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.

Being kids

The Blue Dragon kids, along with much of Vietnam and the world, have been through some especially difficult times of late. So this weekend, we took the opportunity to have some fun.

In case you missed it, this weekend was Halloween.

It might seem an unlikely celebration for Vietnam, but in cities and towns across the country, people were dressing up and decorating their homes and their shops with all the familiar ‘spooky’ imagery.

The past month has been a difficult few weeks in a terrible year. The central provinces of Vietnam have been hit by storm after storm, causing floods and landslides and damage to tens of thousands of homes.

And it’s not over yet. One more storm is expected to hit on Wednesday. Reports are calling it “the world’s strongest storm so far this year.

Blue Dragon’s work is always about resolving crisis. This year, coronavirus and the floods have added to the complexity of life for people who are already in crisis, already struggling, already trying to cope with abuse and exploitation.

So when Halloween came onto the horizon, we knew what we had to do.

Throw a party.

In the end, for all the crisis and hardship, kids have to be kids. Fun and play shouldn’t be luxuries for children; they are essentials.

And the Blue Dragon kids know how to have a party. They painted a huge banner, organized a talent competition – “Blue Dragon’s Next Top Zombie” – and spent the whole afternoon dressing up and painting their faces.

We’re all still mourning the loss of My, one of our young women who died in an accident just over a week ago. We’re doing all we can to get aid to flood victims, and help families repair their homes before the next storm hits. And our work of rescuing victims of trafficking and finding homeless children continues.

But for a few glorious hours, the girls and boys at the Blue Dragon centre could put all their woes aside and just be kids, having silly, playful fun.

Sometimes, we all need to do exactly that.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

Yesterday’s normal

What can we learn from this coronavirus pandemic to create a better future for our world?

We’ve all been in isolation for – how long now?

At this point we’re all thinking about the end of lockdown and social distancing. We just want it to be over and for life to get back to normal.

But… do we really? Is yesterday’s normal something that we aspire to?

Or do we dare to ask: Could we do better?

There will be many discussions about how we should shape the future as we recover from COVID-19. Today I want to share my thoughts on the lessons we can take from this global crisis, because what we learn is critical in deciding what we will do next.

Lesson 1: The most important people are often the least recognized.

Who has been out on the frontline of this crisis? Nurses, teachers, journalists, doctors, cleaners, social workers, couriers, ambulance drivers, shopkeepers… Some of these people are well paid and many are not. They’re all people who serve others in one way or another. In some countries, these jobs are likely filled by immigrants. They’re also more likely to be women.

As we work our way out of this crisis, these people cannot be forgotten. The structural inequality that rewards some and leaves others in poverty, despite how vital they are to a functioning society, has to be addressed.

Lesson 2: Everyone has something to offer.

When we’re all equally in trouble, the normal power imbalances among us become blurred. As I wrote some weeks ago, a boy who has been living under a bridge suddenly assumed the role of an important leader among the kids at Blue Dragon. And this weekend, one of the Blue Dragon ‘old boys’ who is now a (temporarily unemployed) hairdresser offered to go to the shelters and give free haircuts for everyone. His wife is 8 months pregnant, but he doesn’t want any payment – this is a gift that he wants to contribute.

On a global level, Vietnam made headlines this week for donating more than half a million facemasks to Europe. Normally the recipient of aid, Vietnam found that it has been able to give to others who usually aren’t in need, but now are.

We too easily categorise each other – and ourselves – by the strengths we see on display in everyday life. But a crisis reveals the strengths we may have never even known existed. Let’s not forget these as we rebuild in coming months.

Lesson 3: We can rise to any occasion.

You may have seen the heartwarming clips of Italians singing from their balconies during the worst of their lockdown. Then a German community raised their voice in solidarity. And around the world, the joy spread.

There have been more practical displays of communities making the most of their struggles. Here in Vietnam, volunteers have set up free ‘rice ATMs’ so that families without enough can simply go and get the rice they need, no questions asked.

Right now, life is hard. And the response from people the world over shows that when we act as a community, we can face even the greatest challenges.

Lesson 4: People are wonderful.

As a charity, all of us at Blue Dragon have been worried about the future. Calls for our help have increased significantly, but a global crisis inevitably means that resources will be more scarce.

Through these terribly dark times, I have received so much encouragement and support from people, many of whom I have never even met. One person wrote to say that if we had any urgent needs, I could just ask. Slightly embarrassed, I wrote back to say that actually yes, we do indeed have some families who are desperate… and within minutes I had an assurance of a donation to help.

Others have not been in a position to help but have taken the time to write and let me know. One amazing person told me how she’s been knitting and making baby swaddles for new mothers who are doing it tough. How beautiful is that?

I could fill the blog with similar stories. It feels like the generosity and kindness of people around the world has somehow blossomed in the midst of all the sorrow and hardship.

Lesson 5: There is always hope.

I’m not trying to sugarcoat this situation or ignore the reality. The world is in a mess. For many millions of people, there’s not going to be a quick recovery and the coming months are going to be bleak.

And yes, I could equally write about the displays of selfishness we’ve seen on the news: the hoarding, the breaching of rules which have been implemented for our own wellbeing, the leaders who have told citizens to do one thing while they go off and do another.

But the displays of exceptional goodness that we can see far outweigh these. We’re seeing communities, cities, and even nations rally together in ways that we rarely do. We see people sacrificing themselves, going to work even knowing the dangers, to help others.

If we can do all this in the face of a global pandemic, then we can it when times are more stable.

We will get through this difficult time. And we have a chance to consider who we want to be, what sort of world we want to live in. We don’t have to revert to yesterday’s normal.

Let’s learn from what has happened and take the chance that’s before us.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis. We are continuing to work throughout the coronavirus pandemic to rescue victims of human trafficking and get street children to safety.