Participatory Assessment of a Matched Savings Program for Human Trafficking Survivors and their Family Members in the Philippines

  • Laura Cordisco Tsai George Mason University
  • Ivy Flor Seballos-Llena Eleison Foundation
  • Rabia Datta George Mason University
Keywords: photovoice, participatory research methods, human trafficking, saving, financial capability, individual development accounts


Survivors of human trafficking often experience considerable financial difficulties upon exiting human trafficking, including pressure to provide financially for their families, challenges securing employment, lack of savings, and familial debt. Few evaluations have been conducted of reintegration support interventions addressing financial vulnerability among trafficking survivors. In this article, we present findings from a participatory assessment of the BARUG program, a matched savings and financial capability program for survivors of human trafficking and their family members in the Philippines. Photovoice was used to understand the experiences of two cohorts of BARUG participants. Survivors collaborated with research team members in conducting thematic analysis of transcripts from the photovoice sessions. Themes included: the positive emotional impact of financial wellness, overcoming the challenges of saving, applying financial management skills in daily decision making, developing a habit of savings, building a future-oriented mindset, receiving guidance and enlightenment, the learning process, and the change process. Findings reinforce the importance of interventions to support trafficked persons and their family members in getting out of debt and accumulating emergency savings, while also providing emotional support to survivors in coping with family financial pressures. The study also highlights the value of using participatory research methods to understand the experiences of trafficked persons.



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Author Biographies

Laura Cordisco Tsai, George Mason University

Dr. TSAI is an assistant professor of social work at George Mason University, visiting scholar at Columbia University School of Social Work, and the executive director at Eleison Foundation. Her social work practice and research experience pertains to human trafficking and gender-based violence, with a specialization in reintegration support and economic empowerment interventions for survivors of human trafficking.

Ivy Flor Seballos-Llena, Eleison Foundation

Ms. SEBALLOS-LLENA works for Eleison Foundation, where she is involved in implementing the BARUG program. She has also worked as a research assistant with Dr. TSAI on research pertaining to the reintegration of trafficking survivors. She serves as a trainer for agencies providing services to trafficked persons in Cebu.

Rabia Datta, George Mason University

Ms. CASTELLANO-DATTA is a second-year student in George Mason University’s Master of Social Work program. During the photovoice project, she worked as a research assistant for Dr. TSAI and a graduate research supervisor within the Social Work Integrative Research Lab (SWIRL) in the George Mason University Department of Social Work.

How to Cite
Tsai, L. C., Seballos-Llena, I. F., & Datta, R. (2017). Participatory Assessment of a Matched Savings Program for Human Trafficking Survivors and their Family Members in the Philippines. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 18(2).
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