Coping with trauma and crisis, a 14 year old street kid finds hope for the future.
The first time I saw him, Tan was standing alone on a street staring into nothing.
He was down the road from the Blue Dragon centre, and everything about him signaled a child in distress. His face showed no expression; his shoulders slumped forward. His arms hung limply by his side.
Just 14 years old, Tan had been neglected and abandoned by his family, forcing him to leave home. Once on the streets of Hanoi, he was abused repeatedly by pedophiles who traded him like an object.
Once he was with Blue Dragon, Tan’s healing took years of care, counselling, and legal representation to find justice against those who had harmed him. Today he is a very different young man to the boy I first saw on the street. He has a job and a circle of great friends; he has started rebuilding the relationship with his parents; and his eyes shine with hope and joy.
Last week, Tan joined in Blue Dragon’s annual Tet celebration, called Tet Awards; we shared some photos of this on Facebook on Sunday. We hold this party for children in the lead-up to Lunar New Year, and many of our ‘old’ boys and girls come back to see us.
Tet Awards is one of the few big events we hold; our work is much more focused on dealing with day to day crisis than with organising ceremonies and parties.
In fact, Tan inspired the creation of this very blog at a Tet Awards party several years ago. Looking out over the crowd and thinking how much his own life had changed since he met Blue Dragon, Tan shared his astute reflection: Life is a long story.
For kids like Tan, this annual event has a significance beyond it being a great night. Dressing up, meeting old friends and enjoying hours of singing and dancing takes the kids away from the hardships of their daily lives.
The delightful chaos and laughter of a children’s party will never replace the need for long-term care, shelter, legal advocacy and psychological therapy. But a moment to forget the pain and turn instead to friendship and the simple joys of life is a precious moment indeed.
Attempting to escape from slavery is an act of extraordinary courage. For Hoa, the scars of her ordeal will live with her forever… but she will not let them define her.
Hoa was not yet 17 when she was trafficked.
How it happened is a very familiar story. She was facing hard times. Someone she knew offered to help. She left home thinking she was on her way to start a new job, only to find it was a trick.
What happened next is even more devastating.
Hoa found herself in China, sold twice before eventually being sold to a man with an intellectual disability. He wanted a wife so he could have a child, and for him that’s all that Hoa was: a vessel for a baby.
In the 6 months that followed, life was hell. Hoa had no chance to escape. She was locked into an apartment in an unknown city. She knew nobody, and had no way to call for help.
When Hoa could take it no more, she made a breathtaking decision. She jumped from the apartment, 2 storeys high, determined to either have freedom, or death.
Hoa survived, but she was severely injured. The fall damaged her spine, leaving her unable to move the lower part of her body. The pain was unimaginable, but her captor didn’t want to seek medical help – because he didn’t want to pay the expense. Instead, he took her back upstairs and kept her for another 4 months before finally admitting her to hospital.
In the safety of the hospital, Hoa was able to try again for freedom. The staff realised something terrible had happened and called the police. Now Hoa was safe from her captor; but she was not yet home. It would be another year, following extensive treatment and making statements to police from her hospital bed, before she could finally return to Vietnam.
Blue Dragon assisted with Hoa’s return, and since then have continued working with her. But how can anyone heal from such a traumatic episode?
Hoa is now fully reliant on her wheelchair for mobility. She will never walk again.
And the memories of the horror she experienced – tricked by a friend, sold into a waking nightmare, leaping from the building, then left for months to lay motionless with a serious spinal injury instead of receiving immediate treatment – will never go away.
In her darkest days, Hoa showed extraordinary courage by jumping for her freedom. This same courage has carried her through the months of psychological and physical therapy, wheelchair training, and learning to live independently with her disability… until finally Hoa was ready to return to her studies.
Hoa’s story doesn’t end there. Because this week, she has started a whole new chapter in life: her very first job.
When she left home at age 17, that was all she wanted. Employment. An income. A chance to live a life free from poverty.
Someone took advantage of her need, and the impact on Hoa’s life was catastrophic. But she isn’t going to let that stop her.
She now works in an IT firm. It’s an entry-level job in a company that has great policies for employing people with disabilities. They hired her because she’s smart, brave, and beams with optimism about the future.
At times Hoa’s situation seemed impossible. She could see no way out. To overcome this as she has is an incredible feat of bravery.
Life will never be what it could have been. But it will be what she makes it.
Blue Dragon has reached the milestone of 1,000 rescues of people from slavery. But the early days of our anti-trafficking work did not have such a promising start…
All of us felt helpless.
Seventeen-year old Chi had been missing for months. Until the day she vanished, she had been a familiar face at Blue Dragon’s Hanoi drop-in centre.
Now she had made contact in a call for help to a friend. But the only new information we had was that she was in China.
For days we talked and speculated. What could be done? Who might be able to help? We reported all we knew to the police, but “somewhere in China” is not enough information to start an international search for a missing person.
At this time, Blue Dragon already had some experience with human trafficking. Since 2005 we had been finding and rescuing children who had been trafficked within Vietnam, from rural to urban areas where they were being put to work. And even in our work with street children, we sometimes had to go in search of kids who had gone missing.
After a few days, we reached a decision. We decided to send a small team to China to check out a town on the border. Someone had advised us that this town was a likely location, as it was known for having illegal brothels with young Vietnamese women. And we knew that Chi must be close to the border, so it was worth a try.
The story of that first rescue has been told in other places: how the staff found Chi within hours; how they helped her and another girl to escape; how they ended up running for their lives from the traffickers but ultimately returning with Chinese police to set free 4 more girls.
These were hardly auspicious beginnings, but from that first cross-border operation Blue Dragon is now routinely bringing girls and women home – and sometimes boys and men – who have been trafficked and sold. Our work evolved quite slowly at first, but in recent years has gathered pace.
These days we are still rescuing people trafficked within Vietnam, as well as people trafficked across the border into China – and sometimes Myanmar as well.
Reaching the 1,000 mark doesn’t mean we’re taking a break. Right now, we have 45 more cases that we’re working on. And 16 court cases following from rescues we’ve already completed. So there’s plenty more to do.
Blue Dragon will keep going, we’ll keep rescuing people. In part we can do this because of you – because of the people who donate money, whether it’s a gift to a fundraising appeal or a monthly donation or a sponsorship. It all helps and it’s all invaluable.
It’s also fair to say that we can keep going because of the extraordinary people who work alongside me here at Blue Dragon. There are many unsung heroes in this work, so our anti-trafficking coordinator Luong Le (herself one of our unsung heroes) has taken the time to share some stories of the women and men involved at different levels of Blue Dragon’s rescues and after-care.
A year-end wedding brought together a crowd of Blue Dragon ‘old boys’, whose journey reminds us that there are always better days to come.
Blue Dragon’s year finished with a wedding.
This was a particularly joyful event, with kids and staff heading out to the countryside to take part in the ceremony. The groom was a Blue Dragon staff member, and not only that; he is one of our ‘Old Boys’.
Diep was one of the original Blue Dragon boys back in 2002, when we were just beginning. He came to the weekly football games for street kids and joined the English classes, and then headed out to the streets where he worked shining shoes.
He was only 14, but he carried the burden of supporting his family who lived in poverty. They couldn’t afford to send him to school, so he volunteered to go and work in the city.
When we opened our first shelter, in 2003, Diep was one of the 6 teens who lived there. When he was old enough, he started working in a restaurant. Within a few years he returned to Blue Dragon as staff to help look after the children we were caring for.
He’s been on the social work team ever since, assisting street kids and helping to run the weekly football games that still take place (over 3,000 games so far!). Diep has a quiet, gentle way about him that makes children feel safe and cared for.
His wedding on the final weekend of 2020 was a cause of great celebration. And of course, many attendees were young men who had been a part of Blue Dragon at the time Diep was ‘one of the kids’.
All are in the late 20s and early 30s now. Most are married and some have children of their own. Their lives are in stark contrast to when we first met them, working on the streets of Hanoi hoping to make enough money to get through each day. Most survived by shining the shoes of strangers for a few cents.
Tuan was there; he flew up from southern Vietnam where he works as a chef. Binh has his own bakery. Hiep runs an electrical repair business, which is booming. Kieu owns a pizza and pasta restaurant. Nam is an executive chef for a large company. Thinh has a motorbike mechanic shop. Doan runs a building supplies company. Vi is a manager at Blue Dragon. Tinh has a mobile telephone shop. Duong works as a welder.
Each was a street kid at one time. Each has found his own way in life. For some, it took years of assistance from Blue Dragon to get them there. Others needed just a small boost to get them back to their family or back to school, and then they were on their way.
These occasions when they reunite and celebrate the success of ‘one of their own’ really are joyful days. Blue Dragon has grown and changed a lot since then; we now work with girls and boys around the country, and have expanded our scope to help people escape human trafficking.
But our vision of giving young people the care, assistance, and resources to overcome their hardship and build the life that they choose remains exactly the same.
At the end of a very difficult year, Diep and Chuyen’s wedding was the perfect way to finish off 2020.
Seeing all the ‘old boys’ gathered together served as a reminder that no matter the difficulties we face today, there is always hope for a better tomorrow.
The new year has arrived, so let’s get started on creating the ‘better tomorrow’ that we are all dreaming of.
Blue Dragon rescues children and young people in crisis.
2020 has been an extraordinary year. And because of extraordinary friends around the world, some of Vietnam’s most vulnerable people have made it through safe and well.
Giang was rescued just a few days before Christmas.
She was the second woman we rescued that day, and the photos sent through from the rescue team were heartbreaking.
Giang is in her mid 30s. She was trafficked as a high school student – about 20 years ago.
In the two decades she has been in slavery, Giang suffered a massive stroke that left her paralysed. When she finally was able to call for help, the Blue Dragon rescue team had the challenge of rescuing a woman who relies on a wheelchair for mobility.
Against the odds, they did it. Giang is back in Vietnam now.
The photos taken by the team along the way show how unimaginably complex this operation was. The final journey into Vietnam involved Giang being carried on the back of the rescuer, who physically carried her to safety.
Giang’s story – 20 years as a slave, surviving a stroke, and finally being carried home – is powerful and extraordinary.
But in a year when everything we know and understand was turned on its head, Giang’s story is not unique in its ‘extraordinariness’.
Throughout 2020, Blue Dragon has been confronted by many cases which in their own right were unbelievably difficult.
While Vietnam was in lockdown, Blue Dragon expanded its outreach to find street children and deliver food to anyone in Hanoi who was homeless.
Even while the border between Vietnam and China was closed, we were still rescuing women and girls who had been trafficked and enslaved.
We helped kids like Tan, who has an unbelievable story of survival. As a child, he twice walked hundreds of kilometers on his own to get to safety and escape domestic violence and abandonment.
And when a record 13 storms hit central Vietnam, Blue Dragon was on the ground getting help to communities even as the rain was still falling.
In a year where every person on the planet faced unimagined crisis, Blue Dragon has had plenty of our own extraordinary moments.
Looking back over 2020, one thing is clear. Blue Dragon’s supporters – both within Vietnam and around the globe – made the extraordinary happen, again and again, because you believed.
While the world was in crisis, you continued to donate. When the odds were against us, you sent messages of support and offers of help.
You believed in the extraordinary.
Because of this, there are now 77 children, women and men who have been set free from slavery since January 1. Another 219 came to Blue Dragon after being set free by police, and have received the care they needed to start their lives over.
Because you believed, Blue Dragon had the resources to help 153 homeless children through the year – a huge increase compared to 85 last year.
And despite all the hardship, still so much has been possible. We’ve been improving Vietnamese law to protect children who are in the legal system. We’ve taught ethnic minority women to grow corn without chemicals and seen them triple their yield. We’ve helped former street kids and trafficking survivors graduate high school and get into university.
All during the most extraordinarily difficult year.
So to all our friends around the world, we say thank you.
You believed in the extraordinary, and in doing so you’ve changed lives.
Now a whole new year is about to start. Imagine what more we can do in 2021…
Because even the extraordinary is within our reach.
“I realized I wanted to help other children who were from difficult backgrounds just like me. I want to bring hope to others the same way Blue Dragon gave me hope.”
Van’s office is his motorbike.
In the morning he wakes up with the sunrise, completes his morning chores, then sets out for the day travelling from village to village among the mountains of northern Vietnam.
Van is a volunteer Social Worker with Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, helping kids in crisis throughout one of the poorest regions of the country. But as a child, Van faced a crisis of his own.
Van’s memories of his childhood are very happy, but life was tough. His family belongs to the Thai ethnic minority community. His parents are farmers, earning a tiny income each month. And his younger brother was born with a severe hearing impairment.
Elsewhere, Van’s family could have found support to fit a hearing aid or teach his brother Vietnamese Sign Language. In their remote village, no such assistance can be found. No school could accept the little boy, so even before his teens Van took on the duty of caring for his brother while his parents worked in the fields.
By the time he reached Grade 9, Van couldn’t see the point in studying any further. There just seemed no reason to keep going.
So when a distant relative approached him with a job offer, Van was thrilled. This wasn’t just a chance to earn some money for his family; this was a job in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), almost 2,000 km (1,200 miles) away by road.
What an adventure!
As Van tells the story in his own words:
In March 2013, I hopped on a bus with the relative and went to Saigon without telling my parents. I didn't think much at that time. I just wanted to go to Saigon to see the big city. I did call my parents on the way to share about my plan. They tried to persuade me to come back to study but my decision was made. Going to Saigon was the only thing on my mind.
It was all so exciting… until they arrived at their destination.
The job in the garment factory was very difficult and far different to what I expected. I had to work from early morning until late night, sometimes even midnight. My job was to print images on T-shirts. I was really young and most of the time I missed my mother and father. I just wanted to go home.
Dreaming of a brighter future, Van had been deceived into thinking his life would be better. But it was too late; there was no way to leave.
However, Van was in for a change in his fortunes. In 2011, Blue Dragon had started working in his province to find children who were trafficked into sweatshops and bring them home. Van was in the factory just two months when Blue Dragon turned up with police, demanding the return of the children.
This marked a turning point for Van. Taking him home was only one part of our intervention; once he was back with his family, our assistance continued.
Van returned to school and finished Grade 9… then kept going through to the end of high school. His younger brother started receiving specialist care to cope with his impairment. And the whole family had our support to deal with the many hardships of their lives.
For Van, a massive burden was lifted from his shoulders. Getting an education was now achievable. And something else became clear to him: the importance of helping others.
Every month, a Blue Dragon social worker arrived in his village on motorbike to catch up and see how Van and his family were doing. Between visits, staff would call to check in on them. If they had any problem, as they sometimes would, help was swiftly offered.
Van was inspired, and set himself a new goal in life. He started to dream of becoming a social worker.
Once finished with high school, Van enrolled in a college where he could study a basic social work course. Blue Dragon continued helping both him and his brother, who now was becoming fluent in sign language and had hearing aids fitted.
And when the training course was over, Van offered to join Blue Dragon. He could see nothing better than caring for other children just as he had once received help to turn his life around.
In his own words:
I realized I wanted to help other children who were from difficult backgrounds just like me. I want to bring hope to others the same way Blue Dragon gave me hope.
Van has grown into a young man who wants to give back. He has allowed the experience of his hardships, and the assistance he received to overcome them, to shape his own life and his dream for the future.
In a year that has been difficult for all of us – a year of difficulty and of change and of loss – Van reminds us that in the end, we can turn the bad into something good.
Are better days really ahead? The answer is up to us to make it happen.
After 3 years in slavery and 2 weeks in quarantine, Phuong is finally home. But her hardships are far from over.
Phuong’s rescue from slavery and return to Vietnam defied the odds.
After 3 years held in China against her will, Phuong was desperate to return home to her baby daughter and her mother. At the very first opportunity, she risked her life to make a call for help.
Illiterate and relying on a prosthetic leg, Phuong’s options for escape were severely limited. But Blue Dragon’s operation in late November found her and brought Phuong back to Vietnam, as detailed in my earlier post, Almost Impossible.
After 2 weeks in quarantine and time with Blue Dragon’s counsellors, Phuong went home on Friday.
We all want to believe that going home, a family reunion, will mean ‘happy ever after’. Sometimes it is. But for Phuong, the journey home was never going to be easy.
For a start, the road home is not a road. It’s a canal, winding through the Mekong Delta. Phuong and the Blue Dragon staff accompanying her rowed down the waterway on the final leg of her very long journey home.
And then came the realisation that Phuong’s home is not a house. It’s a tent.
This is Phuong’s home. This is where she was raised, where she gave birth, and where she now lives.
It’s clear why the traffickers chose Phuong. They saw her as an easy target. Few opportunities. An extremely difficult life. And her family had no resources to go searching when she went missing.
Her family may be extremely poor, but there’s one thing they have plenty of: love. Phuong’s return home was a tearful, joyful occasion. Even though this family has so few material possessions, they are back together and they have each other.
Rescue from slavery is never the end of the story. It’s just the beginning of a new chapter.
For Phuong, her 3 year old daughter and her own parents, this family reunion is a chance for a new start in life. They’re going to need a lot of help over a long time, but now Phuong finally has a reason to hope that better days really are ahead.
It took more than a decade to end child trafficking into sweatshops from central Vietnam. Suddenly, families are once again at risk.
Su’s life has always been hard.
She lives by a lagoon in Hue province of central Vietnam. Like many women in this region, the years of hardship have made her grow strong. There’s not much that she can’t deal with.
Now Su has a child and with one more on the way, she worries about the future. It’s not just that she lives in a house made of plastic sheeting. It’s not just that the recent typhoons and floods in her area have disrupted her family’s income, and she’s living quite literally day to day.
It’s the uncertainty.
Hue province has always had floods and storms. Families typically prepare in advance as the rainy season inevitably rolls around. But this year was something different, something on a scale that the locals can’t remember having happened before.
The whole region of central Vietnam was hit by storm after storm, triggering flash floods and landslides. More than 6 weeks of this wild weather affected 1.5 million people and left 235 dead or missing.
Su’s house was damaged and she lost weeks of income, but she knows that it could have been even worse. And she wonders if this ‘new normal’ means that next year will be the same.
Blue Dragon has been working in Hue province since 2005, when we rescued a single child from trafficking. He had grown up in Hue, not far from Su’s home, but had never been to school so was an easy target for the traffickers. They promised him an education but instead put him to work in the southern city of Ho Chi Minh.
We had thought that his rescue would be a one-time event for Blue Dragon. Since then, we’ve rescued over 400 other children from labor trafficking in Vietnam, and close to 600 children and women from sex trafficking.
Fifteen years after we rescued that 13 year-old boy from Hue, the trafficking of children from his province to southern sweatshops has all but ended.
It took a decade of work to break the back of the trade in children. We did it by disrupting the traffickers’ work, over and over until they gave up.
We spent time in the villages getting to know families and understanding their lives. We showed them, with photos and film, that their children were not learning a trade as they had been told, but were working 16-18 hour days in factories. We sought their permission to find the factories that were exploiting their children and bring them home. And we kept supporting the families over the years so that their children could return to school.
Essentially, we ‘fireproofed’ community after community from child trafficking, forcing the traffickers out of business.
But the storms of late 2020 have created a new threat. Many families, just like Su’s, are suddenly in desperate situations. Lost income and the need to repair or replace their belongings means that money for food and school fees will be in short supply in coming months.
Human traffickers work by preying on vulnerability. And for the people of central Vietnam, this means they now face a heightened risk of human trafficking.
Without a helping hand, Su might easily become a target of traffickers, offering her or her children an opportunity to earn money. But this is not going to happen.
Fortunately for Su, help is already arriving. Blue Dragon’s team in Hue province has been working with her and the local Women’s Union to see how we can get her family through these coming months.
And looking at their house, we can see that we need to do more than help them return to normal. They need something much better than that.
Our focus right now is on delivering emergency supplies, repairing damage, and replacing lost livestock and tools. We’re able to do this thanks entirely to people throughout Vietnam and around the world who have donated to get aid quickly to families just like Su’s.
In coming months there’s the much bigger question of how to keep families safe from traffickers long after the crisis is past.
It took more than a decade to stamp out child labor trafficking from this area. We won’t let this recent crisis create an opportunity for the traffickers to find their way back.
For Su and her family, and for all of the children of this region, we need to stand strong against human trafficking.
His childhood broken, Tung faced abuse and homelessness… until the day he made the decision that changed his life.
Tung’s early years had wonderful moments of joy.
He has some very happy memories of his mother. They travelled together on holidays, and when she was sick he stayed with her at their home, nursing her through the long nights of her fever.
When she died, Tung’s world turned upside down.
He was still just a child, barely a teenager. But the extended family looked to him as somehow to blame for the bad luck that had fallen on the household. A mix of superstition and long-held resentment bubbled to the surface, and Tung was driven from the house into a pig sty where he slept alone.
His carefree childhood was gone.
Tung knew he had to fend for himself. He refused to be treated so badly by his uncles and cousins, so he decided to leave. With nothing in his pocket, and no need of a bag, he hopped on a bus to the city.
He had never thought that he might one day be a ‘street kid’. In fact he’d never heard the term before. But his new life was exactly that: sleeping rough, living from day to day.
Tung was smart and quickly connected with other teen boys like himself. They too had traveled to Hanoi from their villages in search of a better life. They too were broke, homeless, and desperate.
Sometimes Tung was lucky. Sometimes he would find a job on a building site or with a work crew, and earn enough to get by. But there was always someone who would make trouble, or demand too much of the little boy. None of the jobs ever lasted very long.
After some months, when he thought he was at rock bottom, life took an even worse turn. Tung was spotted by a pimp and became the target of a ring of men exploiting homeless kids.
Tung was a good looking boy, and became a favourite for the men. At first he followed them out of a desperation to survive – he simply needed money so he could eat and have a place to sleep.
As time went on, going with the men was a way to punish himself. Tung hated what they did to him. He hated their lies and their manipulations. He hated the way they treated him as an object to be used and discarded. But he began believing that he deserved the pain, that it was payback for all his life’s failings. And so he kept going.
At the time Blue Dragon met Tung, as an organisation we were overwhelmed with similar cases. Most of the homeless boys we met on the streets of the city had been abused, and their stories were horrifying.
We were in the early days of exposing the networks of pimps, and working with the authorities to change the law so that abusing boys was clearly forbidden. We feared that the harm done to Tung might be more than we could help with.
Tung was damaged – there’s no other way to say it. He lived in a cycle of harm and self-loathing. He wanted our help, but couldn’t accept that he deserved it.
Sometimes we meet kids on the streets and they instantly become a part of Blue Dragon. For some kids, like Tung, it’s a much longer process. Tung would be at the centre some days, and then disappear for a week. He’d be the happiest kid at the shelter one night, and then be fighting with everyone the next, before walking out and heading back to the streets.
Tung needed someone to believe in him – no matter what. He needed someone to stand up for him, to go out looking for him when he didn’t come home, and to see him for who he was, not for what he had done. He found all of that in Blue Dragon.
Over many months, Tung would come and go. Everything would be fine one day, and the next he would be gone. From time to time the police would detain him for getting into a scuffle on the street, or some minor offense, and they’d call Blue Dragon to come pick him up.
On one of these occasions, Tung was in custody for some days. The morning of his release, one of the Blue Dragon staff rode down on their motorbike to pick him up.
As they headed towards the shelter, the staff took some money from their pocket and handed it back to Tung with a simple offer: “You can take this if you like and head back out to see your friends. You’ll always be welcome at Blue Dragon and you can come see us any time. Or we can go back right now to the shelter and start over. It’s your choice, and we’ll always be friends no matter what.”
This stint in custody was to be Tung’s last. His mind was made up. “I’m staying with Blue Dragon,” Tung told the social worker. “Please take me home.”
It took several years for Tung to settle down and return to school. He eventually did some training and then got a job in music and hospitality – which he’s brilliant at. It was a bumpy ride, but he got there in the end.
When Vietnamese law changed, his main abusers were arrested and imprisoned. Seeing justice served was important to his healing. Eventually Tung found his freedom, while those who harmed him have lost theirs.
As time goes by, the pain of his past has washed away into distant memory. Tung is a young man now, leading a happy life that he has defined for himself: he has not let those terrible years on the streets dictate what his future will be like.
And earlier this month, Tung reached a beautiful new milestone in life. He is now a father.
As he held his son for the first time, Tung’s eyes shone with a brightness that has been missing since he was a child himself. In becoming a parent, Tung dreams of giving his boy a life that’s safe and loving and free from all the hardships that he has known.
The cycle of pain does not have to continue. Tung has broken it, and in his son’s new life, Tung has a chance to make the world a better place.
Phuong’s escape from slavery seemed almost impossible. Desperate to get home to a daughter she had last seen as a baby, she was determined to find a way.
Every call for help to Blue Dragon is urgent. Phuong’s was especially so.
Phuong disappeared 3 years ago. She was offered a chance to work in a restaurant in another town, and followed someone she thought was a friend.
At the time, Phuong felt lucky. As a child, a terrible motorbike accident severed one of her legs, leaving her with a permanent disability. She doubted whether she could ever find a steady job and lead an independent life.
Phuong did all she could to turn her life around. At great expense she had a prosthetic leg fitted and worked hard to be mobile again. But nobody would employ her.
The offer from her friend was the best news she’d had in years, coming shortly after she had given birth to a baby girl. Her fear of how she could afford to raise her child led her to take the job offer immediately.
It’s a common and deeply cruel trick of the traffickers: find people who are desperate to improve their lives, and prey on their hope. We see this in virtually every case of trafficking that we encounter.
Phuong’s hope turned to horror and then despair. She was taken to China and sold to a man who wanted a wife so he could have children to carry on the family name.
Through all the hardship of her life, Phuong knows a thing or two about courage. She refused to give up hope. Every day was a new chance to escape.
Three years passed. The terror of being bought and kept as a possession became a daily reality. But Phuong continued looking for a way out.
She took the chance to make a call for help one night when everyone else was sleeping. The message reached Blue Dragon soon after, and we could see that this rescue operation would not be like others we have done.
In most rescues, we rely on the victim to communicate with us through text message on a smart phone. But Phuong is illiterate. We had to talk directly on the phone, knowing that every phone call creates a risk of being overheard and caught.
We also rely on the victim being mobile enough to run, or at least to move quickly, during the escape. Phuong told us clearly that this would be out of the question. Her prosthetic leg is old and poorly fitted; this rescue would need to be taken slowly and gently.
It was as though the trafficker had prepared for a rescue attempt in advance. Phuong was deep inside China, far from the safety of the border. Once Phuong was with us, we would have a long, slow journey ahead.
But this is what Blue Dragon does. We find people in crisis situations – people who may have nothing but the slightest fragment of hope – and we bring that hope to life.
Phuong’s situation looked almost impossible… and anything that’s “almost” impossible is possible. After months of planning we sent a team to find her and get her out. Following two weeks of travel within China, Phuong crossed the border back into Vietnam.
A rescue operation is never the end of the story. Much remains to be done.
Phuong will need years of care and assistance to recover from this ordeal. The traffickers must be caught. Phuong is in quarantine now, and when she is released we will take her home to meet her 3 year old child, who has grown up not knowing anything about her mother.
For Phuong to finally have a good life, she’ll need a new prosthetic leg and some help to learn a trade and start a new job – when she’s ready.
The road ahead is long and winding. But for today, we can celebrate that Phuong is free, and for the first time in a long time has a chance for something better in life.