From Street Kid to CEO

May 23, 2022

From Street Kid to CEO

WRITTEN BY - Michael Brosowski

I met Vi on the streets of the city in a chance encounter one Sunday afternoon.

He was walking along an alley, shoe-shine kit in hand, as I walked in the other direction. I could see the anticipation in his eyes as he plucked up the courage to practice on me the only words he knew in English: “Hello, shoe shine?”

It was 2003, and I had been in Vietnam for less than a year. I was teaching English to Economics students at a university and in my spare time had started running classes for street kids.

Some of my university students, as well as a handful of foreign friends, pitched in and on the weekends we had classes and soccer games that Hanoi’s shoe shine boys could join for free.

At that time, there was no “Blue Dragon” or “Not For Sale Vietnam” – we didn’t even have an idea to start a charity. We were all volunteers, doing something good for the kids.

Vi was typical of the city’s street kids at that time. Aged 15, he quit school and left his home in the countryside to come and earn money for the family. His mother worked in Hanoi as well, selling fruit or collecting scrap for recycling. Everything they earned was keeping Vi’s siblings in school.

What started as a chance encounter turned into a much longer story. Vi just wanted to shine my shoes but instead I invited him to join an English class.

Six months later, the idea for starting a charity called Blue Dragon had formed and we were getting ready to open our first shelter. Vi was one of the original six residents, and we employed his mother to look after all the kids.

“What started as a chance encounter turned into a much longer story. Vi just wanted to shine my shoes but instead I invited him to join an English class.

– Michael Brosowski

Not wanting to return to the classroom, Vi joined various training programs, starting with IT and English. Then an opportunity came up to work in one of Hanoi’s finest restaurants, and Vi’s career as a barman began.

He could have had a long career in hospitality but after 6 years Vi came back to work at Blue Dragon. We needed someone to work on the streets at night looking for homeless kids, and Vi was eager to help. But with one caveat: just for 6 months, he told me.

More than 12 years later, Vi is still with Blue Dragon. He’s built up a team of social workers who go out on the streets every day and night of the year to find children who are sleeping rough. He’s moved into a senior management role, leading a team of almost 40 professionals caring for children who have been abused, trafficked, or neglected.

And now, he’s about to take on a whole new challenge.

Not For Sale Vietnam partner’s Blue Dragon is a little unusual in that we have two CEOs, as a way of handling the complexity of our work. For the past two years, Skye Maconachie and I have been the co-CEOs leading our organisation through the turbulence of COVID.

We have an incredible team of 115 staff and as an organisation we directly assist over 10,000 people a year, all around Vietnam. I am immensely proud of our impact, of the team and its many leaders.

Now I’m ready for a change. I am not leaving Blue Dragon; simply stepping into a new, more focused role of Founder and Strategic Director. And in making that move, an opportunity for a new co-CEO has opened up.

Among a field of excellent candidates for the job, Vi stood out. He has the skills, the passion, and the vision to be our next co-CEO along with Skye.

Everything about Vi’s story is inspiring. He’s overcome incredible hardships in life and every step of the way has sought to help others. During his first interview for the co-CEO role, our first question was: “Why do you want this job?”

His answer: “So I can help more people. As a CEO I know I can have more impact.”

Vi’s journey from a street kid to a CEO reminds me how much potential there is in every child. That chance encounter on the street almost 20 years ago has led to countless lives changed for the better.

His vision for Not For Sale Vietnam partner’s Blue Dragon? In his own words: “I want to inspire and empower passionate leaders within our organisation and society. We need to create a safe, agile environment and a culture of staff sharing, caring, and standing up for what’s right. And we need to connect with the world, sharing our mission so that we will inspire the world to act.”

Alongside Skye, Vi is going to be an inspiring and visionary leader. Most exciting of all: I know that Vi is already looking out for the child who is homeless or in slavery today but might be taking over from him in the years to come.

Related

Holiday Gift Guide 2017

Holiday Gift Guide 2017 Celebrate Freedom! We have something for everyone on your list — give the gift of freedom. Not For Sale is a rebellious group of brands that have come together across multiple product categories and industries to change the world. Each time you...

read more

From Street Kid to CEO

I met Vi on the streets of the city in a chance encounter one Sunday afternoon. He was walking along an alley, shoe-shine kit in hand, as I walked in the other direction. I could see the anticipation in his eyes as he plucked up the courage to practice on me the only...

read more

Love Finds A Way

Mảy didn’t fit the typical profile of a victim of human trafficking. Happily married and with an infant son, Mảy was excited about the future. She and her husband, Sinh, lived in a small town high up in the spectacular mountains of northern Vietnam. Many families...

read more

Dirty Word

Phuong had to pretend that she was sleeping. Every second was more terrifying than the last. She had a chance to call for help, but everything depended on the family being asleep. She had to act in complete secrecy. The risk of being caught was high. The consequences...

read more

Love Finds A Way

May 09, 2022

Love Finds A Way

WRITTEN BY - Michael Brosowski

Mảy didn’t fit the typical profile of a victim of human trafficking.

Happily married and with an infant son, Mảy was excited about the future. She and her husband, Sinh, lived in a small town high up in the spectacular mountains of northern Vietnam. Many families around them were poor, but Sinh was a school teacher, so their lives were stable and their future looked promising.

Looking after their little boy all day, Mảy started to think about getting a job. She simply wanted to contribute more to her family’s income. With her own mother living there in the same house and able to help with childcare, it seemed sensible that she might at least try.

So when she met someone on Facebook who was offering to connect her with a job in another city, Mảy was curious. At least, she thought, this was worth looking into.

He knew that his wife had not abandoned him – and was determined to find her. He committed to doing everything he possibly could to bring her home.

– Michael Brosowski

One day while Sinh was at work, Mảy’s online friend messaged her unexpectedly with some surprising news. She was travelling through a nearby city – not very far from Mảy’s home!

Mảy was suddenly excited. Her home life was so quiet and predictable; she rarely had visitors or chances to make new friends. Without hesitation, she set off to the market to meet this lovely person she had been communicating with. Mảy left her son sleeping under the watchful eye of her mother.

That night, Mảy did not come home. Her loving husband, Sinh, returned from work with no idea where she had gone or might be. Mảy’s mother was very worried and their little boy was distressed. But from Mảy, there was nothing. Only silence.

In the coming days and weeks, Sinh did everything he could to find out what had happened. Had Mảy left him and abandoned their son? He refused to believe it possible – they were so in love. They were happy together.

The days of not knowing where Mảy was, if she was dead or alive, filled Sinh with terror.

And then, one day, the phone rang.

Mảy was in China. Her call to Sinh was filled with panic and fear.

She had met her online friend at the market, and they had travelled into the hills for some sightseeing. But the friend had other motives: a gang was waiting outside the town to take hold of Mảy and sell her to a man who was willing to pay for a Vietnamese wife.

Mảy fought and resisted, but she was overpowered. It was a full month before she could even find a way to call for help. Making that call put her life in danger, but she didn’t care. Mảy would do anything to be back with her loving family.

This call from Mảy both horrified Sinh and empowered him. He knew that his wife had not abandoned him – and was determined to find her. He committed to doing everything he possibly could to bring her home.

Sinh reported to the police and contacted anyone who might help, including Not For Sale Vietnam partners Blue Dragon. The phone number gave us a clue as to which city she was in and from there we could track Mảy down to an outlying suburb. Armed with that information, we sent a team to start the search.

Sinh called us daily, hoping for news that Mảy was safe. Every day of waiting was a lifetime of agony.

Within a month, we had found Mảy. Locked inside an apartment, she had to wait until the man who had bought her was out shopping, and then break down the front door to escape. It was frightening, but successful. Mảy was free.

We brought her back to the border and after a short stay in COVID quarantine, she was finally back together with Sinh and their baby son. Sinh rode his motorbike over 200km of treacherous mountains to meet Mảy the moment she was released from the quarantine centre.

Mảy’s ordeal of being trafficked and sold will haunt her forever. Now that she is home, she wants nothing more than to be with her family. Love found a way to bring Mảy and Sinh back together, and now every new day is a precious gift of life.

 

Related

Holiday Gift Guide 2017

Holiday Gift Guide 2017 Celebrate Freedom! We have something for everyone on your list — give the gift of freedom. Not For Sale is a rebellious group of brands that have come together across multiple product categories and industries to change the world. Each time you...

read more

From Street Kid to CEO

I met Vi on the streets of the city in a chance encounter one Sunday afternoon. He was walking along an alley, shoe-shine kit in hand, as I walked in the other direction. I could see the anticipation in his eyes as he plucked up the courage to practice on me the only...

read more

Love Finds A Way

Mảy didn’t fit the typical profile of a victim of human trafficking. Happily married and with an infant son, Mảy was excited about the future. She and her husband, Sinh, lived in a small town high up in the spectacular mountains of northern Vietnam. Many families...

read more

Dirty Word

Phuong had to pretend that she was sleeping. Every second was more terrifying than the last. She had a chance to call for help, but everything depended on the family being asleep. She had to act in complete secrecy. The risk of being caught was high. The consequences...

read more

Dirty Word

July 05, 2021

Dirty Word

WRITTEN BY - Michael Brosowski

Phuong had to pretend that she was sleeping.

Every second was more terrifying than the last. She had a chance to call for help, but everything depended on the family being asleep. She had to act in complete secrecy.

The risk of being caught was high. The consequences could be deadly. But after three years in slavery, Phuong was desperate.

She had been trafficked from her home in southern Vietnam and sold as a bride to a man in China. Back home, she had a child. She lived in extreme poverty and had never been able to find a steady job because she was illiterate and physically disabled. A trafficker took advantage of these multiple vulnerabilities and tricked her.

Phuong had thought she was going to find a job. Instead she became a slave. And every moment of her 3 years was consumed with the question: How could she get back home?

That night, when the house was in complete silence, Phuong slipped out of the bedroom and made a frantic, whispered phone call. It was her first contact with her family since she had been taken.

Not For Sale Vietnam partners Blue Dragon received the call from her family the next day, and within a week we had set in motion an operation to rescue Phuong and bring her home.

This might require bravery from our staff, but the real hero of the rescue is the survivor. The act of calling for help, as Phuong did late one night last November, requires a courage close to super human.”

– Michael Brosowski

Every week, and sometimes every day, we receive similar calls for help. These are typically from the families of girls and women, and sometimes boys and men, who are trapped in slavery. They are people who were tricked and manipulated; made to think they were going to a good job or traveling with a trusted friend.

In every case, they are desperate.

And so Blue Dragon conducts rescue operations to bring them home. So far we’ve brought over 1,000 people home from slavery.

However, in some circles “rescue” is a dirty word.

It implies bravado and danger. It reeks of a “savior mentality”. And sometimes, it’s just plain confusing. Various people and organisations use the word “rescue” to describe many different activities: providing scholarships to vulnerable girls, meeting and counselling homeless people, or even distributing emergency food supplies.

Because of this, the word “rescue” has earned a bad reputation.

But for Not For Sale and Blue Dragon, the act of rescue is a vital humanitarian tool. We are responding to a call for help; finding people who are reaching out and need a hand to escape their situation.

This might require bravery from our staff, but the real hero of the rescue is the survivor. The act of calling for help, as Phuong did late one night last November, requires a courage close to super human. She is safely home now, but the risk she took to make that call could have led to her being beaten, resold, or even killed. (You can read more about her rescue and return home here).

Blue Dragon’s rescues are not raids and we never use violence. We find the safest way possible to get someone out of danger, and back to the safety of their home.

And that’s not the end of the rescue. Even once someone is home, with the violence and danger far behind them, Blue Dragon continues providing support in every way we can: legal representation, psychological counselling, medical treatment, schooling… even help to start a small business or find a job.

This “follow up care” is not as dramatic as the initial rescue, but it’s vital to ensuring that the rescued person is really, truly safe. 

 

Related

Holiday Gift Guide 2017

Holiday Gift Guide 2017 Celebrate Freedom! We have something for everyone on your list — give the gift of freedom. Not For Sale is a rebellious group of brands that have come together across multiple product categories and industries to change the world. Each time you...

read more

From Street Kid to CEO

I met Vi on the streets of the city in a chance encounter one Sunday afternoon. He was walking along an alley, shoe-shine kit in hand, as I walked in the other direction. I could see the anticipation in his eyes as he plucked up the courage to practice on me the only...

read more

Love Finds A Way

Mảy didn’t fit the typical profile of a victim of human trafficking. Happily married and with an infant son, Mảy was excited about the future. She and her husband, Sinh, lived in a small town high up in the spectacular mountains of northern Vietnam. Many families...

read more

Dirty Word

Phuong had to pretend that she was sleeping. Every second was more terrifying than the last. She had a chance to call for help, but everything depended on the family being asleep. She had to act in complete secrecy. The risk of being caught was high. The consequences...

read more

The Pinky Friend

March 29, 2021

The Pinky Friend

WRITTEN BY - Michael Brosowski

Mai is seven years old, and has always lived in fear.

Her mother loves Mai and her younger brother and sister very much, but their home is dominated by their grandmother, whose violence has ruled their lives since birth. Their mother is powerless to protect the three tiny children.

Domestic violence in Vietnam is often seen as a private matter, for families to sort out for themselves. When children are the victims, it may be seen just as a matter of harsh but necessary discipline – and the right of the parents, or grandparents, to decide.

Mai and her siblings endured severe beatings every other day. The neighbors and community around them simply could not look away. When a call came to NFS Vietnam partners Blue Dragon asking for help, the children bore bruises on their faces and bodies that spoke of deeply disturbing abuse.

Through our daily work, we often see young people in desperate situations. But the sorrow on Mai’s face was like nothing else.

Police came and started the process of investigation. Statements from the children. Interviews with the mother and grandmother. Reports from the local community.

Mai and her brother and sister had entered the very adult world of criminal investigation and judicial processes… but they are safe.

Taken into Blue Dragon’s care, they had their first proper sleep in many months. Nothing to fear, no screaming and no beatings. And most of all, each of them slept for the first time with a new friend – soft toys that they clung to through the night.

“All that has happened, and all that is yet to come, may be too complex and horrible for Mai to understand. But with her pinky friend in her arms and a safe bed at night, she knows she is going to be OK.”

– Michael Brosowski

For Mai and her little brother and sister, these dolls are more than just toys. They are friends to hold onto, to see them through the many changes that they are now going through. A new home. New beds to sleep in at night. New people around them, speaking with quiet and calm words that are unfamiliar to them.

Everything is different. But Mai’s friend, a soft pink toy dog, goes with her everywhere.

In a play session one day at Blue Dragon, Mai told the psychologist: “I will bring my pinky friend wherever I go as she makes me feel that I am not lonely. But she has a hole… Can you help me with that?”

Her psychologist ensured her that they could patch up the hole to make her pinky friend beautiful again. Mai smiled happily and told the soft creature, “You don’t need to worry. I will protect you just like you protect me.”

All that has happened, and all that is yet to come, may be too complex and horrible for Mai to understand. But with her pinky friend in her arms and a safe bed at night, she knows she is going to be OK.

Related

Holiday Gift Guide 2017

Holiday Gift Guide 2017 Celebrate Freedom! We have something for everyone on your list — give the gift of freedom. Not For Sale is a rebellious group of brands that have come together across multiple product categories and industries to change the world. Each time you...

read more

From Street Kid to CEO

I met Vi on the streets of the city in a chance encounter one Sunday afternoon. He was walking along an alley, shoe-shine kit in hand, as I walked in the other direction. I could see the anticipation in his eyes as he plucked up the courage to practice on me the only...

read more

Love Finds A Way

Mảy didn’t fit the typical profile of a victim of human trafficking. Happily married and with an infant son, Mảy was excited about the future. She and her husband, Sinh, lived in a small town high up in the spectacular mountains of northern Vietnam. Many families...

read more

Dirty Word

Phuong had to pretend that she was sleeping. Every second was more terrifying than the last. She had a chance to call for help, but everything depended on the family being asleep. She had to act in complete secrecy. The risk of being caught was high. The consequences...

read more

Behind the story

Behind the story

Written by Michael Brosowski

The first time I saw him, Tan was standing alone on a street staring into nothing.

He was down the road from the Blue Dragon centre (Not For Sale Vietnam partners), and everything about him signaled a child in distress. His face showed no expression; his shoulders slumped forward. His arms hung limply by his side.

Just 14 years old, Tan had been neglected and abandoned by his family, forcing him to leave home. Once on the streets of Hanoi, he was abused repeatedly by pedophiles who traded him like an object.

Today he is a very different young man to the boy I first saw on the street. He has a job and a circle of great friends; he has started rebuilding the relationship with his parents; and his eyes shine with hope and joy.

Not For Sale Vietnam Director

Once he was with Blue Dragon, Tan’s healing took years of care, counselling, and legal representation to find justice against those who had harmed him. Today he is a very different young man to the boy I first saw on the street. He has a job and a circle of great friends; he has started rebuilding the relationship with his parents; and his eyes shine with hope and joy.

Last week, Tan joined in Blue Dragon’s annual Tet celebration, called Tet Awards.  We hold this party for children in the lead-up to Lunar New Year, and many of our ‘old’ boys and girls come back to see us.

Tet Awards is one of the few big events we hold; our work is much more focused on dealing with day to day crisis than with organising ceremonies and parties.

For kids like Tan, this annual event has a significance beyond it being a great night. Dressing up, meeting old friends and enjoying hours of singing and dancing takes the kids away from the hardships of their daily lives.

The delightful chaos and laughter of a children’s party will never replace the need for long-term care, shelter, legal advocacy and psychological therapy. But a moment to forget the pain and turn instead to friendship and the simple joys of life is a precious moment indeed.

Related Articles

Related

Holiday Gift Guide 2017

Holiday Gift Guide 2017 Celebrate Freedom! We have something for everyone on your list — give the gift of freedom. Not For Sale is a rebellious group of brands that have come together across multiple product categories and industries to change the world. Each time you...

read more

From Street Kid to CEO

I met Vi on the streets of the city in a chance encounter one Sunday afternoon. He was walking along an alley, shoe-shine kit in hand, as I walked in the other direction. I could see the anticipation in his eyes as he plucked up the courage to practice on me the only...

read more

Love Finds A Way

Mảy didn’t fit the typical profile of a victim of human trafficking. Happily married and with an infant son, Mảy was excited about the future. She and her husband, Sinh, lived in a small town high up in the spectacular mountains of northern Vietnam. Many families...

read more

Dirty Word

Phuong had to pretend that she was sleeping. Every second was more terrifying than the last. She had a chance to call for help, but everything depended on the family being asleep. She had to act in complete secrecy. The risk of being caught was high. The consequences...

read more