A Small Town in Austria

When the mayor of this seemingly clean and well-ordered town invited me during my lecture tour to a meeting with his town council in 2014, he said the town had problems and asked if I could help.

At first he discussed Fair Trade and how his town could do more to support the sale of Preda Fair Trade products and help ease the global exploitation of poor farmers and indigenous people he had read about on the Preda Fair Trade website.

He would like to get the town certified as a “Fair Trade” town by the International Fair Trade Committee that makes the awards. “Well, Mayor,” I said, “that will depend on the amount of Fair Trade products that are sold here at the World Shop based on the population of the town over a given period.”

He smiled and nodded. “I know that your organization Preda Foundation is also working against unfair trade, I read in your web site, campaigning against the trade in human beings, saving the victims in a therapeutic home. Can we be a part of that too?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, “the sales of Preda products help save and heal the trafficked and abused children sold into sex slavery.”

He then asked how we work to get mayors like him to help.

I explained that the government and a large part of the Philippine population are in denial and need to be freed from unknowing, indifference and apathy. They need to be freed from the secret silence that surrounds the hateful and sordid crime against innocent and vulnerable children.

He nodded in knowingly way. “I thought so, we need the same freedom,” he said. “That’s why I want you to bring your Akbay-Preda theatre group here to our town and others here in Austria. We have the same problem and we need to open a public discussion.”

He went on, “Do you know that 20 percent of girls in Germany and Austria are victims of sexual abuse?”

“Here there is a deeper silence about it, behind closed doors, secrecy, and fear and shame rule. Hardly any child abuse case comes to court. And we have a big brothel only a few kilometers away,” he said.

I remembered that the global statistics for sexually abused children was one in every four, and as many as 60,000 underage children are trafficked into the sex trade every year in the Philippines.

The Mayor went on, “If I had a therapy house, I could fill it within a week [with sexually abused children].”

“How is it mayor that you know all of this?” I asked.

“Before I was elected mayor, I was the chief of police. I saw the reports of victims but hardly ever a witness dared speak out,” he said.

“A long tradition holds that “what happens in a family stays in the family”. We have to change that so crimes of child abuse are brought out into the open and justice be done,” he said.

One year later I was in his town with the Akbay-Preda youth theater group composed of three young women and four men ready to present their hard hitting powerfully truthful and emotionally shocking musical drama “Once We Had a Dream.”

The songs, choreography, and fast-moving story tells a story of children’s dreams, a man-made environmental disaster that destroyed a village by the collapse of a mining dam. The project was financed by foreign investment in collusion with corrupt politicians. The collapse of the badly built dam leads to the impoverishment of the people. The people rise up and demonstrate and demand reparation but the manager and his goons shoot the leader.

His son, Alex, an engineer at the mine, had warned the management the dam was dangerous but was ignored by Mr. Henkel, the mining boss. His girlfriend, Elsa, explains that it is okay, it was built by her brother, a politician.

The foreign mining manager Henkel with his Filipino girlfriend recruits the young girls for jobs abroad, which turn out to be forced prostitution in his sex bar. A street boy Dodong is wrongly jailed and Henkel buys him out and takes him abroad too and he is detained and abused, as are the girls.

In the detention cell of the sex bar, Sabel has her nightmare of being raped by her father who also beats her mother. Although artistically done it is nevertheless a strong dose of reality that we seldom see in live theater. When the girls are hauled off to be sexually abused by customers and strongly resist, they are overpowered and this is also moving and shocking for many in the audience.

The boy Dodong tells his story of abuse and cybersex exploitation. But help is on the way as Alex arrives from the Philippines looking for Elsa, his girlfriend, and contacts the police.

The three children try to escape and in the ensuing struggle with the sex mafia boss, Dodong is shot. The police arrive too late to save him. The police arrest Henkel. With the heart-moving and wrenching song and choreography, Dodong is mourned and carried shoulder high from the stage. Many in the audience cried.

The musical drama then closes with the hopeful song, “If I Were an Eagle” and lifts the audience. The cast ends on a strong cry of defiance and presents a challenge to the audience to join the fight to end human trafficking and child abuse.

A powerfully performed drama is performed in near perfect German to the astonishment and admiration of the audience who gave them a standing ovation and several curtain calls.

The mayor was deeply moved. “This,” he said, “has opened our hearts and minds. We cannot ever forget this. It shows the suffering and pain. It will change our town.”

Yes the truth will set them free from that silence that gives consent to abuse.

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