His own way

At 6am, Bi stumbles out of bed, washes his face, quickly gets dressed and rushes out of the Blue Dragon shelter on his way to the hospital.

Bi first came to us last year, turning up in Hanoi lost and alone. He’s 16 now, and as he tells the story he came to the city to find his own way.

After his parents divorced, Bi lived with his father, who seemed to resent his presence and made Bi aware of it every day. At times Bi would go to stay at his mother’s house, but he wasn’t welcome there either.

One day, after yet another fight with his father, Bi gave up and headed to Hanoi, as so many children do – hoping for something better.

The day before we met him on the streets, Bi had been approached by a man offering money if he went back to his house to stay. Bi and the man got into a scuffle, leaving Bi with a scratch under his eye and a fear of what was to come next.

But fortunately, what came next was an encounter with a Blue Dragon outreach worker.

Bi stayed at our crisis shelter for some weeks before he agreed to return home, with a social worker, to see his father and try to sort things out.

It wasn’t easy, and it took a few false starts, before Bi could finally return home for good, and he eventually finished Grade 9.

Now it’s summer in Vietnam, and with a long school break Bi decided to come back to the city to earn some money. He stayed with Blue Dragon and did some odd jobs to earn a little cash – working in kitchens and a motorbike repair shop.

His relationship with his father is still pretty tenuous and he wants to be as independent as possible. And he decided that he wanted earn some money rather than just receive more help from Blue Dragon.

For Bi, the summer hasn’t only been about earning money and taking time away from home. Along the way, he shared that there was something else that he wanted to do. He wanted to help people less fortunate than himself.

Since coming back in June, Bi has been going out to volunteer in various places. This week he was at one of the city’s many hospitals, handing out banh bao and iced tea to patients who have no money for their own breakfast.

Bi, with support from one of our social workers, arrived early at the hospital to join with a local volunteer association in delivering the meals to about 150 people.

When I asked him why he was so interested in community service, he simply said: “Because if others are happy, then I’m happy too.”

Bi’s life is far from easy, but he’s committed to finding his own way and making something of his life, in spite of all the obstacles he faces. And part of “his own way” is service to others.

Today he returns to his village where he will stay with his father once again and return to school, starting in Grade 10 tomorrow. He wants to finish high school so that he can one day become a social worker.

Bi has a long way to go, but his future is bright. This is one kid who is going to make a difference in our world, and I am excited to be part of his journey.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

There is always hope

In any given week, Blue Dragon receives calls for help from girls and women who may have been trafficked just a few days ago, or maybe have enslaved for several years.

Last week, one of the more exceptional cases came to us as a matter of extreme urgency: A woman named ‘Thuy’, now 43 years old, had been trafficked and sold into China when she was just 19.

In all these years, nobody ever thought they would see her again. They knew that Thuy had left her home in Nghe An province, of her own free will, heading off for a job so that she could have a better life.

What they didn’t understand was that Thuy had been deceived. The woman who trafficked her had no job for her to do; just a man waiting across the border in China looking to buy a wife so he could have children. In a time with no smartphones, and with communication in Vietnam and China still very limited, Thuy had no way of letting anyone know she was in trouble.

Thuy’s life took a terrifying turn as she found herself sold and enslaved. And this was just the start of over two decades of abuse and suffering.

Before Thuy’s rescue several days ago, she had made 3 attempts to escape China and return home. Each time, she was caught and severely punished.

After giving birth to a child, Thuy’s original buyer no longer needed her, so sold her to another man. And on it went – until she had been sold to 4 different men, giving birth to 5 children.

Thuy’s nightmare only ended this past week when by chance she met another Vietnamese woman who had a smartphone and recorded Thuy talking about her ordeal. Uploaded to the internet, word soon reached Thuy’s village that the impossible had happened; Thuy was alive and desperately wanted to go home.

When word reached Blue Dragon, we knew we had to be quick. If Thuy’s story was spreading across the internet, we feared that her traffickers and buyers would also see the news.

And so, 48 hours later, we had found her and Thuy was on the way home.

Most people we help at Blue Dragon are much younger than Thuy, but if any person needs our help we don’t stop to check their age. No person should live in slavery.

It seems incredible that anyone could be kept as a slave for so many years, and yet one day return to freedom. When we posted about this on the Blue Dragon Facebook page, one friend commented: “There is always hope.”

Thuy’s incredible story is living proof.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

The fight we have to have

With kids coming and going from the Blue Dragon centre every day, I try my best to get to know everyone so I can call them by name when I see them and make them feel at home.

But there’s one group of young people who pass through the centre who I rarely get to know at all: the girls and young women who have come back from sex trafficking in China.

Without exception they are amazing people – they have survived something I cannot imagine, and their escape from slavery requires an uncommon bravery.

I figure that once they make it back to Vietnam, and are taking those first shaky steps toward healing, the last thing they want is to have some white guy start trying to talk to them with a terrible Vietnamese accent.

Blue Dragon’s psychologists and social workers are among the best in the world (why yes I am biased, but prove me wrong!) at supporting survivors of trafficking and trauma. There’s nothing I can say or do that would add to their counselling, other than to share a smile on the occasion that we pass in the corridors.

But sometimes, when family members or police travel in to Hanoi from the provinces to meet the young survivor and accompany her home, they ask to meet me so they can say thanks in person for what Blue Dragon has done.

Today was one of those days.

For all the rescues we’ve done – it’s edging close to 900 now – I still find myself deeply affected by the survivors I meet. Each has an horrific story, and the little bits that I learn from reading the reports and talking to our staff are only ever a fraction of the whole truth.

Today I sat with a young woman, ‘Tam’, who spent 8 years in China. Lured away from her home in a tiny village close to the Laos border, she thought she was on her way to a job and a stable income in a restaurant. Her whole experience of the world was through snippets she saw on television. Tam was an easy target for a trafficker who saw a chance to make some quick money.

Her years in China were horrific beyond what any movie or novel could adequately portray. Tam was repeatedly raped, sold multiple times to various buyers, beaten, and led to believe she would never see her family again.

And yet, tonight, she is on her way. Tomorrow she will be in her village, surrounded by loving parents and sisters and brothers, and all the extended family who have spent the last 8 years believing that Tam was gone forever.

For all of the horrors behind her, and all the uncertainty of what is yet to come, Tam had such a huge smile and an air of confidence that inspired me. She has survived the ordeal of a lifetime: whatever comes next, she’s going to overcome it.

I often wonder at the evil things we do to each other, and to our planet. But equally, I marvel at the resilience of humanity in the face of the worst suffering.

Nobody should have to lose their freedom and become another person’s property; nobody should experience the indignity of abuse and violence that Tam has been through.

It’s up to all of us, you and me, to keep up the fight against human trafficking and do all we can to get women like Tam to freedom.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.