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.

Reunited

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.

Right?

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.

The broken compass of regret

From the streets to success: Dong’s transformation has been inspiring, but something deep inside holds him back from claiming his pride.

A lovely celebration graced this week – the wedding of two Blue Dragon alumni, now both young adults who are setting out in their careers.

As happens at these events, staff and kids all headed out to be part of the ceremony. Moments like these show how close the whole Blue Dragon community really is.

Along the journey, I had a chance to meet up with another of the Blue Dragon ‘old boys’; a young man named Dong who also married recently.

Dong and his wife Phu manage a beautiful garden cafe. I spent some time talking with them and watching them at work. And sampling their drinks, of course!

A hard start to life

Dong has come such a long way since his difficult teenage years. 

When we first met him, he had been living on the streets on and off for several years. He had become so self reliant that even when he broke his leg he walked alone to a hospital to seek help. 

Without any love or care from family, he was constantly in survival mode. 

A street boy sits alone – Image generated by A.I.

And we know that when anyone is in survival mode, their behaviour will be challenging. 

In the two years he was with Blue Dragon, Dong often got into conflict with other kids. He resisted fitting in and his efforts to study were mixed. 

At times he did spectacularly well, like the effort he put into his barista training – which is now paying off! But then he would suddenly disengage, seem uninterested, and sabotage his own success. 

All of which is totally normal for a teenager dealing with complex trauma. 

So when Dong moved on from Blue Dragon, he took with him the benefits of care and counselling, as well as his job training. 

But he also took with him the secret pain of regret. 

A strange emotion

Regret is a strange emotion. Having it makes us human – it shows that we can reflect and gives us an opportunity to learn from the past. 

But as a compass to transform the past into a better direction for the future, regret is a broken instrument. It is so often wrong – as it is for Dong. 

As we talked, Dong shared with me his regret over mistakes he had made at Blue Dragon. Like the time he got into a fight with his best friend. And the time he quit one of his classes because of a conflict with the teacher. And the time…

But Dong’s feeling of regret was misleading him. None of this was a matter to feel bad about, and certainly nothing to apologise for. 

It was all part of the natural, bumpy process of healing. 

There’s probably none among us who doesn’t feel the pain of regret for something that we shouldn’t. Some, like Dong, carry far too much pain.

Regret serves an evolutionary purpose and is part of what makes us human. But we all need help at times to fine tune, or even reset, the compass. To make sure it’s leading us on a true course. 

I hope that my time with Dong helped him to see that nobody at Blue Dragon judges him for anything that happened while he was with us, dealing with his very complex childhood.

More importantly, I hope that he can see that he doesn’t need to judge himself. 

As he mixed drinks and served customers alongside his wife and their staff, I saw a young man with so much to be proud of. 

I hope that he can see that, too.  

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation protects children from trafficking and exploitation.

Better days

Homeless on the city streets and robbed of his belongings, Van felt lost and alone. But thanks to an unexpected change in fortunes, better days have finally come.

His dream was simple.

Van just wanted to be free of poverty.

As a teenager growing up in the remote mountains of northern Vietnam, he wished for a way to change his fortunes. His father worked hard but there was never enough money to repair their dilapidated house. There was just no way to ever get ahead.

They were trapped in the grinding cycle of poverty.

Determined to change his fate, Van set out on his own. He believed that if he could reach Hanoi, a few hundred kilometers from his home, he could find a job and earn some decent money. Neither he nor his father would have to live in poverty again.

But it wasn’t to be. When Blue Dragon found Van sleeping in an abandoned construction site, he had been scammed and robbed. He had no money for food or even for a bus ticket to take him home.

I first wrote about Van’s story in March and at that time some kind-hearted people around the world donated so that we could help Van to finally change his life.

And how is he now?

Since we accompanied Van home to his family, he has kept his word to stay in the village until he’s old enough to start a vocational training course.

The donated money first paid to buy some goats, giving the family some work and a chance to create an income. Van looks after the animals and is delighted to report that they now have a newborn kid. Their herd is already growing!

More than that, donations have made essential repairs to Van’s family home. Now they have a concrete floor and are connected to the electricity grid. We’ve installed a water tank, bought some household equipment, and sealed the gaps in the timber walls.

View from the front of the house.

View from the rear.

… and the inside.

Along with a few other improvements and a small extension to the back of the house, they are now much more comfortable. (You can compare these pictures to the photos in my original post here).

Their home is by no means luxurious, but now it’s safe and comfortable, with all the essentials they need. Van’s despair has tranformed into hope for the future.

Because, with a little help from friends around the world, he can see that better days have come.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is on a mission to end human trafficking. We assist and protect children like Van to keep them safe, while working towards a better world for all. 

The boy who rides

He survived his childhood with a show of courage that shocked many. Today Tan celebrates his life by making the most of every moment.

Three years ago, I shared one of the most extraordinary stories I have ever written here on the blog.

It was the story of Tan, a H’mong boy who had survived a childhood that few of us could imagine.

At the age of seven, Tan left his home in the remote mountains of northern Vietnam to escape unbearable violence.

He walked into the jungle alone and kept walking until he reached safety two weeks later.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of Tan’s troubles. A few years later he found himself in need of escape once more. So again he set out on foot – again, for weeks completely alone.

I called that story The Boy Who Walked, and you can read it here. His determination to survive in the face of dreadful neglect and violence is inspiring.

But life is a long story and now Tan has started a whole new chapter.

He’s no longer just the boy who walked. Today he is the boy who rides.

Since I shared Tan’s story, he has gone on to make a new life for himself. He’s a young man now, living independently and working as a chef. He loves his job: not only because of his passion for cooking, but more importantly for what he calls the “warm environment” of his workplace.

And after work, Tan has another passion that gives him a profound satisfaction: travel.

Tan on his beloved motorbike.

Tan saves his salary carefully so that out of working hours he can glide through the city streets and out into the countryside on his most prized possession.

It isn’t fear or hunger that drives him now. He is compelled by a desire to explore and discover.

Tan has taken control of his own life. The miles that he covers and the places he vists are for joy rather than survival.

A photo Tan has taken on one of his many rides.

He may still carry the scars of his childhood: he has never found his family or the village where he was born. But those scars don’t hold him back from dreaming of the future.

Tan talks about saving to buy a home of his own one day. He is proud of what he has done with his life and talks openly about the value he places on his relationship with all of us at Blue Dragon.

He’s an incredible person who has gone beyond mere survival to find a passion for life. His courage and perseverance are exceptional – and I am sure will carry him a long way.

But I also know that this is far from the end of Tan’s story. Another chapter surely awaits him… and I cannot imagine what his next adventure will be.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

If not us

Most of us have a safety net to protect us when things go wrong. For those who don’t: what do they have? They have us.

While I am taking a short break from writing my weekly blog, I wanted to share a post from Vi Do, Blue Dragon’s co-CEO.

Vi recently shared these thoughts on his LinkedIn to inspire and to challenge.

It’s inspiring to think that we can do so much, have such an impact, simply by caring for others.

But it’s also challenging to know the responsibility that gives us.

I leave you with Vi’s words…

LinkedIn post by Vi Do

There’s a famous quote often used by activists in the US:

    If not us, who? 
    If not now, when?

I think about these words when I reflect on the work I do at Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation.

In Blue Dragon, we take on difficult and thankless work. We search for children in brothels and under bridges… we face threats from pimps and traffickers… and many times we help young people who seem impossible to help.

You might have an image of a grateful child, smiling and saying thanks as we lift them out of the dirt. Sometimes it’s like that – but not often.

The children we meet suffer from all kinds of psychological issues. Many are not ready to go back to school or start a job because they are still suffering so much trauma. These kids might act out by rebelling against authority or misbehaving. Some want to make trouble just to see how we will react. They test us to see if we will still care for them even if they do something bad.

A boy sleeping by the road in Hanoi.

There are kids we have helped over the years who started out seeming to be impossible but in the end they shine like stars. I remember one boy named Duc who was homeless in Hanoi and was abused by many pedophiles. He was only 14.

Duc gave up on himself and never believed he could ever do anything good. Even when I offered him money or a place to stay, he would refuse, and would go again with the men who abused him. It looked like he didn’t want any help. Some people said he was a bad kid.

But I knew differently. I could see he hated his life and was punishing himself for things that were not his fault. So I kept caring for him even when it didn’t seem to make any difference. I met with him at cafes, I gave him money for food, and I stayed in touch every day.

Eventually, Duc came to me and said he wanted to change his life. From that day, he never went back to the streets and did everything he could to start over. Now he is a young man and recently he married. He has his own business and uses his money for others in need. Sometimes he calls me to help homeless children he sees on the street.

Duc’s story has a very happy ending. But not all do. Some young people go to prison or join gangs. Not all of them follow the path of Duc and start helping others.

So people ask me: Why do I do it? Why dedicate my life to helping people who might never be that grateful, smiling child? Why help others when I can never be sure if it will really change their life? 

And that brings me back to the wise words:

    If not us, who? 
    If not now, when?

Most of us have family or friends to help us through a crisis. Most of us have a safety net to protect us when things go wrong.

For those who don’t: what do they have? They have us. You and me. Those of us who are lucky enough to be safe and well are the ones to help those who are in crisis.

We all have a part to play. We can’t just hope that someone else will make the world better. We can take responsibility and do it ourselves.

Because if we don’t, then who will?

Vi Do is co-CEO of Blue Dragon and a former street kid. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Start with strengths

Keeping kids and families safe from human trafficking demands some creative interventions. Here’s one that works every time.

I’m taking a short break from writing the blog – back in July! – but before I go, there’s one quick message to share.

If you head over to the Blue Dragon website you’ll find something new. We’re running a Pay It Forward campaign in rural regions of Vietnam for families who need a helping hand.

Most people are familiar with the concept. You help someone start a farm or a small business, and the recipient of that charity ‘pays it forward’ by helping someone else in need.

A gift to help one person lift themselves out of poverty ultimately helps several families. It’s an impact multiplier.

Even better, our partner organisation Help For Hope is involved. They’re doubling all donations for this campaign to a total of $50,000.

(If, at this point, you would like to make a donation for this, you can do it here).

Helping families get out of poverty is a key strategy to ending human trafficking. And doing so usually takes a mix of ‘charity’ and ‘development’. Some people may rely on handouts in the short term: paying school fees for the kids, or cash allowances so they have a stable supply of food.

For the longer term, though, people need a way to look after themselves. In rural areas where there are few jobs, or for parents who need to stay home to look after children, this may mean starting a small business.

A father at work on his sewing machines.

In the past year alone, Blue Dragon has helped 338 people start a business.

One of the great things about this strategy is that it starts with the strengths of the individual, not with their deficits.

The first step in getting someone started is to find out what they already have, what they can do, what they enjoy. And that’s why Blue Dragon has helped to start so many different types of businesses: small farms, food stalls, hairdressing and tailoring are among the many.

From there, a family may need training or technical support. When we buy a cow, for example, we need to make sure the recipient knows how to feed it. And when the cow falls pregnant, the family needs to know how to care for it.

Buying farm animals can transform a family’s chance of long-term success.

So starting a business requires much more than ‘just’ money. A family may need training, mentoring and practical assistance for many months.

Blue Dragon’s Pay It Forward campaign does all of this: from taking care of basic welfare needs in the short term, through to preparing families to succeed on their own in the long term.

And as I say, your donation will be matched.

If this is of interest, head over to the website and make a donation.

It will be one of the best investments you’ve ever made.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation protects children from trafficking and exploitation.