Rape victim, ex-‘escort’ now on rescue mission for youths
Abegail Mesa was 19 when she was gang-raped by three college boys in a condo unit on Taft Avenue. They left her naked, taking all her clothes as they fled. She would spend the next few days practically in rags walking aimlessly in the streets of Manila and Quezon City, “feeling dirty and robbed of my soul.”
But that dark episode was only one of many for Mesa, who admitted getting “angry at God” after her father, a religious pastor based in Cavite, died of health problems traced to overfatigue.
Her mother and brother continued serving their church, but the rebel in her asked: “How could they still love God after what happened?”
Even before she was raped, Mesa had been leading a double life: One as a regular churchgoer and education student at Philippine Normal University; the other as someone totally different.
She became mistress to a succession of men (including politicians and sons of politicians), a heavy smoker, a drug user, and a “porn addict.”
By the time she graduated and got her first teaching job, she was still working on the side in the escort services. Her clients had included seven of her own students.
Now at 29, Mesa is more than eager to recount her past in gatherings big or small, before local or foreign audiences, as the founder of an organization that aims to keep Filipino youths off the troubled path that she once took.
She is the moving force behind Rescue Kabataan (RK) whose approach to youth formation has earned recognition from the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), the Department of Education (DepEd), and the National Youth Commission (NYC).
Late last month, Mesa was chosen to represent the country in the World Festival of Youth and Students held in Sochi, Russia, which gathered about 20,000 civic leaders and volunteers from across the globe.
Mesa’s journey and work in RK were adjudged “the most inspiring volunteer story” in the festival.
All that mess
“It’s not fun being raped. It’s not fun being a prostitute,” she said in a recent Inquirer interview. “It so happened that my testimony was powerful because God turned all that mess in my life into a great vision.”
“But this is not about me anymore,” Mesa said of her task in Rescue Kabataan, a program that encourages an individual to be a “rescuer” by helping the young people rise from their darkest moments.
Now on its second year, RK is being run under the auspices of the Pasig City-based Christ’s Commission Fellowship (CCF).
In partnership with CHEd and DepEd, it conducts an eight-month program for high school and college students.
Schools adopting the program schedule a series of two-hour sessions from July to March, wherein RK volunteers shepherd to groups of students and encourage a sharing of insights and experiences on youth issues, such self-image, self-esteem, sexuality, suicide, drug addiction, and family relations.
The sessions are titled with the millennial in mind: One is called “Hugot Pa More” and another is simply dubbed “Selfie.”
Angry at 13
The group recently signed an agreement with the National Movement of Young Legislators that will bring the program first to Mandaluyong City, Taguig City, Davao City and Tabaco, Albay province and, soon, to other local government units.
But before forming Rescue Kabataan, Mesa had to be rescued first.
“I was angry with God. He took my father. I was walking away from Him because of what he did. I was also angry with my mother and brother,” she said, recalling her downward spiral that began when she was only 13.
She thought joining a theater group could provide an outlet or distraction, but it instead introduced her to vices. At 17, she was taking drugs (capsules, injectibles).
She later found herself being recruited by an escort service agency, finding her first clients online. She didn’t stop even when already a teacher at 23.
“I was not able to separate my work in the escort service from my being a teacher.”
Her school at the time eventually found out about it. A complaint was filed and she was fired. At that point, she began entertaining suicidal thoughts.
“I was so desperate. Life had no more purpose. Nobody wanted to be associated with me, but still I was full of pride and thought I needed no one.”
“But I was also good at faking it,” she said. “I was still active in my church. It was very easy for me to show that I was OK even when it wasn’t true.”
The turning point came one night at her apartment in Ermita. After spending drug-crazed days and nights with different sex partners she overdosed.
Thinking she was about to die, “I expected to go to heaven because I was always going to church.”
But instead, “I saw a vision of myself in hell. There was no fire, but I was going down in a quicksand.”
“I was crying and shouting to the Lord: ‘One more chance, one more, Lord; and if you bring me back, I promise You will not regret it.’”
She snapped out of that horrific realm feeling drained and thirsty. She would learn days later that around that that time, her mother, who was in Thailand, was also praying for her dear Abi.
Mesa made peace with her mother, underwent rehabilitation, and started attending a Bible school—this time without any fakery.
The idea of starting Rescue Kabataan occurred to her during a two-week retreat, after praying on a mountain.
She presented her idea to a school principal in Imus, Cavite, in June 2015. She conducted the first RK session herself with 700 students.
The schools superintendent in Imus learned about her program and adopted it. More doors opened until then Cavite Vice Gov. Jolo Revilla decided to extend it to all Cavite schools.
Rescue Kabataan later became the banner program of NYC, after an officer in the commission, who is also a college professor, saw Mesa’s work. She was soon introduced to NYC chair Aiza Seguerra.
“I want young people to experience how God has changed my life,” she said. “I believe everybody has a story to tell. My story is different from yours, but your story is also very important to God. I want to tell the people that no matter what your story was, God can change it.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.