It was the bravest decision they would ever make.
And also the quickest.
Trafficked from Vietnam to the lawless northern region of Myanmar, Tran and Ngo didn’t even see it as a choice.
If they stayed, they would die.
If they escaped, they might live.
The trafficker forced them to sign a ‘work contract’ stating that they owed $25,000 each and would pay it off by working in a brothel. A ridiculous sum that guaranteed they would be in slavery until their deaths.
Aged in their early 20s, the young women simply wanted to find a job. They would never have made the journey if they knew the horrifying reality that awaited them.
Within hours of being sold, they resolved that they would take any risk to regain their freedom. But that didn’t mean they could simply rush out the door and flag down a police car. To escape meant a tense two-week journey back to Vietnam with Blue Dragon’s rescue team, all the while knowing that the traffickers were searching for them.
A message went out on the traffickers’ social media offering a reward. A bounty of $4,000 each was advertised for Tran and Ngo. Should they be caught and returned to the brothel, their punishment would be so violent that they might wish for death.
The hell where youth and laughter go
On Thursday, these two brave women made it back to Vietnam. I wrote about their rescue on my LinkedIn – you can read it here.
Within hours, we completed one more rescue. This time, we brought home a 16-year-old girl who was also trafficked to a Myanmar brothel. She was not so fortunate as Tran and Ngo; she was in slavery for two years.
Speaking to the rescue team about what these young women went through, I couldn’t help but think of the words of poet Siegfried Sassoon. Writing about the horrors of World War One, his poem ‘Suicide in the trenches’ finishes with a powerful command to his readers:
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know / The hell where youth and laughter go.
Human trafficking isn’t trench warfare, but those lines could easily have been written about the fate of modern day slaves.
There’s nothing I can write, no photo I can share, that describes the daily brutality that Tran and Ngo so narrowly escaped, and that their younger peer suffered for two years.
But even through the darkness of the past week -including other significant events which I will write about in later posts – there were also moments of hope and inspiration.
One of them was a 20th anniversary.
On June 2, 2003, Blue Dragon opened a small shelter for street kids. We weren’t even an official organisation at that time, but there was a group of kids who wanted to turn their lives around and go back to school. So we just started.
Twenty years on, those kids have led rich and fulfilling lives.
One owns a bakery. Another has an English language school for children. Still another runs a metal fabrication business… one is a hospitality executive… and so on.
And one, rather famously, is now a CEO at Blue Dragon.
As teenagers, all of the kids who went into that shelter thought they didn’t have much to live for. Everything was against them. What chance did they have for a brighter future?
Well, it turns out they had much to look forward to.
And now, as these three young women face their first days and weeks after a traumatic, life-altering crime has been committed against them, they too will be questioning what lays ahead.
None of us can see into their future and we certainly can’t promise that everything will be OK.
But there is hope. With ongoing help – everything from counseling to legal representation to financial support – they have a chance to start over.
As long as there’s a chance, we must try.
We can’t allow human trafficking to send their youth and laughter to hell. They deserve better than that; we all do.
Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is on a mission to end human trafficking.