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Newsmakers

Emmanuelle Beart & Cameleon Philippines: Mission possible

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Emmanuelle Beart & Cameleon Philippines: Mission possible
French actress and social activist Emmanuelle Beart.
STAR/ File

Why am I in the Philippines?” said French actress Emmanuelle Beart of Mission Impossible and Elle magazine fame, at a gala dinner at Lanson Place hosted by SM and the French Embassy led by Ambassador Marie Fontanel in support of Cameleon, a foundation that shelters and rebuilds lives of children who are and were victims of child abuse.

“I shouldn’t cry–even after I heard this young lady talking in her own words on what abuse is, what it does represent physically, mentally.  For a child to be abused, it could kill you. It could kill you physically, mentally. That’s why I wanted to come with this documentary (Un silence si bruyant or Such a Resounding Silence). I want to speak out. I want people to hear me.

“Now I know why I came to the Philippines.”

***

Another French woman from an affluent French family, then barely out of her teens came to the Philippines in 1992 hoping to help. At the time, she had no idea how till she was assigned to Panay. She, too, decided to break the silence and be a voice against child abuse after seeing its prevalence, and its perpetrators (mostly family members and men trusted by the victims’ family).

French-born Laurence Ligier, who has lived over 30 years in the Philippines, still bears ugly scars on her right arm, sustained from a knife attack in the dead of night in a riverside hut in Iloilo several years ago.

She survived the knife attack, believes Laurence, because she trained in martial arts and because she refused to die. So many little girls depended on her.

The attempt on Laurence’s life came after a death threat from one of the suspects in a child sexual abuse case. Laurence was undaunted and appeared in court nevertheless to testify against him.

“The children have made me stay in the Philippines all these years, knife attack and all,” explains Laurence, who speaks Ilonggo as fluently as she speaks French and English. “If I have done something good for those who are in life’s worst situations, if I have done something good for children who think they are already dead or crazy, I have the energy to go on and on.”

She established an NGO, Cameleon Association, in 1997 to rescue victims of incest and sexual abuse in the Visayas. She is “Tita Laurence” to all of them.

For her courage and dedication to her work with sexually abused children in the Philippines, Laurence was awarded the Legion of Honor by French President Francois Hollande in October 2014.

Laurence leaves for France occasionally to raise funds for Cameleon, but always comes back. You see, 90 percent of Cameleon’s funding is from Europe, which so moved civic leader Rita Dy of Zonta to introduce Laurence’s cause to as many people as she can, “We Filipinos should do our share.”

Cameleon so touched SM Supermalls’ president Steven Tan he donated out of his own pocket a sizable, secret amount. He revealed SM has also supported women’s rights. Sixty percent of SM employees are women, and 63 percent of its executives are women, too, he shared.

Vive la France: Cameleon founder Laurence Ligier and French Ambassador Marie Fontanel

***

A few years after its foundation, Cameleon Association Inc. was accredited by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). It has opened two shelters for girl survivors of sexual abuse.

In 2019, Cameleon celebrated the inauguration of the third center in Silay City, Negros Occidental. A milestone for Laurence and her team, as it emphasized the importance and the seriousness of their work. In 2022, Cameleon celebrated its 25th anniversary.

Cameleon has helped over 1,000 girls in the past 25 years, some of whom have become doc

Cirquera de Cameleon: Together they stand.

tors, lawyers, midwives and social workers. Laurence proudly adds most are happily married now.

 

***

The silence over the deafening problem of child abuse, particularly incest, in the Philippines and worldwide is starting to be broken by the sound of compassion and action. It has become “Mission possible.”

“Children are talking. They do talk. Maybe not just in words, but they do talk with their behavior, the way they’re getting sick, the way they’re getting violent, but they do talk and we have to listen to them. I know it’s a taboo because we’re talking about family and we’re talking about sexuality,” observed Emmanuelle.

“We have this wonderful association, Cameleon,” Emmanuelle pointed out during the gala at Lanson Place at the Mall of Asia Arena, which featured incredible circus acts and acrobatics by adult alumnae of Cameleon. “You’ve seen the work.  You know, for those girls, to re-appropriate their bodies and their minds, is something that you have to go through to understand what it takes to recover from that. And that’s the work Laurence Ligier does.”

“I want to speak out. I want to break the silence. We have to break the silence,” stressed Emmanuelle.

Laurence promises that Cameleon, which now nurtures 500 children from age five to 22, will be human chameleons. From a dark, lurid place, they will emerge as vibrant butterflies.

“Our promise is ‘Changing Colors, Changing Lives.’ From a hostile environment to a warm and safe life, children change over the years. Like our multi-colored chameleon, they move slowly but surely, hesitating, sometimes tumbling but never falling,” vowed Laurence. *

(For much needed donations, please contact Shaline GAMALA, OIC, Resource Development at 0907 811 23 36 / (033) 329 23 09 or e-mail [email protected].)

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