Glimmer

After 21 years in slavery, Duong is home. How can anyone survive such an experience?

Duong was 17 when she was trafficked from Vietnam to China and sold into slavery.

That was 21 years ago, but she remembers every detail like it was just last week.

Her rescue last month and her return to her home in Nghe An province a few days ago seem almost miraculous. Her family believed that she was long dead; after so many years of absence, they never thought they would see their daughter again.

Duong and her mother, reunited after 21 years in slavery.
Duong and her mother, reunited.

It was a joyful reunion, but Duong’s homecoming was shrouded with sadness. Her parents have divorced. Her younger brother died in an accident. Her grandmother passed away.

So many major milestones and events that she has missed – that she’s known nothing of until now. The home she is returning to is not the home that she was taken from two decades previously.

During 2020, Blue Dragon has seen a marked increase in the rescues and repatriations of women who were trafficked long ago – 10 and 20 years ago, or more.

It bends the mind to imagine that any person could live so long in slavery. How can it be?

While every case is different, there are some similarities that help us understand how Duong could survive so long and still dream of returning home.

On first being trafficked and enslaved, any person will put up a fight – they know it is a fight for their lives. Some will succeed and find a way back to freedom quickly. Others, like Duong, will be beaten and tortured until the hope of escape seems a fantasy.

Many in that situation learn to live with their horrific new reality. If they’ve been sold as a bride, they might have children and raise them, seeing them through school and into adulthood. They might become friendly with their captor and genuinely have moments of happiness as the years go by.

But in every case that Blue Dragon has seen, no matter how much time passes, there remains a glimmer of hope.

The woman or man may adapt and grow familiar with the life they have been sold into. They may appear to enjoy life. But the dream of freedom never dies.

So it was with Duong. After 21 years in slavery, she has lived longer in captivity in China than she has had freedom in Vietnam. There is so much of her story that she has not told yet, and maybe never will.

But she kept that glimmer of hope alive, and today she is in her family home, in her mother’s arms, where she has always wanted to be.

And that’s why the rescue of trafficked people continues to be such urgent and vital work. Right now, there is one more person keeping alive the hope that someone will come to take them home after years in slavery. One more person dreaming that they too will be back with their family.

Let’s not fail them.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is working to end human trafficking and slavery. Please donate to this important work if you can.

Rescue in the days of coronavirus

It took Lan more than 4 years to find a chance of escape.

In the end, it was the coronavirus that gave her the opportunity to call for help.

Trafficked from Vietnam into Hunan province, she was sold to a violent Chinese man who treated her as an object and beat her mercilessly. But as the world panicked over COVID-19, he became distracted.

With their city in lockdown, the husband saw no reason to be paranoid that Lan might escape. His inattention allowed her to steal a mobile phone, and she called her family back in southern Vietnam.

Word reached Blue Dragon, and we contacted Lan immediately in the knowledge that for now, there’s almost nothing we can do other than plan. Heavily enforced travel restrictions in China have been successful in stopping the spread of the virus, but they have made rescue operations virtually impossible.

In recent weeks we have succeeded in getting several women and a 5 year-old girl back into Vietnam (they’re all in quarantine now), but nobody can get into or out of Hunan.

Tragically, the very reason that Lan could call for help is the same reason she can not get to safety.

There are almost 30 women and girls in this exact situation right now: in contact with us but waiting, waiting. We are on the phone daily, giving assurances and constantly evaluating whether or not someone can be reached.

But Lan can’t. Not yet.

On Wednesday night, Lan was pushed beyond her limits. With rescue still possibly weeks away but with the epidemic starting to pass, her husband again took to beating her.

And she couldn’t take any more.

Lan rang the Blue Dragon rescue team with a request: Please say sorry to my family. Tell them I love them, but death would be better than one more day of this.

She couldn’t wait one more night. Lan had decided to take her own life.

When the phone fell silent, we were left helpless and shocked. COVID-19 is devastating millions across the world. But something about this is an even greater depth of injustice.

The next day, after countless unanswered calls and messages, Lan rang back.

Her voice was weak and low, but recognisable: she is still alive.

We’re all waiting for this hated epidemic to pass. For so many, it means lost jobs, financial ruin, being trapped in a foreign country, or maybe just inconvenience.

For Lan, the passing of COVID-19 is everything. Her life depends on it.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis. Right now we are in urgent need of funds. If you can donate any amount, please head to the website and send a gift. It will be sincerely appreciated.