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Pampanga, Philippines
2022 - Current
In Kapampangan, “Alaya” means “the dawn”.

Sometimes it is also used to point to the direction paralaya “the east”,
thus the eastern mountain, Mt. Arayat in Pampanga.

It is sundown.

A group of young women pushes open a heavy door,  the loud music from the building can be overheard from the street. The group shares a cigarette and wafts away a string of smoke. The scent lingers in the air, and neon lights from clubs start to flicker, brightening up the streets.

“I was 17 when I started working in the bars along Walking Street”, said Julie a former sex worker at Angeles City’s so-called sex district.

Like many other women her age, she thought that it ended with serving drinks. But in that street, where women in fishnet stockings and high heels find a living, being a waitress is an entry to the sex trade. 

“I didn’t know that men can take us out. When they did, they made us do disgusting things in bed just to fulfill their sexual fantasies,” Julie said.

“It was dehumanizing. I felt so ashamed of myself,” she added.

Under Philippine law, minors are not legally permitted to work. But in those bars, young girls can easily present fake identification cards to apply as waitresses, earning as little as Php. 50.00 (USD 0.88) per day, paving the way for them to become “bar models”.

Men can take out models for a few thousand pesos, comparatively higher than Php 449 (USD $8.00), the city’s minimum day rate for service workers.

Julie was a prostitute for two years. She couldn’t tolerate her situation and quit the bar. Eventually, she found “Alaya”, a women’s center where fellow sex workers, past or present, are provided a space to imagine a world outside the confines of the sex trade.

On Mondays, Julie joins other women, who gather together to take classes under the Alternative Learning System (ALS). Here, students are given a chance to earn diplomas outside of formal education. In between, they cultivate vacant lots to plant vegetables, discuss climate issues, attend mental health seminars, and learn about their rights as women.

Julie herself graduated high school through ALS. 

“I’m not ashamed to speak about my past because getting out of it was an achievement,” said Julie, who’s now a senior high school student.

One day, she dreams of becoming an English teacher. 

For many women who crossed Angeles City’s “Walking Street”, Alaya is where the sun rises.

Alaya is an ongoing work