Damayan receives Wellstone Award for its work on human trafficking

Damayan Executive Director Linda Oalican with the award: ‘Our work of organizing Filipino migrant domestic workers will continue.’

Damayan Executive Director Linda Oalican with the award: ‘Our work of organizing Filipino migrant domestic workers will continue.’

On April 21, 2015 Damayan Migrant Workers Association was awarded the prestigious Paul and Sheila Wellstone Award at the national conference of Freedom Network USA.

The award seeks to recognize individuals and organizations who have made a unique contribution to the anti-trafficking field in the United States or demonstrated outstanding leadership and dedication in working to combat human trafficking and slavery in the United States.

This marks the first time an organization focusing on trafficking of domestic workers and low-wage Filipino workers has received the award. Previous recipients include Martina Vandenberg, Open Society Institute Fellow and Human Rights Advocate, Florrie Burke, pioneer in the field of service provision for survivors of human trafficking, and the farmworker organization Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

“We are incredibly honored and humbled to have been selected by our colleagues in the anti-trafficking field for this award,” says Linda Oalican, Damayan’s Executive Director. “It demonstrates a recognition, on the national level, that grassroots organizing must play a central role in the work to end trafficking. It also shines a light on labor trafficking, and on the systemic problems in the domestic work industry that lead to the vulnerability of migrant women to extreme exploitation in its many forms.”

Damayan has worked on the trafficking of Filipino domestic workers since 2003, when members and organizers first began to assist workers escaping coercive work conditions and abusive employers. In 2008, Damayan initiated a campaign to win justice for a domestic worker trafficked by the former UN Ambassador to the Philippines, and in 2010, Damayan launched the Baklas (“break free” or “dismantle”) Campaign to support workers who are breaking free from modern-day slavery, and to dismantle the systemic problems that cause trafficking. In 2012, Damayan became an anchor organization for the National Domestic Workers Alliance Beyond Survival Campaign.

Damayan has worked with almost three dozen survivors of trafficking and severe labor exploitation, 25 of whom either won their T visa or are currently pursuing it. Through Damayan’s organizing work and partnerships with service providers, nine families have been reunited, including 23 children and three husbands – seven families in the past year. In total, seven women trafficked by diplomats and royal families received their T visa through Damayan’s program; and three have won wages back from diplomat employers.

“The work of organizing Filipino migrant domestic workers will continue as long as the systemic problems that plague our community and our people back home in the Philippines remain,” says Oalican, “and Damayan believes that anti-trafficking work must be seen in larger labor and migration contexts. First and foremost, the relentless drive to export the Filipino people for our labor and remittances must end, and there must be political will to create industries and jobs in the Philippines so that workers – mostly women – are not forced to leave our families and into fraudulent or exploitative jobs overseas. Here in the US, we must continue to organize and transform the domestic work industry and be in solidarity with workers who face exploitative working conditions in all industries. This is not just a struggle against trafficking, it is a much wider struggle against all forms of labor exploitation, and Damayan is committed to this larger struggle.”

In celebration of this award and its accomplishments of the past year, Damayan is holding its annual gala on May 8. To donate and support Damayan, attend or sponsor the gala, please visit the event site at tagsibol2015.eventbrite.com.

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