Center offers help to abused Filipinos

Kyodo

Filipinos residing in Japan, particularly in and around Nagoya, have for the past 13 years been turning to a nongovernmental organization operating from a six-mat room in the city’s Naka Ward for help in resolving problems ranging from domestic violence to the arrest of family members.

The Filipino Migrants Center in Nagoya has helped resolve more than 1,000 domestic violence and other cases since it was established in 2000.

The NGO has collaborated with local governments to offer consultations and other services for people in need of assistance.

“You need to know there are many foreigners who feel isolated from their communities, left alone with their own problems,” said Virgie Ishihara, 53, the founder and chairwoman of FMC, which is located in a multitenant building in central Nagoya where many foreigners work in the dense concentration of bars and other entertainment facilities.

The consultation services, held twice a week, attract a stream of Filipino women claiming abuse by their husbands. Many other Filipinos also wait in line seeking help, for example, for their children taken into police custody.

“In most cases, their Japanese skills are insufficient and they feel isolated from their families and communities,” Ishihara said. “They come here because they don’t know anywhere else to seek advice.”

Ishihara, who came to Japan in 1997, is herself married to a Japanese. The idea of establishing the center was influenced by experiences at her first workplace here.

Soon after her arrival, she worked for a tailor in Nagoya where she saw a woman with bruises while hemming her skirts.

“She said she had been physically abused by her Japanese husband on a daily basis,” Ishihara said. “I did not know what to do about it and couldn’t help her.”

Ishihara learned there were more of her compatriots suffering similar problems and she felt moved to find a way to help them.

“I didn’t want them to bear that silently,” she said.

Currently, the organization is comprised of six counselors of Japanese and Filipino nationalities, working in turns on a voluntary basis. The FMC has established a network with local police, lawyers specializing in human rights and governmental organizations. The center’s staff provide interpretation when cooperation with governmental or other organizations is needed to resolve a problem.

“Since the center functions as a window, we can make quick actions without any problem in communication,” said a Naka Ward official.

As the center’s reputation has spread by word of mouth, many foreigners of other nationalities, especially those residing in the Tokai region, have recently started seeking help at the center.

“It’s hard for everyone if they don’t have anyone to talk to or get advice in their own language,” said Ishihara. “I encourage people to come here just to talk, as even a conversation may bring some relief.”