Shattered Childhoods

Shattered Childhoods
On a trip to the Philippines, Martina Stritesky witnesses the rescue of children trapped in the sex trade

Last July, I visited the Philippines. I wasn’t there to get a taste of the culture or sunbathe with friends on one of the many white, sandy beaches. I was there with a small group of Canadian volunteers to work on a documentary about how children—as young as four—are rescued from the global sex trade.

It was Cheryl Perera, the 21-year-old founder of OneChild, who organized the trip. We had met only a couple months prior, when I worked on a short film for the 2006 FLARE Volunteer Awards (I’m the marketing coordinator at FLARE), which showcased that year’s outstanding Canadian women volunteers. Cheryl was one of six FLARE Volunteer Award recipients last year. Her work and her organization, which she’s been devoted to since her teens, are dedicated to eliminating the commercial sexual exploitation of children abroad. Cheryl’s passion for her cause, and the stories she shared during the awards ceremony, earned her a standing ovation.

I was among those who were moved by what they had heard. And I was eager to get involved. So when Cheryl mentioned she was going to the Philippines, I volunteered to help out.

It wasn’t the first trip Cheryl had made to the East. After being involved with other child-focused volunteer agencies during high school, Cheryl started OneChild when she was 19. While other organizations aim to protect children around the world from abuse and neglect in general, none focus solely on the problem of the sex trade–based human trafficking that traps countless children around the globe. Cheryl’s OneChild is the first of its kind: youth-run, dedicated to rescuing children and aimed at raising awareness about this particular sector of the global sex trade. From the beginning, she approached her cause with courage: in 2002, with the help of the authorities in Sri Lanka, Cheryl (who was 17 at the time) posed as a child prostitute. The sting operation was instrumental in helping to capture a 40-year-old pedophile.

While our trip to the Philippines wasn’t going to call for that sort of bravery, I didn’t realize how much it would change my own view of the world forever.

For the complete story, be sure to check out the May 2007 issue of Flare – in stands now!

To contribute directly to the building of the next PREDA centre—an estimated $90,000 US remains to be raised—contact OneChild at For more information about PREDA and the work they do, visit