“My rights as a child, right to education, to be protected, and to be heard... are my weapon because it taught me what and who I am today.”
Elvira Sotto is a 22 year-old social worker in Ormoc City, Philippines. She is the Advocacy Officer of ECLIPSE Inc., a Terre des Hommes Netherlands partner organization. She had been working under the Girls Advocacy Alliance Project since December 2019 after she graduated and passed her board exam. We asked the young professional about her work and how she is helping children in need.
Elvira’s motivation to work for the project is due to her personal experiences seeing ECLIPSE and TDH staff working hard when she was young . She said, “The two organizations made me realize my rights as a child, right to education, to be protected, and to be heard. These rights are my weapon because it taught me what and who I am today. Both organizations are the reason why I chose to be a social worker. I was once a child labourer and a beneficiary of ECLIPSE Inc. in their educational assistance project. They helped me reach my true potential and they proved my worth and value as a human being.”
ECLIPSE and TDH has been Elvira’s second family since she was a child. She spent her elementary, high school, and college years being a beneficiary and a volunteer for the organizations. “When I was one of their beneficiaries and volunteers, I have known them and have seen how they work and influence people in the community to bring change. The staff is very passionate and committed when they are working with children. I look and respect them and now, it is my turn to bring change and influence others in protecting children, women and young women”, she added.
As the new Advocacy Officer of ECLIPSE, Elvira works with children and youth. Inclusion of children in their communities is important for Elvira. She said, “They are not just our beneficiaries on our projects but they are also our partners and contributors. To the children and youth, we are working with them by organizing groups, conducting seminars and training, and providing them with opportunities to participate in local decision making and planning”.
She added, “Children and youth are our leaders and champions of our advocacy. We are also working with the community leaders, businesses, and local government through advocacy, capacity building, and research and lobbying. They are our partners in promoting child rights and our child protection champions, not only for children, but including women and young girls.
Despite the benefits of her work and the Girls Advocacy Alliance project’s progress in the community, she still faced some challenges. “On this project and all with our previous projects in our area, we were challenged on how we can totally eliminate child labour, specifically children working in sugarcane and pineapple plantations. Landlords and other private business companies are our big challenge because some of them consider children as their big asset in their production. Landlords are not really open-minded when it comes to children working with them. We have done many invitations and dialogues to discuss on child labour issues with them but they do not commit.”
The GAA Project’s presence in Elvira's community had been significant. The project aims to eliminate child labour and promote child rights and to protect children, girls, and young women from any exploitation and violence - particularly on Online, Sexual Exploitation of Children, and Trafficking in Persons, Child Labor and Gender based Violence. Elvira said, "I do not want other children to have the same experiences that I had. I don’t want to see them struggling to earn money by working in hazardous places at an early age like me. I want to see their smiling faces while playing and studying. I want their childhood to be filled with good memories as a child, not as victims or survivors of violence and abuse. Every time I work with children, I find happiness and freedom. Children keep me stronger and braver. I don’t want to see children being abused and exploited."
The GAA project will end this year and Elvira hopes that many girls, children and young women are happy to enjoy their rights and equal opportunities. “May all the duty bearers; Government and Private sector see and realize the value, worth and potential of girls and young women in this society. Because of this project, I am looking forward to children, girls, young women, civil society organizations, private organizations and the government working together and fighting together to change this world into a place where children, girls, and young women or everyone is safe and protected”, she added.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her work had been limited and restricted. However, Elvira is still finding ways to provide her support. She said, “Due to enhanced community quarantine, social distancing and lockdown measures in Ormoc City, many people including children and senior citizens are not allowed to go outside. Our advocacy activities will be displayed and posted online. We sometimes visit our local government officials and also provide consultation to young women groups and children. We still have our awareness campaigns regarding women and children concerns through radio messaging and Information, Education and Communication Materials.