Local couple saving young lives
An amazing idea is being realized, thanks to a married Christian couple, Steve and Ellisa Rough, who retired in Merced and moved to Cebu in the Philippines two years ago on a personal mission to help abused children.
The Philippines is the global epicenter for the Online Sexual Exploitation of Children, known as “OSEC” (referred to as “cybersex” in the U.S.). More than 50 percent of the victims rescued from OSEC have been 12-years-old or younger.
Cebu City is the capital of Cebu, the province, which is on a main island in the Philippines. Of the approximately 7,600 islands that make up the Philippines, Cebu is the most densely populated.
Through the Roughs’ efforts, Hope Mountain Foundation, their non-profit, is building houses in Cebu to help rescued children who were victims of online sexual exploitation. The houses will provide the kids with a safe place to recover.
Ellisa Rough told the Times, “The children rescued have been as young as two months old and were sexually abused. Primarily the mother, but sometimes a very close relative or neighbor, is trafficking the children. They (the provider) get the children to perform acts on each other on a directed live feed, and the perps (the consumers) are individuals in the United States or a foreign country like a European country, Australia or Canada. The children are told they’re doing something to help the family. Many of the children don’t know it’s wrong. They thought it was their play time. They need counseling because of the trauma of learning it’s wrong.
“We are not involved in rescue. We work with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (‘DSWD’). The gap we found was siblings. We are the first program that accepts sibling groups. Previously, the rescued children were separated from their brothers and sisters, an added trauma.”
Recently, the first of 15 planned Hope Mountain Center homes had a ribbon-cutting, and on Nov. 4, the Roughs received the Certificate of Occupancy which is needed for licensing.
Ellisa Rough said, “The house is beautiful, on a mountain overlooking the ocean where it’s peaceful. It’s a two-story, four-bedroom Philippines-style house with furniture like beds and wardrobes. One bedroom is for girls, one is for boys, one is for the house parents, and one is a spare room for staff.”
Steve Rough remarked, enthusiastically, “Another thing that makes us unique besides siblings is the house parents are a married couple. It was important to us to have a positive male role model and a healthy family setting so the children will know what it’s like. The DSWD also wanted these things. We’re pretty excited, and so are they.
“We are a Christ-based ministry with emotional, physical, spiritual, and educational components. Yosemite Church in Merced, our home church, supports us through mission trips. In February, a group from Yosemite Church helped build a perimeter wall. The church sponsored a mission trip where students from Stone Ridge Christian, Golden Valley High School and Buhach Colony High School painted murals inside the bedrooms.
“Through our involvement in the rehabilitation process by constructing restoration homes, children, including sibling groups, will be able to be in the home by the end of the year.
“Besides a safe place to live, medical care will be provided by a medical doctor donating time. For children who need counseling, there is a non-profit which will offer free professional counseling.
“In addition to the couple who are running the house, we hired a social worker and other part-time people who are local from the Philippines.
“The children can live there until they are 18, and we will eventually establish a transitional care ministry to help them go to college, get a job, or set up a small business.”
Steve and Ellisa Rough described how their interest in forming Hope Mountain Foundation came about.
Steve said, “For the past 18 years, Steve Enad of Yosemite Church organized medical mission trips to the Philippines.
“Five years ago, we prayed over a property Enad owned in Cebu, and we met with Enad and other people, some of whom were with International Justice Mission (‘IJM’), an international non-profit started by Gary Haughen, an attorney. IJM’s goal is to stop all forms of human trafficking including child and adult slavery and parents selling their children into slavery.
“The FBI or the Australian police had seen child pornography on a home computer and traced it to the Philippines. IJM worked with the Philippine National Police to track down where it was happening and locate and rescue the child.”
Ellisa continued, “In 2007, we started going on missions to the Philippines through Yosemite Church, and we fell in love with the sweet, kind, gracious and grateful people there. We found out about online sex trafficking and asked IJM what was needed. They needed a place for rescued children that accepted siblings.
“We prayed and then formed a non-profit foundation, and in 2017 we were registered with the Philippine government as a non-government organization or NGO.
“In November 2017, we moved to the Philippines and started the paperwork, and we have a site plan to build 15 restoration homes for children.”
In their new life in Cebu, which is a metropolitan area with both nice buildings and wood shacks, Steve and Ellisa have encountered many challenges. When they first moved and rented a unit, there was no running water. The pipe with water was the only one for the entire building and as people began using the water when they woke up, it eventually ran out. They now own a condominium where there is a more reliable water source, and they pay for water using a card.
However, the rewards of helping those in need far outweigh the challenges, according to the Roughs.
Ellisa said, “We’re going to be a part of a bunch of miracles happening — lives restored! God put a special place in my heart for them. You feel disgust and anger and pain about their situation. I encourage people not to sit in their anger, but instead find out what to do about it so as to transition from anger to action.
“We welcome people to contribute a little and become a monthly giver, or come on a mission trip, or do other things. We have a website and a Facebook page.”