Jorge de Guzman, a native of the Philippines who came to Canada in 1976 to avoid persecution during the Marcos regime, has been named one of 10 finalists in "Canada's Champions of Change," a contest being held by CBC.
Just recently laid off from his job as a graphic arts professional at a Sarnia printer, de Guzman, who also teaches martial arts at the local YMCA, told LambtonShield.com how he's tried to make a difference in the lives of young women in his former home, girls who might otherwise end up in child prostitution.
Indeed, the Philippines, de Guzman said, is second only to Thailand as the place in the world where child prostitution is most rampant.
De Guzman worked as a writer during his early career and completed his compulsory service in the military. But fleeing the country was likely the only thing that kept him alive. "My editor was a famous political analyst and those people had short lives in the Philippines," he quipped.
It wasn't until three months later that de Guzman's wife Fe was able to come to Canada, and three years later that their daughters, now grown with children of their own, followed.
But it was in 1999 that de Guzman's life in Canada really changed. "I was asked by my martial arts 'sensei' to come with him to Thailand, to see what he did on his vacations. 'I want to show you something,' he said to me."
What the "sensei" showed de Guzman was life changing.
"The first day I visited a girl in a hospital," said de Guzman. "She was dying but it was why she was there that was heart-breaking. She had been 'hired and paid for' for a week by two foreigners; on the second day, they inserted a vibrator in her, so deep that it exploded. Then they left her on the street."
The girl died the second day de Guzman was in Thailand, creating a shock he says is still vivid in his mind, even 11 years later.
"I smelled her, I saw her, I met her, and I saw her die," de Guzman recalls. "I think anybody given a chance to experience that could remain quiet or unvocal."
For his part, de Guzman went into action, just three months after his first trip taking six of his own martial arts (he teaches Aikido and Kung Fu as well as Kobu Jutsu) on a three-week trip to the area of the Philippines where he grew up and lived.
De Guzman has made a total of nine trips to the Philippines, often making side trips to Thailand, Cambodia, Burma and Laos.
He says his students, many of whom have become members of the Canadian Border Services Agency and the OPP, have been impacted by the experiences, but none so much as himself.
"The rescue part is the easy part," says de Guzman, now a modest 61-year-old who's looking for work. "You can just buy a girl and deliver her to one of the temples. But that's not real rescue. They could just go back. I want to see that girl become a productive part of society, and there's no provision for that in the countries I go to."
De Guzman would like to see that change, perhaps with the creation of a kind of sanctuary that he would like to see in his hometown of Candelaria, located about 100 kilometres southwest of Manila, the country's capital.
A self-described Christian, de Guzman says he rarely mixes his faith with the kind of work he does while on rescue trips, at least not overtly.
"The abused children would be the first to ask you: 'where is your God when I was being raped by my father and four of his friends?'"
Still de Guzman says he and his students can do something, perhaps even by giving the young girls they find a way out. "I see it as my mission, helping one child at a time, one day at a time."
Voting for the "Champions of Change" contest is still underway at the CBC Website.
By J.D. BOOTH