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.

Rescue flight

Dozens of women and girls rescued from slavery in Myanmar have returned to Vietnam on a rescue flight over the weekend.

On Saturday afternoon, Lang disembarked her flight and stepped into Vietnam for the first time in 6 months.

Lang was one of 49 women returning home after a terrifying ordeal in Myanmar.

49 survivors of human trafficking prepare to board the flight from Myanmar to Vietnam, November 6 2021.

Each has their own story about how they were trafficked from Vietnam. Most believed that they were on their way to good jobs in China or travelling with friends they trusted.

Each of them was horrified when they learned the truth: that they had been taken to northern Myanmar where they were sold into brothels.

The traffickers operating this ring are sophisticated, well organised, and deadly. They do not tolerate dissent or complaints. There are credible reports of Vietnamese women being killed in the brothels for trying to escape.

Lang thought that she was going to China to work in a factory. She didn’t even know that she had crossed into Myanmar. She trusted the people who were leading her and the other young women who shared her fate.

There was something else of great importance that Lang did not know when she was trafficked. She was pregnant.

Getting back to Vietnam is particularly important to Lang. Her time in Myanmar has been deeply traumatic; her only wish is that she can bring her child safely into the world. Now that she is on her way home, she can do that.

The months that she spent in captivity, being raped over and over, will scar her for the rest of her life. But for now, she is elated to be back in Vietnam. Once she has completed her mandatory quarantine, she will report to the police with assistance from Blue Dragon.

Then she will either return to her family home or stay with Blue Dragon to receive further assistance. Lang and many of the women will need psychological counselling, healthcare, and practical help to return to education and jobs, or to start small businesses.

Many more Vietnamese women and girls await rescue and repatriation in northern Myanmar, where there has long been a nature of lawlessness, far from the capital city Yangon. Every person held in slavery in this area is under constant threat to their life. We believe that there are many hundreds more women enslaved in the brothels.

Lang’s group, returning to Vietnam after many weeks of delays because of COVID, is the tip of the iceberg.

Blue Dragon was able to bring the women back thanks to a donation for the operation, and support from the Vietnamese Embassy in Myanmar.

This flight has brought Lang and many others safely home, but the work is far from done. Blue Dragon will continue working until every trafficked person is set free.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis. We’ve just launched our annual Christmas appeal, and ask for your help to provide meals to children and families.

Say’s story

Aged 14, Say lived a simple life in the mountains – until the terrifying day her world fell apart at the hands of a human trafficker.

It was meant to be a special day for Say.

She was 14 years old and knew little about the world. Say had never been to school and nobody in her family was literate.

Growing up in a tiny village in the mountains bordering China, Say had led a quiet and simple life. She spoke only H’mong, the language of her community, and spent her days tending the family’s corn crops. In this part of the world, agriculture is exceptionally difficult: the fields are on the sides of steep mountains, and the work is backbreaking.

A woman working in the corn fields close to the border of China.

So when Say met a young man who was passing through her village and took an interest in her, she was delighted. He seemed smart and sophisticated, and wore nice clothes – everything she dreamed about.

After a few encounters, the young man invited her to meet him at the market in the next town. Say only went to the market town for special occasions; it was a long walk to get there, and it had tall brick buildings and people speaking both H’mong and Kinh, the official Vietnamese language. For Say, the town was exciting and exotic. How could she say no?

What started as a promising day of adventure became a terrifying ordeal. The young man she so admired took her by motorbike on a ride through the hills, laughing and joking until they reached a town where all the street signs were in Chinese.

And then, like the flick of a switch, Say’s crush became her tormentor.

Say realised immediately that she had been duped. It was immediately clear that her life was in danger.

Now a group of traffickers was around her – she doesn’t recall how many. But they clung to her arms, standing over her to menace her into silence. She had never been so frightened in all her life.

Say was given a horrifying choice: go with them and agree to become the wife of a Chinese man, or be sold to a brothel. Even just aged 14, Say knew she had to choose the lesser of two evils. As fists rained down on her, she blurted out her decision. She would agree to become a wife.

The following days and weeks are all a blur to Say. She remembers being taken on a motorbike, with a rider in front of her and a strong man on the back to keep her from escaping.

She remembers riding through the hills as the sun set and the world fell black, but she doesn’t know how long they were on that bike or how far they travelled.

When they reached their destination, Say was handed to a Chinese H’mong man who took her as his wife – temporarily. He planned to keep her as his sexual object for a few months and then to re-sell her. He felt that he had paid a low price for such an attractive young girl, and he believed he could make a profit by selling her to a richer man in the city.

For three terrifying months, Say was his possession. She was locked in to his home and brutalised repeatedly. Every day, she searched for a way to escape. Every night, she cried herself to sleep.

In the end, Say was lucky to be found. Chinese police were on a routine visit to her neighborhood checking in on families in the wake of COVID outbreaks. They recognised that she was frightened and clearly did not belong in the area, and brought her to safety.

Say returned to Vietnam with assistance from Blue Dragon, and we’ve been supporting her ever since. After spending time receiving counselling and medical treatment, Say is back with her loving family.

A H’mong girl in her home, high up in the mountains of northwest Vietnam.

Last week, Blue Dragon represented Say and 5 other girls and young women as their two traffickers faced court. They are part of a highly organised gang, with some members still on the run. We believe that they have trafficked many other victims as well, and we hope in time to find them all and bring them home.

For now, the traffickers are out of action. Say is safe. Her family is restored.

But the reality is that healing is a long journey. Say will need time and ongoing care – possibly for many years – to rebuild her life. And the extreme poverty that made her a target for these traffickers must be addressed.

Blue Dragon will keep working with Say and her community in the months and years to come. They need protection, and they need healing.

For Say, seeing her traffickers sentenced – 28 years and 21 years respectively – goes a long way toward her healing. She has seen justice done. And as she returns to her work in the corn field on the side of the mountain, her dream is simply that she and her family can live a life safe and free.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

Something better

Two teens left their homes wanting to escape poverty and hardship. The dangers that they encountered are a warning to us all.

Troc was sleeping under a bridge when we first met him. He was 14 years old.

During our nightly street outreach, the Blue Dragon social workers spotted him covered in a filthy blanket, sound asleep and all on his own.

Troc had come to the city to find a job. His family live about 120km from Hanoi and relied on the income of Troc’s father, a construction worker. When the COVID pandemic first hit Vietnam, his father lost his job and returned home. The family was broke.

Wanting to do something good, Troc slipped away at night and hitchhiked to the city. He was sure that he could find a job and send money home to his family, but soon realised how wrong he had been.

The city was shut down. The streets were empty and the businesses closed. Ashamed to call his parents and tell them the truth, Troc found himself homeless and hungry.

Asleep on the pylon of a bridge in Hanoi.

Nu’s story is not all that different, but her journey was even more frightening. From the mountains of north-central Vietnam, a stone’s throw from Laos, she was almost 16 when the pandemic hit.

Nu had been counting the days until she was old enough to leave home and get a job. Her family was desperately poor and she knew that if she stayed in her village she would soon be married to one of the local boys – a fate she simply did not want.

COVID-19 meant that just as she was able to start planning to leave, she had to put everything on hold. So she waited.

A year into the pandemic, Nu was feeling trapped. She spent her days online, chatting with people far and wide. One young woman she met through social media was particularly friendly. She even offered to introduce Nu to a restaurant in Ha Long Bay that was hiring. Finally, a lucky break!

But as happens so often, Nu’s friend was in fact a trafficker. Nu travelled to the nearest city where they met in a cafe and then hopped on a bus. They were on the road for so long that Nu eventually fell asleep, despite her excitement. When she awoke, she sensed that something was wrong.

Instead of heading to Ha Long Bay, they were high up in the mountains near China. Still, Nu held out hope that everything would be OK – but when they got off the bus late at night and started walking through the forest, she knew she was in trouble.

Both Troc and Nu took risks, and both ended up in dangerous situations.

It’s easy to judge young people for getting into trouble, and it happens all the time. People often assume that girls who get trafficked must have been asking for it. If only they had been more ‘aware’ it wouldn’t have happened.

And the same goes for street kids, who are just assumed to be troublemakers. All they need to do is go home and the streets would be safer.

Troc and Nu were setting out in search of the same dream: something better.

In fact, we all do it. For most of us, it’s about leaving home to start at university or a new job in another city. Or it might mean traveling to a new state – or, in COVID-free times, a new country.

For kids like Troc and Nu, their dream of something better isn’t about adventure or a new challenge. It’s about survival. They don’t want to live – or die – in poverty. They want to change their circumstances, help their families, find a way out of hardship.

They’re both safe now. Troc came to Blue Dragon’s emergency shelter for a few weeks, and once the pandemic eased we took him back to his family. We’ve been supporting them since then and Troc returned to school to finish Grade 9.

Nu was rescued shortly after arriving in China. Her trafficker escaped, but Nu was saved from the trauma of being sold as a bride. She’s now doing a training course and in coming months will be ready to start work in a restaurant as a chef.

Troc and Nu are typical of the young people we meet every day at Blue Dragon: good kids who are trying to escape from some difficulty in life.

In many ways, they’re like all of us. They dream of having a good life, free from hunger and hardship. But their poverty means that they have to take risks that most of us would never face – and that’s where things go wrong for them.

What Troc and Nu want is the same thing that we all should be working towards: something better. For all of us.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

A trafficker’s story

Vin committed a terrible crime and received the punishment he deserved. But could this all have been prevented?

Vin was trembling as he stood, head bowed and hands clasped.

He had never been in a court room before today. He’d never even had trouble with the police.

As the judge read out his sentence – 11 years in prison – Vin still couldn’t believe that this was really happening.

And now it was official: he was a human trafficker. He had tricked a girl from a nearby village into taking a ride on his motorbike and handed her to a gang waiting on the border between Vietnam and China.

A trafficker is sentenced by the court.

While he was doing this, he knew deep down it was wrong – but something drove him to do it anyway.

Vin’s life was always hard as a child and teenager. He grew up in a H’mong village and quit school before he was 10 so that he could work full time in the fields. Some months, there just wasn’t enough to eat, so he would travel away with his father and find jobs on construction sites in the towns and cities.

Being out in the world was always a humiliating experience. People laughed at his manners and his clothes. He was embarrassed that he couldn’t speak much Kinh, the mainstream Vietnamese language, like the other workers. Even going to shops to buy supplies was difficult: he could hardly read or write and nothing was familiar.

When he met a wealthy H’mong woman and her Chinese husband one day, everything changed. He was offered a chance to make some easy money – for the first time in his life.

All he had to do was bring them a Vietnamese girl who they would take to China, where she would marry and have children.

She might not like it at first, they told Vin, because she will want to stay in Vietnam. But her life will be much better in China; she won’t be poor any more and her children will go to school. She’ll be glad you did this.

And the sum of money on offer was almost unbelievable. If he could bring a pretty girl aged under 18, he would receive 30 million VND – over $1,300! He couldn’t earn that much in a year, let alone for one day’s work.

Still he knew it was wrong, so he assured himself that this was his only way out of poverty. And why shouldn’t he have that chance? It wasn’t his fault that he was born into poverty. It wasn’t his fault that people laughed at him and joked about how stupid he was.

With this money, he could buy a new motorbike. Maybe one of the local girls would finally want to marry him! This would change his life.

Vin’s story is common among people who traffic others. In the end, his poverty and disadvantage were similar to that of the young woman he targeted and enslaved. They were alike in so many ways, except that he sought to profit from her misery.

Last week, Blue Dragon released an analysis of the profiles of human traffickers. You can find the full report here, and an article in the South China Morning Post that neatly explains the research here. We found that cases like Vin’s are extremely common: most people who end up in court for trafficking are first time offenders from backgrounds of poverty and with low levels of education.

That doesn’t excuse Vin. His victim spent a terrifying 3 months in slavery before Blue Dragon found and rescued her. What he did was unequivocally wrong.

Vin did something monstrous – but that doesn’t make him a monster. Standing there in court, he knew he deserved this punishment. He saw himself as a failure.

And yet, the findings of our research give us reason to hope.

If people like Vin are becoming traffickers because of their low education and poverty, we may be able to intervene. Programs to combat trafficking are often designed to help people who are vulnerable to being trafficked – like scholarships to keep girls in school.

It makes sense to consider that extending those programs to also keep potential traffickers in school, or to help them find legitimate jobs, would reduce human trafficking even further.

Sending Vin to prison is a just and fair decision by the court. But if only we could step in to help people like Vin and his family to find a better path, we would be preventing a human tragedy before it even happens.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

Please note that some details of this story are changed for legal and privacy reasons.


Trafficked to China 21 years ago, everyone believed that Liem was dead. But her parents refused to give up hope.

When Liem was 15, she left home.

It was 1999, and she was studying in Grade 9. Life was difficult and she wanted to find a way to help her family through some tough times.

A woman from the neighborhood approached Liem with an offer: a job at a restaurant in Hanoi. She could work there for a few months, save up some money, and return to her family as a hero.

But, the woman warned, Liem would need to keep it a secret. Her parents would never agree in advance – it would be better to send a message once Liem had already started the job.

Liem left with her school bag and a dream of saving her family from poverty. She was gone for 21 years.

Those decades away were a living hell. The woman from her village took her to China, and Liem didn’t even know that anything was wrong at first. By the time she realised, it was far too late.

At first Liem was sold into a brothel, and a year later sold into another. Over the 21 years of slavery, Liem was sold again and again. Her final years in China were as a ‘wife’ to a man who wanted a servant he could control and force himself onto.

The years of extreme hardship took their toll. Liem had a stroke, and was left unable to walk.

Her family knew none of this. On that awful afternoon in 1999, her mother and father came home in the evening to an empty house and wondered where their daughter had gone. The next day they set out in search of her, desperately hoping there was some simple, innocent explanation that Liem had stayed out over night.

Liem never came home. Days turned into weeks and then years. It was as though she had just vanished, like a puff of smoke.

Everyone was sure that Liem had died; there could be no other explanation. But while some families would have built a grave and placed their daughter’s photo on the family altar, Liem’s parents did not. Deep down they continued to hope that somehow their little girl would come home.

Then one day a mysterious phone call came. A woman who refused to identify herself was asking questions about Liem. When the family was able to verify that Liem was indeed their daughter, the woman told them the news that they had waited 21 years to hear: Liem was alive.

With 48 hours, Blue Dragon put together a rescue team and brought Liem back to Vietnam. Unable to walk, we carried her across the border.

COVID precautions meant that Liem was required to go straight to a quarantine facility. In an act of compassion, the border guards allowed Liem’s father to also go to quarantine. After two decades separated from his daughter, he could not wait another two weeks.

Liem is home now. After release from quarantine, she was carried back to the home that she walked away from more than half her life ago.

Liem being carried home after release from quarantine.

For her whole family, it seems that the impossible has come true. The years ahead are going to be hard: Liem will always live with the trauma of slavery, and her parents will always live with the regret of losing their daughter.

But at least they have a chance to start over, and to build a life from the ashes of all they lost.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation works in Vietnam with children and families in crisis. A donation to the Rescue Appeal will provide urgent assistance for the rescue and care of people like Liem.


Sold into a forced marriage far from home, Na never expected to be a victim of human trafficking. But in this case, she wasn’t the only victim…

Na was 16 when she was sold.

She lived by the river in a simple hut. Her father, Cong, is a fisherman. Although he works all day the money he brings home doesn’t go very far. Most of their family income was from Na’s brother, who worked as a chef in Ho Chi Minh City until COVID came and the restaurant closed.

So Na did what countless girls, boys and young adults around Vietnam did. She decided to leave school and get a job. She wanted to help and she knew that by earning some money her family would get through these difficult times.

Her betrayal was at the hand of someone she thought was a friend. Na could never have imagined the horrors that would unfold – or that she would be sold to a man thousands of miles from home.

Na’s father Cong couldn’t understand the terror that his daughter was going through, but he knew something was wrong. He reported to the police everything he knew – but he wanted to do more.

Seeking help from a neighbor, he took to social media to implore the world to help. He would sell his fishing boat and his house to pay a reward for anyone who could bring Na home safely.

Cong’s public pleas for help swiftly attracted a response. A young man rang just days later with a promise. He had seen Na being taken into China. He had some friends in the area who could help. But it would be costly. The young man asked for $5000.

Never in his life had Cong seen so much money, but if it meant that Na could return home, he would find a way. He approached the local money lenders, whose interest rates were up to 5% per day, and soon had the unbelievable sum of cash in his hand.

Na was gone, but Cong now had a reason to hope.

But once that money was transferred, Cong’s phone fell silent. The young man had disappeared.

It was fully a week before Cong accepted that he had been robbed. He lay awake all night, hating himself for being such a fool. Hating himself for making it even less likely that Na would ever be found. He wondered if ending his own life would in any way make up for what had happened to his only daughter.

And later, he would learn the bitter news that he had given money to the very person who had trafficked his daughter.

Blue Dragon found Na three months after she was taken. We organised a rescue operation and got her back to Vietnam where – after two weeks in COVID quarantine – she could finally get home to her father’s loving arms.

A father and daughter reunited

Cong and Na, and all their extended family, are relieved beyond words to be back together. But this is an ordeal that will haunt them forever.

The trauma that Na has experienced. The massive debt that Cong now has on his shoulders. Their months apart, and the extraordinary stress that they all lived through. The loss of their fishing boat – which was the only source of income for this family.

Recovery will take many, many years.

Blue Dragon’s philosophy is that we will help as much as we can, for as long as we are needed. However, there’s a bigger picture at play here.

What services and support should Na’s family be eligible to receive from the government?

When the trafficker is prosecuted and the court decides on compensation to be paid to Na, should her father Cong also be eligible for financial compensation?

As Na inevitably goes through the system – giving statements, applying for social assistance, re-enrolling in school – what training will each official she encounters have to support her on this journey? What rules are there to ensure her privacy and her dignity?

The truth is, many factors impact on the recovery for survivors of human trafficking and their families.

Right now, Vietnam’s law on human trafficking – the law that sets out all these details like the right to services, support and compensation – is being reviewed. And this means a chance to make a change for good.

Meeting between Blue Dragon and police to discuss areas of the law to reform

Blue Dragon is in a special position to contribute to this review. We’ve rescued over 1,000 people from slavery. In court we have represented 92 survivors of trafficking as their traffickers are prosecuted. And we’ve given psychological counselling and practical assistance to over 1,700 survivors as part of their recovery process.

So as this review gets underway, Blue Dragon is playing a key role in contributing our experience and ideas. Our strategy of having a multidisciplinary approach – with lawyers, psychologists and social workers all together on one team – means we can offer some rich insight on what’s needed in the new law.

This is a chance to make the system work better for everyone.

For Na and Cong, we will continue helping them as best we can while they recover from their terrifying experience. And through this law review, we will ensure that the whole system is better able to support families like them in the future.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis. We are especially thankful to the Czech government’s Transition program for funding our ongoing involvement in this law reform initiative.

Leap to freedom

Attempting to escape from slavery is an act of extraordinary courage. For Hoa, the scars of her ordeal will live with her forever… but she will not let them define her.

Hoa was not yet 17 when she was trafficked.

How it happened is a very familiar story. She was facing hard times. Someone she knew offered to help. She left home thinking she was on her way to start a new job, only to find it was a trick.

What happened next is even more devastating.

Hoa found herself in China, sold twice before eventually being sold to a man with an intellectual disability. He wanted a wife so he could have a child, and for him that’s all that Hoa was: a vessel for a baby.

In the 6 months that followed, life was hell. Hoa had no chance to escape. She was locked into an apartment in an unknown city. She knew nobody, and had no way to call for help.

When Hoa could take it no more, she made a breathtaking decision. She jumped from the apartment, 2 storeys high, determined to either have freedom, or death.

Hoa survived, but she was severely injured. The fall damaged her spine, leaving her unable to move the lower part of her body. The pain was unimaginable, but her captor didn’t want to seek medical help – because he didn’t want to pay the expense. Instead, he took her back upstairs and kept her for another 4 months before finally admitting her to hospital.

In the safety of the hospital, Hoa was able to try again for freedom. The staff realised something terrible had happened and called the police. Now Hoa was safe from her captor; but she was not yet home. It would be another year, following extensive treatment and making statements to police from her hospital bed, before she could finally return to Vietnam.

Blue Dragon assisted with Hoa’s return, and since then have continued working with her. But how can anyone heal from such a traumatic episode?

Hoa is now fully reliant on her wheelchair for mobility. She will never walk again.

And the memories of the horror she experienced – tricked by a friend, sold into a waking nightmare, leaping from the building, then left for months to lay motionless with a serious spinal injury instead of receiving immediate treatment – will never go away.

In her darkest days, Hoa showed extraordinary courage by jumping for her freedom. This same courage has carried her through the months of psychological and physical therapy, wheelchair training, and learning to live independently with her disability… until finally Hoa was ready to return to her studies.

Hoa practicing her IT skills

Hoa’s story doesn’t end there. Because this week, she has started a whole new chapter in life: her very first job.

When she left home at age 17, that was all she wanted. Employment. An income. A chance to live a life free from poverty.

Someone took advantage of her need, and the impact on Hoa’s life was catastrophic. But she isn’t going to let that stop her.

She now works in an IT firm. It’s an entry-level job in a company that has great policies for employing people with disabilities. They hired her because she’s smart, brave, and beams with optimism about the future.

At times Hoa’s situation seemed impossible. She could see no way out. To overcome this as she has is an incredible feat of bravery.

Life will never be what it could have been. But it will be what she makes it.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues children from crisis.

The Journey Home

After 3 years in slavery and 2 weeks in quarantine, Phuong is finally home. But her hardships are far from over.

Phuong’s rescue from slavery and return to Vietnam defied the odds.

After 3 years held in China against her will, Phuong was desperate to return home to her baby daughter and her mother. At the very first opportunity, she risked her life to make a call for help.

Illiterate and relying on a prosthetic leg, Phuong’s options for escape were severely limited. But Blue Dragon’s operation in late November found her and brought Phuong back to Vietnam, as detailed in my earlier post, Almost Impossible.

After 2 weeks in quarantine and time with Blue Dragon’s counsellors, Phuong went home on Friday.

We all want to believe that going home, a family reunion, will mean ‘happy ever after’. Sometimes it is. But for Phuong, the journey home was never going to be easy.

For a start, the road home is not a road. It’s a canal, winding through the Mekong Delta. Phuong and the Blue Dragon staff accompanying her rowed down the waterway on the final leg of her very long journey home.

Rowing along the canal to get home.

And then came the realisation that Phuong’s home is not a house. It’s a tent.

Phuong’s family home: a tent by the canal.

This is Phuong’s home. This is where she was raised, where she gave birth, and where she now lives.

It’s clear why the traffickers chose Phuong. They saw her as an easy target. Few opportunities. An extremely difficult life. And her family had no resources to go searching when she went missing.

Her family may be extremely poor, but there’s one thing they have plenty of: love. Phuong’s return home was a tearful, joyful occasion. Even though this family has so few material possessions, they are back together and they have each other.

The moment that Phuong and her mother reunited.

Rescue from slavery is never the end of the story. It’s just the beginning of a new chapter.

For Phuong, her 3 year old daughter and her own parents, this family reunion is a chance for a new start in life. They’re going to need a lot of help over a long time, but now Phuong finally has a reason to hope that better days really are ahead.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is working to end human trafficking and slavery. Please donate to this important work if you can.


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.