Monday, December 13, 2010

Foreign victims of domestic violence band together

Foreign victims of domestic violence band together
By Karryn Cartelle

Mardonia Nishimoto longed to live in Japan since she was a child. After meeting a number of wealthy, kind Japanese people in the Philippines, she had come to think of the foreign land as one of limitless opportunity. So in 1982, when a friend offered her a job working in a “snack” bar, Nishimoto was delighted — and at 28 years of age, she left to earn money abroad and support her family.

Upon her arrival, she quickly learned that working at a snack bar had little to do with preparing food, and instead involved serving men drinks and engaging in overly friendly conversation. Although her salary was competitive, she felt something was amiss and returned to her homeland after her three-month tourist visa expired. But later that same year, Nishimoto was persuaded to return to Japan to work, again, as a hostess.

It was in this new bar she met her first Japanese husband — who soon became abusive. Nishimoto escaped and eventually moved to Kawasaki, where she met her second husband. After several years of marital bliss, Nishimoto invited her daughter over from the Philippines to stay with them. But when she was away from home, her husband began to sexually abuse the 16-year-old. Once again Nishimoto’s life had been turned upside down.

Rather than once more return to her native country, Nishimoto shared her story with other victims of domestic violence through the Catholic Diocese of Yokohama Solidarity Center for Migrants. Though the group eventually dissolved, its core members, including Nishimoto, Margaret Lacson and Leny Tolentiho, wanted to continue to help migrant workers and in December 2002, formed the Kalakasan Migrant Women’s Empowerment Center. Kalakasan, meaning “strength” in Tagalog, reflects their vision to instill a sense of empowerment to the hundreds of migrant women who seek their support each year.

In 2007, Kalakasan helped in 207 migrant cases, dealing with everything from domestic violence to child custody to unpaid wages. Many cases are immigration-related as well.

Kalakasan takes a four-fold approach to providing support: crisis intervention, follow-up care, children’s program, and advocacy/networking. When the crisis first hits, the group offers telephone support to women and children, and also helps remove the language barrier by translating on their behalf.

“Women who have been through similar experiences are able to provide support and encouragement to help victims rebuild their lives,” says Nishimoto. Their follow-up care services involve home visits; counseling; workshops and seminars for traumatized victims; and assistance with finding a new home and job. They also help to build skills by offering weekly Japanese classes, in cooperation with a church.

The children’s program involves monthly events ranging from strawberry picking to pottery lessons, and every second Saturday, budding chefs can whip up some Japanese and Filipino treats in a cooking class. On top of these events, Kalakasan provides the children with a space where they can safely do their homework. “More and more moms are starting to participate with their young ones,” says Nishimoto. “These programs have helped strengthen the bonds between mother and child and between the children.”

The Kalakasan team participates in a number of local conferences and mutual exchange events to help get the word out about what these women are going through.

The upcoming “Skylines Meet, Greet, Eat, Drink, Be Involved” event will help raise awareness (and much-needed funds) for the organization. The late afternoon gathering on Saturday, June 14 — hosted by People for Social Change, in alliance with Net Impact, NPO Social Concierge, International Women in Communications and the Japanese Americans Citizens League — will offer attendees a chance to network while enjoying live entertainment and dining on a selection of appetizers from Harajuku restaurant Fujimamas.

Funds raised from cash donations, drinks and a raffle will benefit several worthy Tokyo NPOs, among them Kalakasan.

June 14, 4-7:30pm. 7,000 yen. 20F Shinsei Bank, 2-1-8 Uchisaiwaicho, Chiyoda-ku. Email for details.

For more information on Kalakasan, call 044-580-4675, email or visit (Japanese).

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (

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