This weekend I have been visiting my family in rural Australia. It’s been some years since I was last here, and I have forgotten how quietly paced life is in the countryside.
In Vietnam, life never seems to slow down; there’s never time to take a breath. In part, this is the nature of the crisis work we do at Blue Dragon; but it’s also a reflection of the country itself.
Even while I am travelling, there are rescues underway of girls who were trafficked to China, and our street outreach team has been looking for 2 missing children in Hanoi. The emergencies continue, and this place of quiet where I am now seems to be a world away.
Charities working in crisis situations often feel frustrated in conveying to the world the urgency and depth of the need they are faced with. This is why they resort to ‘poverty porn’: parading the poor and desperate in front of the world in order to attract donations. It’s a despicable way to raise money, but the frustration that leads organisations to do it is not surprising.
Life in Australia – even in the cities – is calm and peaceful compared to the immediacy of life in Vietnam. People in Australia are comfortable; they generally have what they need, and most people aren’t faced with daily questions of how to eat or how to find a missing child. There is undoubtedly poverty and hardship here, too, but it is far less common; it is exceptional and unusual rather than normal.
Although I have taken the weekend away, I’m travelling to meet with supporters and talk about Blue Dragon’s work. My stories are mostly of kids who have been abused but, with some help, have turned their lives around. People are always interested to know how we conduct rescue operations, and how the kids survive when they are so profoundly traumatised.
To me, these stories have become a part of my ‘normal’. I am still often deeply touched, and sometimes shocked, by what I see, but I sit and talk with traumatised young people every day; their stories are part of my daily life. To people in other countries, these stories can seem surreal. Such trauma and suffering among children is unimaginable.
Standing with feet in both worlds, I feel torn about where I belong. I am drawn to the idea of a quiet life; I dream of living as a hermit, out in the bush away from the crowds. But I feel a pull towards a place where life has more immediacy, more demands: and in Vietnam I know that there is still a huge need. I have a place there. I don’t see how I could settle in to the quiet life when I know that such suffering continues.
And so I will take this moment to breathe, and by the time I return to Vietnam I hope to have some new energy. The quiet life will always be an option; for now it is only a reprieve before returning home.