Undercover at the noodle cart

Homeless with two daughters, Mrs Chi’s worries worsened when gangsters started harrassing her. An unexpected turn of events changed that.

Thanh h​ad a problem.

He’s an experienced social worker. Lovely with the kids. A real gentleman and intelligent with it.

He has worked with Blue Dragon for a couple of years and after taking a break, recently returned to work with us in a new location.

Blue Dragon is expanding, ramping up our work in a push to end human trafficking once and for all. This means growing our presence both in the cities and the villages, going wherever we are needed the most.

In urban settings, young people and families who are impoverished are at significant risk of being exploited. It’s not always called human trafficking by society, but that’s what it is. People are tricked into working with no salaries; lured into dangerous places like brothels and karaoke bars; preyed on for their vulnerability.

Thanh has been working with children and families on the city streets. His mission is simple: Help them find a way back into a home, or school, or dignified employment.

But one day he told me that he has an unexpected problem.

When he approaches young people or families on the street, he’s sometimes mistaken for an undercover policeman.

I would never think that Thanh looks like a policeman; he speaks with a lovely smile and carries himself in a relaxed, casual manner. But people who are homeless can easily become suspicious. It’s hard for them to believe that anybody would help them without it being a trick or demanding something in return.

“One time, as soon as they saw me coming, the children got up and ran in the other direction,” he told me.

Despite this challenge, Thanh continued. And along the way, he’s done some excellent work. He’s helped families to rent rooms so that their kids can go back to school and the parents can return to work. Families around the city have come to know and trust him, and greet him with joy when he appears.

Recently, Thanh shared that he had helped Mrs. Chi to turn her fortunes around.

Mrs. Chi has had a series of troubles, starting with her husband dying of Covid. Soon she was broke and homeless with two children under 5 years old, not seeing any way out of her situation.

Mrs. Chi didn’t want charity. She wanted a job. She wanted to earn her own money and care for her daughters without being constantly worried and without relying on anyone else. But of course, to do that, she needed someone to lend a helping hand to get her started.

So Thanh set her up with a room to rent and a cart that she can wheel around and sell noodles from. Her dream has been to have her own little business so that she can arrange her working hours around her children’s needs and earn enough money to be safe and independent.

Mrs Chi getting the noodle cart ready.

However, she had one more problem.

While going through tough times, she had taken out a loan from a black market loan shark. These gangsters are everywhere. They make it very easy to borrow, but very difficult to ever break free from their grip. Even though she had been repaying their exorbitant interest rates, they continued to harass and threaten her.

So Thanh offered to help out. He got their phone number from Mrs. Chi and rang them to have a chat.

His plan was to ask for time to repay the loan. After all, she was now starting to earn money, so why harass her and make her fearful?

But something rather unexpected happened.

The gangsters mistook Thanh for… a policeman.

They promptly hung up the phone. Disconnected.

And Mrs. Chi hasn’t heard from them since.

Now she’s selling her noodles in peace and rebuilding her life.

Thanh’s challenge turned very much to Mrs. Chi’s advantage.

Thanks for reading the Life Is A Long Story blog. If you want to understand the latest developments in human trafficking in Southeast Asia, join me on March 26 in this Blue Dragon webinar

Where are we now?

Human trafficking and slavery continue to take new forms, constantly staying a step ahead of attempts to keep people safe. Is there any light at the end of this tunnel?

It’s been a few months since I wrote my last post.

What’s changed since then? Nothing. And everything. All of it.

Blue Dragon’s rescues continue. Continue to grow in number, continue to grow in urgency. That’s not new.

But the numbers calling for help are new. In the second half of 2023, we rescued 7 times the number of people we rescued in the first half. Looking ahead to the coming months, those numbers are still growing.

Crossing a river during a rescue operation.

And the urgency of every call is beyond what we’ve seen before. Messages are coming to us along the lines of:

“Please help my sister, she is in Myanmar and the trafficker plans to take her kidneys.”

“I am desperate. All night I hear bombs and gunfire. I don’t want to keep living.”

“Send help, please! We are being tortured. They used an electric prod on me and now I cannot walk.”

Trafficking in all its forms is horrible, but these new levels of barbarism are shocking nonetheless.

So is there any hope at all?

When talking about human trafficking, I’m always careful of two things. First, I never exaggerate how bad things are. This includes sharing rumours or speculating. And second, I never give false hope when there’s really none to be had.

But despite all of these developments, I do believe there’s still hope. There’s light at the end of this tunnel.

Life is getting harder for the traffickers who are luring people into Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, where they are violently enslaved and forced to scam people online.

People are hearing about their tricks and are less likely to fall for them.

International pressure is causing some of these scam operations, which have enslaved over 200,000 people in south-east Asia alone, to close.

Police from China, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos have been pursuing the criminals behind the trafficking and scams, reportedly arresting thousands of people involved.

And rebel armies in northern Myanmar have sworn to shut the scams down as they take control of new territory.

Although the situation right now is worse than it’s ever been, we’re seeing signs that maybe, just maybe, the tide is starting to turn.

I hope I’m not speaking too soon. But it’s definitely too soon to give up hope.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is on a mission to end human trafficking. 

Bad blogger

Time to make amends.

I’ve broken the rules!

I stopped blogging without making any comment or giving a reason. For this I must beg forgiveness!

No excuses, other than to say that 2023 has been a sometimes-difficult year and I found that the process of writing each week took more emotion and spirit than I had to share.

But that’s all part of life and I’ll soon be ready to start again.

To end 2023, allow me to post some links that will be of interest to friends who follow and support the great work of Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation.

For a quick read, here are some highlights of the past year that are just too good not to share.

And if listening to podcasts is more your thing:

– I was interviewed recently by the fascinating Lorraine Nilon who calls herself a ‘spiritual explorer’, but her spirituality is very down-to-earth and we had the most wonderful conversation. You can listen to it here.

– Earlier in the year I spoke with Australian Member of Parliament Andrew Leigh, whose personal podcast explores “The Good Life.” And indeed it was a good chat. Tune in here.

– One final recommendation is my discussion with The Justice Dialogue, where we talked in depth about how Blue Dragon has adapted over the years to the constantly changing context of human trafficking. Absolutely worth listening to, in my unbiased opinion.

Despite a challening year, I am excited for 2024. It’s Blue Dragon’s 20th birthday and the Year of the Dragon in the lunar calendar. So I will most definitely be back to blogging in late January!

Friends near and far, thanks for being part of the story. I look forward to reconnecting in the Year of the Dragon.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is on a mission to end human trafficking. 

All the small things

Aged 12, Tai could no longer go to school. Without a helping hand, he and his family would be in grave danger.

Skimming through Blue Dragon’s social media can be an eye-opening experience.

Our Twitter (yep I’m still calling it that) feed is a good example. You’ll see announcements about completed rescue operations; news of court decisions in trafficking cases; stories about kids in sports or at school; and photos of rural families being given livestock.

It all seems a little disconnected. How is all of this part of Blue Dragon’s mission to end human trafficking?

To explain, let me share a story about a boy we’ve recently started helping.


Tai lives in an ethnic minority community in central Vietnam. Their village is in a mountainous region that is stunningly beautiful but, outside the highly developed tourist areas, remains extremely poor.

He’s 13 years old now. A little over a year ago, both of his parents fell ill. With no savings or steady income, Tai’s family were soon trapped in deep poverty.

With his school almost 14km away from home, Tai had no way to get there and back each day. His parents weren’t well enough to take him on their motorbike and he couldn’t afford to board with a family closer to town.

So that was it. Aged 12, Tai was out of school. Not because he wanted to quit; not because his family doesn’t value education. Simply because his parents were unwell and he had no way to travel there alone.

When the new school year was starting in September, Blue Dragon heard about this and went to see how we could help.

A few things were immediately obvious. Tai’s parents need medical treatment to improve their health. They need extra food to supplement their meagre diet and extra funds each month to see them through this period of hardship. So we’ve made a plan to support them for the next 6 months and we’ll see if they still need help after that.

Getting Tai to school each day is another matter. Until his parents are well enough to take him, we’ll ask one of his neighbours to help and pay them a little to cover their expenses.

For the longer term, we’re talking with the local government about a plan to organise a bus for all of the kids in Tai’s area to safely get to and from school each day, paid for by the state budget. It looks like this will happen in the new year.

A visit to the stationery shop.

To really celebrate Tai going back to school, we didn’t just buy his school supplies and drop them off. We took him to the shop to have the pleasure of choosing his own stationery, backpack and books . We wanted him to be part of the experience and not just a beneficiary of our help.

The thread

With all of this support, Tai can continue his schooling after an absence of a year and his family is on the road to stability once again.

We all agree that it’s important for kids to go to school and we all want families to have the dignity of being financially independent. But helping Tai is also important for another reason.

In Vietnam, the people who are most at risk of being trafficked and sold are members of ethnic communities – like Tai’s family.

And his village is located in a region where child trafficking has, until very recently, been a serious problem. It took Blue Dragon 10 years of constant work to put the traffickers out of business and we need to continue working to make sure they stay away.

Keeping Tai, his family and his village free from human trafficking involves all of these ‘small’ actions together. Helping parents who are ill. Providing a monthly allowance through tough times. Enrolling kids in schools and making sure they have a great experience there.

That’s the thread that ties all of Blue Dragon’s work together. And it’s much more than random acts of kindness here and there.

Helping a child like Tai go to school is a wonderful thing to do. But on its own, that won’t keep him or his family safe from human traffickers. To do that, we need to look holistically at the family’s health and housing, and also at the community around them. Paying a neighbour to take Tai to school will be very helpful for him in the short term. Making sure there’s a school bus to take all of the children to school will be helpful for everyone in the long term.

Resilience is safety

So that’s why Blue Dragon’s social media shares such an array of stories. To end human trafficking, we need to make whole families and communities resilient.

It’s a process that takes time and the actual need varies from place to place. In Tai’s village, a school bus will be part of the solution. In another place, it might be a boarding facility at the school or a new road that’s needed.

Blue Dragon will keep rolling out these clusters of activities where they are needed… And while we do that, kids like Tai can get on with being children in peace and safety.

With 2023 coming to a close, Blue Dragon is asking our friends around the world to consider a donation toward this important work. If you can, please include us in your year-end plans with a gift of any amount. Thank you!

The trade in human brutality

Rescued after 7 months in horrifying slavery, Tra hoped her nightmare was over. But on returning home, tragic news awaited her.

For all of the many problems and controversies in our world, there’s one thing everyone can agree on. Human trafficking and slavery are abhorrent crimes that we must end.

Facts about these crimes can be overwhelming. Recent estimates say that 50 million people in our world are in slavery right now. That’s more people than at any other time in history.

But the data doesn’t inspire us to take action. It often has the opposite effect.

With a problem of that size, what can I possibly do that would make a difference?

And that’s where things go wrong. Where we are inclined to give up hope and quit before we even start.

In my last post, I raised the question of whether it’s worth rescuing 10 or 20 people each week, as Blue Dragon is doing, when there are hundreds of thousands of people still in slavery.

In some ways, this is a rhetorical question. We wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t believe it worthwhile. But it’s still an important question to ask and reflect on.

Fortunately, readers of the blog share the same view. Yes, the human impact of rescuing even one person is worth it. Even better that Blue Dragon’s rescues add up to a bigger picture in our efforts to prevent human trafficking.

Since I wrote that post, we’ve brought home another 17 people from slavery.

Despite that success, a rescue doesn’t mean the end of the story. Far from it.

Not a happy ending

Tra’s story is one that hit all of us at Blue Dragon hard. When we set in motion an operation to rescue someone from slavery, we hope that their return home will be the start of their healing.

But Tra’s journey home ended with another terrible blow.

Tra is 20 years old. Early this year, she left her family home to work in a factory. All she wanted to do was earn some money to send home to her mother and father, who have always lived in deep poverty.

After some time in the factory, she was offered a job with a better salary and set out with some friends, hopeful for the future.

Tra and her friends were taken to Myanmar where they were forced to work as online scammers. Kept in captivity and in constant fear, Tra couldn’t imagine that anything could be worse.

And yet, worse was waiting. After a few months, her captors decided that she could earn more money for them in a brothel.

From the time she was trafficked to the time we rescued her, Tra was away from Vietnam for 7 months.

At the time she left home – happily thinking how lucky she was to have this opportunity – her parents were both fine and shared in her optimism for the future.

But three weeks before Tra finally returned home, her mother died of illness.

When Tra reached home, her father was waiting alone to greet his daughter with tears. Joy for their reunion, inconsolable pain for their loss.

Tra returns home to be met by her father.

You can read more of Tra’s story in this Blue Dragon Facebook post.

Personal toll

Any person who survives the experience of human trafficking needs support to recover and to deal with their trauma.

Coming home from slavery to news that a loved one has died adds a whole new depth to suffering.

And this is yet another reason why we must do everything we can to end human trafficking. No person should suffer what Tra has endured. We do not have to accept that this is a part of the human experience.

When we look up from the overwhelming size of the problem, we can see the personal toll that human trafficking takes.

And we know that we must keep going, keep fighting this trade in human brutality until it finally becomes a relic of history.

It’s possible, but only if we come together as a global community and give it all we’ve got.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is on a mission to end human trafficking. We look forward to the day that there is no need to rescue anybody else.

Scratching the surface

Human trafficking has reached new levels of brutality and is harming more people than ever before. Is there really any chance we can stop it?

Last week, Blue Dragon rescued 17 people from slavery.

Then on the weekend we rescued three more.

Each person has their own story, their own set of unfortunate circumstances as to how they came to be targeted by human traffickers.

All are Vietnamese people and we rescued them from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. You can read here about how we conduct our rescue operations.

To bring home 20 people in the course of a week is an excellent outcome of our work. And we have rescue operations underway right now which will bring more more people home in the coming weeks.

Five people, rescued from slavery, on the journey back to Vietnam.

But there’s a problem.

With the recent advent of ‘scam centres’ and the explosion of illegal casinos and brothels in northern Myanmar, human trafficking and slavery in the region is at massive levels. Probably higher than it’s ever been.

I’ve seen recent estimates of 100,000 people in slavery in Cambodian scam centres and another 150,000 people in Myanmar.

Against that background, is the rescue of 20 people something to celebrate?

The world to me

Of course, to each of the 20 people we rescued last week, Blue Dragon has changed the world.

A week ago, each was terrified. They had been deceived by people they trusted. Sold against their will. They knew that they might never see their families again.

Coming home after an experience like that brings a sense of relief and joy that no words can describe.

So although our week’s rescue operations barely scratch the surface of the 250,000 or more people who are in slavery right now, for those 20 people we’ve changed the world.

And for our work to be truly effective, we will now follow up with help to recover and rebuild: legal representation, psychological counseling, financial assistance and education.

Either / Or

On the human level, Blue Dragon’s rescue operations are of huge significance in people’s lives.

And in conducting them, we are not trapping ourselves into a false dichotomy of either rescuing people or preventing human trafficking.

We’re doing both.

Across Vietnam, Blue Dragon works in villages and cities to assist people who we can see are at high risk of being trafficked.

How do we know who is vulnerable to this crime? Well, we’ve rescued about 1,400 people so far, so we know a lot about how trafficking happens. We’ve even conducted research on the issue and published our findings.

Keeping people safe from trafficking involves a multi-pronged approach based on the local needs.

Keeping kids in school is important, but you have to make sure the schools have good facilities and resources so that kids will stay.

Families need safe houses and jobs. Parents who are in debt, or have a disability, or are raising their children alone, may require special assistance.

And communities need local leaders who understand and recognise human trafficking – and know what to do if they suspect it has happened.

All of this, and more, prevents trafficking when efforts are coordinated and highly targeted to a community’s specific circumstances.

While we rescue, Blue Dragon is also leading these efforts and documenting what we learn along the way.

The bigger question

Rescue must remain an important part of anti-trafficking efforts. After all, even if human trafficking was stopped today, there are still 250,000 people in one type of slavery in just two countries.

Blue Dragon’s rescues of 20 people one week and 10 people another week will never be enough to set free every person in slavery. We know that. But we’re certainly doing everything in our power to help those we can.

And while we do that, we’re continuing to work on the much bigger question of how to stop human trafficking before it even happens.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is on a mission to end human trafficking. 

Justice to the very end

7 young men endured the horrors of human trafficking in a scam compound. In court, their case has received national attention for a very special reason.

They just wanted the same things that all of us want.

Opportunity. Dignity. A chance to get ahead in life.

The seven young men grew up in Gia Lai province in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. They had always known poverty and hardship; and as members of an ethnic community, their Kinh language skills (what we usually refer to as ‘Vietnamese’) were quite basic.

All of this meant that, even though they wanted to work hard and earn money for their families, they had almost no chance.

Until one day, their fortunes turned.

The friends came across a social media post offering jobs with a monthly salary higher than they’d ever hoped for. They contacted the employer immediately and once they knew they’d been accepted, they set off to start a new chapter in their lives.

A common story

If you’re familiar with human trafficking, you’ll recognise immediately the red flags in their story. Vietnam’s 13 million ethnic community members are by far the most vulnerable to being trafficked. And great job offers online are often traps – as this one was.

But when you’re living in poverty… And when you don’t have anyone to advise you on how to find a steady, safe job… And when your language skills are limited… It’s so easy to fall victim to a scam.

And so these seven friends landed in trouble. Their traffickers, two Vietnamese men, arranged to sell them into a forced online scamming centre in Cambodia – the type of place that uses slaves to trick people around the world to send money.

Five of the seven men were smuggled through, sold, and forced into the brutal world of slavery. Two more men were fortunately stopped at the border, after one of their captive friends warned them of the trap.

Freedom and justice

After some months, the families of the five young men found a way to help them escape and they returned home. Vietnamese authorities were able to arrest their two traffickers, and in June this year they went to court.

Blue Dragon represented the victims at the hearing and the traffickers received very stiff penalties: 28 and 29 years’ imprisonment each. The maximum penalty is 30 years.

Blue Dragon represented the 7 victims in their original court case.

On Friday, however, their case was back in court. The traffickers lodged an appeal, claiming the sentences were too harsh. So a superior court heard their claim and once again Blue Dragon was there to protect the rights of the victims.

All of this is fairly standard; we are often in court representing people we’ve rescued or who escaped from slavery.

But one thing about the case was far from normal. As the appeal was presented and the judges deliberated, over 1,000 courts around Vietnam were watching.

Under the spotlight

In a first of its kind, the case was broadcast to Vietnam’s entire judicial system. Every court official, prosecutor and judge around the country watched the proceedings from beginning to end.

The appeal being livestreamed to every court house in Vietnam.

The appeal resulted in a reduction of their sentences, down to 23 and 24 years each. The traffickers acknowledged their guilt but argued for leniency due to their age (both are in their 20s) and because both had also been victims of trafficking themselves.

But apart from the sentencing, the broader impact was a learning experience that will strengthen Vietnam’s judiciary.

The way I summarise these stories for my blog, human trafficking cases may sound simple – ‘open and shut’. Under the spotlight of the legal system, they are much more complex and nuanced. And with every case unique, prosecutors and judges often hear cases that are totally new to them.

Now there isn’t a court official in the country who hasn’t observed a human trafficking case. As a student of pioneering educational psychologist John Sweller, I understand how powerful it is to learn from a ‘worked example‘. And that’s what this initiative has done. It’s demonstrated the use of evidence, the reasoning and the deliberations that cases of human trafficking require.

For Vietnam’s judicial system, this is a major development. There’s certainly more to be done, but clearly the judiciary is highly motivated.

A ‘good news’ ending

In the world of human trafficking, there are too few ‘good news’ stories.

These seven young men went through a terrifying time, but now can be confident that justice has been served. While the sentences have been reduced, the traffickers’ punishment is still substantial. They won’t be causing any more harm.

And for Vietnam, the innovative use of this case to educate the entire judicial system is an admirable step.

The harm that traffickers cause can never be undone. An ending like this is the best we can hope for: justice, freedom, and a society that’s able to stand up against human trafficking.

Blue Dragon is on a mission to end human trafficking. Find out more here: bluedragon.org/our-work.

Little boy lost

12 years ago, Khoa was sleeping alone in a city park. Last month, he graduated university. His inspiring story reminds us to never lose hope.

He didn’t appear to be homeless.

Khoa was a tiny boy; 12 years old but small for his age. He was sitting in a park playing alone, seemingly very happy.

But deep down, Khoa was terrified.

He came from a village outside Hanoi, where he grew up with his mother. A few months ago, she had travelled away from home to find work in the city.

There were simply no jobs at home. It saddened her to leave her son with her own parents, but she needed to find a way to earn some money.

Missing his mother, Khoa had an idea. He would go the city himself and surprise her! Then they could be together once more, without the pain of separation.

Khoa had no idea just how big the city would be. Nor that finding his mother would be impossible.

And so he came to live alone in one of the city’s many parks. He had brought a bundle of clothes with him, which he hid up a tree so that nobody would find them.

In the day, Khoa begged and collected scrap to survive. At night he slept in the park, sometimes up in the tree branches to avoid being robbed or abused. He wondered if he would ever see his mother again.

A boy sleeping in a Hanoi park.

It was at this time that a Blue Dragon social worker spotted Khoa and offered help. He was reluctant at first: the offer of shelter and food sounded too good to be true. But after some days of meeting and getting to know each other, Khoa decided to give Blue Dragon a go.


Finding Khoa in the park represented an interesting challenge for Blue Dragon. He came to the city to see his mother, but had no idea as to where she might be.

How could we possibly find her?

We made the journey back to their village to meet Khoa’s grandmother. We learned that Khoa’s mother was desperately worried that her son was missing and was searching everywhere for him. But now we had enough information to find her in Hanoi.

Mother and son were absolutely delighted to be reunited- and clearly didn’t want to be separated again.

So Khoa moved in to his mother’s rented room in Hanoi. Then we enrolled him in a school nearby so that they could live together: his mother went to work in the day and, with some financial assistance, Khoa went to school.

The long haul

First we had brought Khoa to safety, away from sleeping in the park.

Once he was out of danger, we reunited him with his mother.

And with their little family back together, we helped them both to improve their circumstances: a better place to live; education; and support for daily essentials.

But Blue Dragon’s work didn’t end there.

Over the following years, we supported Khoa through his schooling. This involved more than just paying the school fees. At times he needed counselling; he and his mother would sometimes have disagreements and the two of them together needed help to iron things out.

Along the way were many extra-curricular classes at the Blue Dragon centre, too, including a course in playing the ukelele, which Khoa loved!

When Khoa finished high school and expressed an interest in university, we could see his potential to thrive and with thanks to a kind sponsor Khoa continued his education at the tertiary level.

In August, Khoa graduated with a degree in Advertising and Public Relations. He’s a very tall young man now, carrying himself with confidence and optimism.

Nobody who meets him would guess that he was once a scared little boy living in a park and begging to survive.

And that’s the power of hope. All Khoa needed was someone to give him a chance – to help him when he was alone and offer a hand.

His transformation from a street kid to a university graduate is a reminder that within each of us is the potential to overcome, to shine, and to inspire others.

It’s been a long journey and I’m sure Khoa’s story isn’t over yet.

Khoa was homeless in a park in the centre of Hanoi. On September 10, Blue Dragon’s team of Street Outreach workers – including the social worker who first met Khoa – will take part in the Blue Dragon Marathon Walk in that very same park. You can sponsor them here, with all money going to help the children of Vietnam.

The perfect victim

Mai and Hao are two young women who were leading very different lives – until they were both sold into violent slavery.

People who get trafficked have only themselves to blame. They should have been more careful.

Statements like this – blaming victims of human trafficking for what has happened to them – are common. Often they are unstated or implied.

Even the more well-intentioned belief that awareness raising is the primary solution to trafficking focuses the responsibility on the victim. Surely if they are ‘aware’ of the possibility of being trafficked, they could take steps to avoid it.


The reality is vastly more complex. Staying safe from human trafficking is not just a matter of having some basic knowledge or being careful.

Something in common

Blue Dragon has rescued close to 1,400 people from human trafficking. We’ve rescued children and adults, males and females, from places of slavery within Vietnam as well as neighbouring countries.

Every person we rescue has their own unique experience of being trafficked. Some have been trafficked into brothels and forced marriages; others into all sorts of forced labour.

And while every story is different, there are some common threads running through them. One very common theme is that people are trafficked when they’re trying to make a better life for themselves.

There’s a cruel irony in that. The “perfect victim” is someone who just wants to find a job and earn a decent living. Instead, they are sold into untold brutality and lose everything.

Mai and Hao

That’s exactly how Mai and Hao were trafficked.

The two young women grew up leading very different lives. Mai, who is 20 years old now, grew up in a pagoda in southern Vietnam with her mother. After 19 years there and having completed her education, Mai set out looking for her first job.

Hao, on the other hand, already had some experience of work. She’s 29 and grew up in northern Vietnam, where she worked in a factory after finishing school. With the global economic downturn, Hao’s factory closed early this year and she went online looking for jobs.

Both Mai and Hao wanted to make something of their lives. They came across job ads promising decent work in a restaurant and they applied.

But instead of finding something better, they were sold into a scam centre in northern Myanmar. Day after day, they were forced to work online tricking people into sending money to their trafficker. When they missed their daily targets, the traffickers beat them.

Violence reigned. Every moment was terrifying.

Thanks to a tip-off about their location, Blue Dragon sent a rescue team to bring Mai and Hao home. After 6 months in slavery, and a weeks-long journey through jungles and across rivers, they reached the border of Vietnam on Sunday. Finally, they are safe.

And their first stop after crossing the border? A hearty meal to begin with, then a visit to the beach on the drive back to the city.

Free from slavery, Mai and Hao enjoy their first-ever visit to the beach.

Practical solutions

To keep people safe from human trafficking, practical solutions are needed.

Families need support to keep their kids in school. Young adults need access to legitimate job opportunities. And communities need to have resources – facilities, leadership, infrastructure – to help those citizens who most need help to get ahead.

Blaming the victim won’t get us anywhere. Nor will simple responses that overlook the complexity of human needs and the complex economic system that drives this crime.

But there is much that we can do, so that people like Mai and Hao can live their lives in safety – and flourish.

Blue Dragon is on a mission to end human trafficking. If you want to help, please consider getting involved in the September 10 Blue Dragon Walk. Wherever you are, you can walk the distance of your choice; or you can sponsor one of the many people who are taking part in the event. Visit the website here: bluedragonwalk.org

The unusual extremes

A 13-year-old sold into surrogacy. Sisters, looking for a job, trafficked to a brothel. These are extreme cases – but are they unusual?

Some days, the stories seem too extreme to be true.

In recent weeks, Blue Dragon rescued two sisters from a brothel in Myanmar. These brothels are the worst of the worst, away from the reach of law enforcement and run by cruel gangsters. Escaping them is exceptionally difficult.

Our operation to find the sisters, aged 22 and 26, took weeks. Getting them back to Vietnam took weeks more.

The women are massively relieved to be home now, although deeply traumatised from their experience. They had simply wanted to find a job to support their family; they had no idea what danger they were in.

The trafficker who sold them had seemed like a friend and was so helpful… Up until the moment they were beaten and enslaved. A terrifying experience that will take years to recover from.

As part of our assistance to victims of human trafficking, Blue Dragon offers legal representation. We can stand in court on behalf of the victim as their trafficker is prosecuted.

And so last week we were in court on behalf of a girl named May, who was trafficked at age 13. Three traffickers took her to China and sold her to be a surrogate mother. May’s job was to bear children for men who wanted a family but didn’t have a wife.

Traffickers being taken away at the conclusion of the case.

It takes a lot to shock me these days, but I too was shocked by this case. I can’t imagine how any person could sell a child for any purpose, let alone for such a dehumanising use as surrogacy.

Justice was served; the traffickers will spend up to 28 years in prison. But that does not even begin to compensate for the harm that they have done.

Extreme – but unusual?

Cases like these are fairly common at Blue Dragon. After all, this dark corner of life is where we have chosen to work. These are very specifically the cases, and the people, we are here to help.

And these are the stories that are most likely to make their way into the headlines or go viral online.

But it isn’t quite right to say that these cases are typical.

Blue Dragon does deal with them regularly – even daily – in our work. But we also deal with many more cases that give reason for hope.

Like the teen boy who grew up in poverty but is now studying English in Australia.

Or the father who, with some counseling and support, was able to express his emotions to his child for the very first time.

Or the young woman who was a street kid at age 15 but is now completing her university degree.

Choosing our focus

People like these are all around us. You and I pass them in the street each day and never even know what’s below the tip of their iceberg.

They might not grab the headlines, but their stories are equally important.

It’s important to see these extreme cases. We must face them, because they are a part of our world. But we shouldn’t let them overwhelm us.

Martin Luther King Jr once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” To put it another way: It may seem like everything is terrible, but in the long run there’s always hope.

What matters most is that each of us does our part to bring that hope to life: to care for others, to stand up for what’s right.

Amidst these extraordinary extremes, we must remember: even in darkness, our brightest moments emerge from tales of resilience, growth, and compassion.

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll be interested to listen to this recent interview on The Good Life with Australian MP Andrew Leigh.