January 05, 2011

Champions of Change

I was home on Monday,
released from work because of the fire
and I was listening to the CBC.
They were going through the finalists for their Champions of Change contest.
These are people who volunteer and are committed to making change all over the world.
I have to say, it was humbling to listen to and very inspiring.

You can go online and vote for the person you think should win.
The prize is $25,000 for their charity.

This is Jorge De Guzman.
He won my vote.

Here's the scoop on Jorge.

Age: 61
Volunteers in: Republic of the Philippines

Category: International - Social Justice

Organization: Sarnia School of Martial Arts


A martial arts expert helps children in the Philippines ward off sexual abuse.

After years of working to prevent sex abuse of children, Jorge de Guzman says he's no closer to understanding why it's so rampant. "I'm not a moralist, but I see insanity in it." Yet he refuses to feel powerless, and has now made stemming the tide of human exploitation his life's work.

The freelance graphic artist, who landed in Sarnia, Ont., after fleeing a dictatorship in the Philippines 35 years ago, is also a martial arts master. In 1976, he founded the Sarnia School of Martial Arts, which operates out of the YMCA, and has been offering free classes for its members ever since. What began with four students has grown to an average of 250 a week in various locations, with a special focus on children and women.

In 1999, his life took a drastic turn when his mentor in Japan asked him to travel to Thailand with him to help save children from the sex trade. "He told me, 'I'll show you what I do on my holidays!' He took me to a hospital where a girl, a victim of sexual abuse, was dying. She'd been found on the street after a vibrator exploded inside her. She passed away, and I said to myself, I'll never let this happen on my watch."
That started de Guzman on a path as an overseas abuse prevention volunteer. With nine missions under his belt, and another scheduled for 2011, de Guzman takes teams from his Sarnia School to teach prevention in remote areas in the Philippines. "We go to these places because they're rampant for procuring girls for prostitution and domestic help." Many are also bartered by parents to pay off debt, he says; others go willingly, thinking they're supporting families.
Held mostly in schools, seminars run by de Guzman's team can teach 800 to a 1,000 students at a time. Children are warned about being lured into trafficking, and the essentials of self-protection are instilled. "We teach them how to say no, how to get out of a stressful situation like abduction, how to recognize any form of abuse." They're also taught how to block, punch and kick--and how and when to run. "I tell them, if you think you're going to be sold tomorrow, run away today!"

De Guzman has also had some harrowing experiences of his own. He's rescued 12 children from prostitution by posing as a client in undercover aid operations, and in Thailand was put under house arrest for conducting a seminar for sex workers. While he admits to some despair about how widespread the problem is, he also says his services are in demand. "And that's definitely a hopeful sign."

--Deborah Sanborn

I encourage you to go to cbc.ca and read these stories.
And vote.
If not for Jorge, then for someone else.
Because they are all, really, champions.
Just pick the one the speaks to you
and you may find inspiration in that one small act.