country for 24 years and tirelessly “adopt” these girls until such time they are equipped and ready to face the world.
“One child is raped every 53 minutes. We have more cases reported now because people are voicing out,” said Ligier, who first came to the Philippines for a humanitarian mission in Aklan in 1992.
Ligier did another one-month mission in 1993 and, two years after, she was invited to join the educational program for disadvantaged children in Barrio Obrero, Iloilo, and spent half a year as an association missionary of the Assumption volunteer living with a family in a slum area.
She said she was appalled, yet touched, with what she saw—women being abused and raped, and young children subjected to incest.
So when she went back to France, she redirected her studies to development and humanitarian-management courses and eventually graduating with degrees in law, sociology and international business.
Ligier added that she saw the enormous need to assist those who have survived such ordeals in Western Visayas, so she decided to leave her family and friends in France and put up the non-governmental organization in Iloilo back in 1997.
Today Cameleon has offices in France, Switzerland and Luxembourg, while establishing partnerships in Belgium, Andorra and the United States.
“I have stayed in Iloilo for 12 years straight and, for the last 10 years, I have been going home to France to raise funds from European countries. P35 million a year—that is the amount we need for the total rehabilitation and education of the children numbering 420 and for the salary of my 35 staff,” Ligier said.
The work that they do
Over the years Cameleon has enabled the protection, personal reconstruction, rehabilitation and reintegration of mistreated children, sexually abused girls and survivors of incest in the Philippines.
It also extends educational assistance, health care and professional integration, including psychological services, therapeutic and extracurricular activities, and legal monitoring for disadvantaged youths and their families.
Housed in Passi City, Iloilo, the wards of Cameleon are girls and adolescents, from 5 to 17, victims of sexual abuse from several localities in Western Visayas, which are composed of Panay islands of Guimaras and Negros.
These girls are from rural and marginalized communities and stay in the center for an average of three years.
“Abuse and rape among women and children is rampant in the rural areas, especially among big families of 10 and up. The elders of the family and even in the community—fathers and brothers, teachers and policemen—are the abusers instead of acting as the protectors of the women and their children,” Ligier said.
She added: “Physical abuse, molestation, acts of lasciviousness, including human trafficking involving large numbers of women and children in the provinces, is still very rampant. The difference now is we have the media to report them. People nowadays discuss about these cases, whereas before it was taboo, especially among the families and communities involved.”
For her work among the poor, Ligier is a recipient of several national and international recognitions, including the Legion d’Honneur, the highest French National Award, given by French President François Hollande; Knight of the National Order of Merit, given by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy; Philippines Presidential Award, given by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; and Award for Civic Spirit and Devotion, given by French President Jacques Chirac.
Ligier and Cameleon have recently found an ally in Zonta Club of Makati Ayala (ZCMA), as it joins other Zonta Clubs in 66 countries say no to violence against women (VAW).
Late last year ZCMA has forged partnerships with 23 hotels and restaurants in 37 locations in the country by concocting special orange color “No to VAW” dishes, drinks or desserts. Orange was the color of their campaign.
“The gastronomic offers were available for 16 days but most partners extended the promotion through the holiday season. While enjoying these treats, diners can take their stand to say No to VAW as proceeds will be donated to Cameleon,” said Rita Dy, ZCMA president and Cameleon member.
Meanwhile, the second Cameleon center in the country is under way. The BDO Foundation, the corporate social responsibility arm of BDO Unibank, has also forged a partnership with Cameleon for the construction of a center in Talisay, Negros Occidental.
The memorandum of agreement was signed by BDO Foundation Treasurer Lucy Co Dy, BDO Foundation Trustee Corazon S. de la Paz-Bernardo, Cameleon President Atty. Jose Cochingyan III, Dy and Ligier.
BDO and Cameleon will jointly and equally fund the construction of a one-story structure for the victims of abuse.
Situated on a 1-hectare lot, it will be the second Cameleon center for abused girls in the country where they can study, undergo therapy and receive counseling. The completion of the center forms part of Cameleon’s 20th anniversary celebration in 2017.
Image credits: Jimbo Albano