Philippines– It was 2002 in the Philippines, and American business traveler John Drake was presented with a disgusting offer.
He says a pimp offered him a four-year-old girl for sex “for about 25 bucks”.
Drake returned home to Jackson, Michigan, but couldn’t forget the heart-breaking and disturbing scenes of child exploitation.
So, aged 58, he retired from his job as senior vice president of human resources for CMS Energy and Consumers Energy, where he’d worked for 32 years, and began a new phase of his life.
Drake founded the Lingap Children’s Development Center, a facility that since 2006 has provided a variety of desperately needed services for street children in Toledo City, in the central region of the Philippines.
The father of two and grandfather of six has adopted a cause similar to anti-slavery campaigner Cecila Flores-Oebanda, who was profiled in the 2013 CNN film “The Fighters,” which followed her successful effort to enlist boxing legend and congressman Manny Pacquaio to take on traffickers of women and children.
One hundred children between the ages of six and 18 live at Lingap’s headquarters, protected from physical abuse or the sex trade.
Drake, nicknamed “Tito” by locals (it roughly translates to “revered uncle”) doesn’t claim to be a “rock star” philanthropist.
He just sees himself as a deeply religious man who’s found his calling.
The Philippines has the highest birthrate in Asia, a fertile ground for traffickers and other criminals that prey on families that cannot provide for their children.
Drake, a self-described capitalist, first came to the Philippines in 2002 as part of his role with CMS Energy, a Fortune 500 company.
As the work assignment in Toledo City grew longer, he saw more street children being severely mistreated.
Then on what he thought would be his last day in the Philippines, Drake was approached by the mayor about renovating and running a former pig slaughterhouse which was now a shelter for children called the Lingap Center, roughly translated as crisis center.
Drake was not very interested but not wanting to seem rude, he agreed to at least tour the facility.
Twenty-six children were inside the dilapidated building.
“There was nobody home, they just had a blank stare on their face, they had no hope, no future, and no place to go,” Drake recalls.
He returned to the U.S. Drake had left the children, but the children had not left him.
“I would wake up in the night crying,” he said.
Soon he was telling his wife Judy some horrific things he had seen in the Philippines.
“I told her about the little boy that had been doused with gasoline and put on fire, so the father could use him as a begging prop.”
His wife told him he needed to do what was in his heart.
She says retiring from a well-compensated job was a big decision but she adds: “Finding something that you can be so passionate about and love doing comes around only once in a life time. It has been a win-win situation.”
These days Judy accompanies her husband on some of the six or so visits he makes to the Philippines each year.
Also making the decision easier, John and Judy’s two children were grown and out of the house.
Daughter Stacy now helps with fundraising while son Jeff has taken on the role of IT guy for the organization.
After about a year of pondering if his heart was really in starting this new project thousands of miles away, he couldn’t stand it any longer and took action.
He began fundraising to start his organization on the other side of the world, and in 2006 the new home for street children was dedicated.
Among its residents was 13-year-old Aileen Bantolinao, one of the children at the converted slaughterhouse with the “blank stare.”
Bantolinao ended up in the center after her mother died of pneumonia and her unemployed father was unable to take of her or her seven siblings.
Now she has graduated college and is heading to the U.S. for an internship in Maryland. Ultimately she wants to help run the center back in the Philippines.
“For me he’s a living saint,” she says of Drake. Without him, she says she would probably be in prostitution.
The foundation says in all three former street children that came through its doors have now graduated college, with 15 on their way taking university classes this year.
They’ve been saved from the nation’s sex industry that, according to the Filipino government, has ensnared 100,000 children.
But “Tito” says the donors who keep his center running are the true heroes.
Fellow American Gerry DeFilippo, who decided to help the cause after hearing Drake talk at his church in Atlanta, says: “He isn’t trying to save the world, or the Philippines, or even everyone in Toledo City.
“He is merely trying to change the lives of the children put in front of him, one at a time.”
By Jason Evans
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