NFS Vietnam Update – The Field

NFS Vietnam Update – The Field

Written by Michael Brosowski

There’s a story in the Vietnamese newspapers at the moment about 6 boys robbing a man in a guava field near a bus station in Hanoi.

When this story first came to our attention at Not For Sale Vietnam, we immediately suspected there was something more to it.

You see, three years ago Vi Do from Blue Dragon gave a TEDx talk. Vi leads our work with street kids, specializing in finding children in abusive situations and getting them to safety.

In his talk, Vi shared a story about his experience of rescuing underage boys from a sex trafficking ring in Hanoi that operated out of… a guava field near a bus station in Hanoi.

No matter what happens, we will not give up and we cannot slow down in our efforts to keep children safe.
Michael Browsoski – Director of Not For Sale Vietnam
Of the 6 people who have been arrested for robbery, four are aged 15 or 16. The victim of their robbery was a man procuring sex in the field. It doesn’t take much to guess what may be going on.

Vietnam’s economic and social development over the years since Blue Dragon started have been impressive. There are plenty of gaps and always much more to do, but the progress has been remarkable.

And now, suddenly, the coronavirus pandemic puts all this progress at risk. We’ve seen a sharp rise in young people who are desperate. Out of jobs, their parents unemployed, and their schools unable to open, children and teens may have to choose between going hungry or heading to the streets. They may have to choose between staying at home with a family that cannot provide for them, or rolling the dice and traveling to a city far away in the hope that there’s work and food.

This inevitably means an uptick in human trafficking, homelessness, and child exploitation. The story from the guava field rings a warning bell that we urgently need to investigate.

The COVID-19 virus itself is so far well under control in Vietnam. But the damage to the livelihoods of people who were already vulnerable and poor is massive.

Without intervention, the coming months and years will see a sharp rise in exploitation of those who are hurting most. We are already seeing the evidence.

No matter what happens, we will not give up and we cannot slow down in our efforts to keep children safe.

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NFS Vietnam Update – Yesterdays Normal

NFS Vietnam Update – Yesterdays Normal

Written by Michael Brosowski

We’ve all been in isolation for – how long now?

At this point we’re all thinking about the end of lockdown and social distancing. We just want it to be over and for life to get back to normal.  But… do we really? Is yesterday’s normal something that we aspire to?

Or do we dare to ask: Could we do better?

There will be many discussions about how we should shape the future as we recover from COVID-19. Today I want to share my thoughts on the lessons we can take from this global crisis, because what we learn is critical in deciding what we will do next.

“We will get through this difficult time. And we have a chance to consider who we want to be, what sort of world we want to live in. We don’t have to revert to yesterday’s normal.”

NFS Vietnam Director – Michael Brosowski

Lesson 1: The most important people are often the least recognized.

Who has been out on the frontline of this crisis? Nurses, teachers, journalists, doctors, cleaners, social workers, couriers, ambulance drivers, shopkeepers… Some of these people are well paid and many are not. They’re all people who serve others in one way or another. In some countries, these jobs are likely filled by immigrants. They’re also more likely to be women.

As we work our way out of this crisis, these people cannot be forgotten. The structural inequality that rewards some and leaves others in poverty, despite how vital they are to a functioning society, has to be addressed.

 

Lesson 2: Everyone has something to offer.

When we’re all equally in trouble, the normal power imbalances among us become blurred. As I wrote some weeks ago, a boy who has been living under a bridge suddenly assumed the role of an important leader among the kids at Blue Dragon. And this weekend, one of the Blue Dragon ‘old boys’ who is now a (temporarily unemployed) hairdresser, offered to go to the shelters and give free haircuts for everyone. His wife is 8 months pregnant, but he doesn’t want any payment – this is a gift that he wants to contribute.

On a global level, Vietnam made headlines this week for donating more than half a million facemasks to Europe. Normally the recipient of aid, Vietnam found that it has been able to give to others who usually aren’t in need, but now are.

We too easily categorise each other – and ourselves – by the strengths we see on display in everyday life. But a crisis reveals the strengths we may have never even known existed. Let’s not forget these as we rebuild in the coming months.

 

Lesson 3: We can rise to any occasion.

You may have seen the heartwarming clips of Italians singing from their balconies during the worst of their lockdown. Then a German community raised their voice in solidarity. And around the world, the joy spread.

There have been more practical displays of communities making the most of their struggles. Here in Vietnam, volunteers have set up free ‘rice ATMs’ so that families without enough can simply go and get the rice they need, no questions asked.

Right now, life is hard. And the response from people the world over shows that when we act as a community, we can face even the greatest challenges.

 

Lesson 4: People are wonderful.

As a charity, all of us have been worried about the future. Calls for our help have increased significantly, but a global crisis inevitably means that resources will be more scarce.

Through these terribly dark times, I have received so much encouragement and support from people, many of whom I have never even met. One person wrote to say that if we had any urgent needs, I could just ask. Slightly embarrassed, I wrote back to say that actually yes, we do indeed have some families who are desperate… and within minutes I had an assurance of a donation to help.

Others have not been in a position to help but have taken the time to write and let me know. One amazing person told me how she’s been knitting and making baby swaddles for new mothers who are doing it tough. How beautiful is that?

I could fill the blog with similar stories. It feels like the generosity and kindness of people around the world has somehow blossomed in the midst of all the sorrow and hardship.

 

Lesson 5: There is always hope.

I’m not trying to sugarcoat this situation or ignore the reality. The world is in a mess. For many millions of people, there’s not going to be a quick recovery and the coming months are going to be bleak.

And yes, I could equally write about the displays of selfishness we’ve seen on the news: the hoarding, the breaching of rules which have been implemented for our own wellbeing, the leaders who have told citizens to do one thing while they go off and do another.

But the displays of exceptional goodness that we can see far outweigh these. We’re seeing communities, cities, and even nations rally together in ways that we rarely do. We see people sacrificing themselves, going to work even knowing the dangers, to help others.

 

If we can do all this in the face of a global pandemic, then we can do it when times are more stable.

We will get through this difficult time. And we have a chance to consider who we want to be, what sort of world we want to live in. We don’t have to revert to yesterday’s normal.

Let’s learn from what has happened and take the chance that’s before us.

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Vietnam Update – disBelief

Vietnam Update – disBelief

Written by Michael Brosowski

Trang is 24. As the coronavirus pandemic started impacting Vietnam just a few short months ago, she suddenly found herself unable to keep up payments on a small debt she owed.

With no prospect of finding a job, Trang was approached by a friend who told her about a job just to the north of her home, towards the border with China.

She was in a no-win situation. She didn’t really want to travel away from home, but if she didn’t then the loan sharks would be out to get her. So there only seemed to be one option: she accepted.

All my life, I never thought there was such a kind person like you… I tell other people about you. Nobody believes me. When my child comes home, you must come with her. Please let me meet you in person so my family can thank you.

Text from the mother of Trang to the Not For Sale Vietnam team

Within a day, Trang’s hope of paying off her debt had turned into a terrifying ordeal. Her friend took her to the border with China and sold her to a ring of traffickers. When they revealed their plan – to take Trang deep inland and sell her to a man who wanted a wife – she fought with all her strength.

And she succeeded. She managed to break free and run. She thought she had made it. But the traffickers hunted her down and took hold of her a second time.

They knew Trang was never going to submit to them, so they came up with another plan. They beat and tortured her, stripped her naked and raped her. Then they made her stand, took a photo, and sent it to her mother.

Along with it: a demand for $10,000. If Trang’s mother did not pay, she would be sold to a brothel and never be seen again. A fate worse than death.

When Trang’s mother called Blue Dragon, travel restrictions in China had already made rescue operations close to impossible. But somehow this was one rescue we had to complete. Trang’s terrified eyes told us that nothing in the world was more important than getting her home.

I can’t explain how we found Trang or got her to safety. We need to keep those details a secret, to keep people safe. What I can say is this: Trang crossed the border into Vietnam early on Thursday morning and we took her straight to a government quarantine centre, where she needs to wait out a mandatory isolation period.

She can’t go home right away, but Trang and her mother have had a reunion of sorts: over the phone, they have cried together and they talk constantly.

Trang is completely safe now, yet neither she nor her mother can believe that any of this happened. None of it.

The deception by a trusted friend. The attempt to sell her to a complete stranger. Trang’s courageous dash for freedom. The torture that followed. And finally, the rescue against all probability.

The terror of the past few months has shaken Trang and her mother’s belief that there is any good in the world. Helping them to heal through the coming weeks, months and years will involve restoring that belief.

Yes, there is plenty of reason to despair. Our world is in a terrible state – that’s plain for all to see.

But in these terrible times, there is still goodness to be found all around. Whether it’s the Blue Dragon rescue team finding a way to get Trang home, or the health workers on the frontline keeping us safe from COVID-19 every day, we have reason to see hope in our world.

No matter how dark things get: never, ever give up believing that better days are ahead.

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NFS Vietnam Update: Rescue in the days of COVID-19

NFS Vietnam Update: Rescue in the days of COVID-19

Written by Michael Brosowski

It took Lan more than 4 years to find a chance of escape.

In the end, it was the coronavirus that gave her the opportunity to call for help.

Trafficked from Vietnam into Hunan province, she was sold to a violent Chinese man who treated her as an object and beat her mercilessly. But as the world panicked over COVID-19, he became distracted.

With their city in lockdown, the husband saw no reason to be paranoid that Lan might escape. His inattention allowed her to steal a mobile phone, and she called her family back in southern Vietnam.

We’re all waiting for this hated epidemic to pass. For so many, it means lost jobs, financial ruin, being trapped in a foreign country, or maybe just inconvenience.  For Lan, the passing of COVID-19 is everything. Her life depends on it.

Co-Founder of Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation – Michael Brosowski

Word reached Blue Dragon, and we contacted Lan immediately in the knowledge that for now, there’s almost nothing we can do other than plan. Heavily enforced travel restrictions in China have been successful in stopping the spread of the virus, but they have made rescue operations virtually impossible.

In recent weeks we have succeeded in getting several women and a 5 year-old girl back into Vietnam (they’re all in quarantine now), but nobody can get into or out of Hunan.

Tragically, the very reason that Lan could call for help is the same reason she can not get to safety.

There are almost 30 women and girls in this exact situation right now: in contact with us but waiting, waiting. We are on the phone daily, giving assurances and constantly evaluating whether or not someone can be reached.

But Lan can’t. Not yet.

On Wednesday night, Lan was pushed beyond her limits. With rescue still possibly weeks away but with the epidemic starting to pass, her husband again took to beating her.

And she couldn’t take any more.

Lan rang the Blue Dragon rescue team with a request: Please say sorry to my family. Tell them I love them, but death would be better than one more day of this.

She couldn’t wait one more night. Lan had decided to take her own life.

When the phone fell silent, we were left helpless and shocked. COVID-19 is devastating millions across the world. But something about this is an even greater depth of injustice.

The next day, after countless unanswered calls and messages, Lan rang back.

Her voice was weak and low, but recognisable: she is still alive.

We’re all waiting for this hated epidemic to pass. For so many, it means lost jobs, financial ruin, being trapped in a foreign country, or maybe just inconvenience.

For Lan, the passing of COVID-19 is everything. Her life depends on it.

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NFS Vietnam Update

NFS Vietnam Update

Written by Michael Brosowski

It’s hardly news at all now. The coronavirus, COVID-19, has swept the world. From some murmured concerns in December, this viral infection is now the daily lead story everywhere.

People are worried. Over 130,000 are sick. Almost 5,000 have died.

In response, the world is in panic mode. Wearing a face mask is the new normal in many countries. Schools are closed, supermarket shelves are empty of basic items, flights and events have been cancelled.

This isn’t easy on anybody.

The world has seen global crises before, and we will again. And every time, it’s the poorest in society who are the hardest hit.

Co-Founder of Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation – Michael Brosowski

And without diminishing these very real fears and tragedies, we can see that it’s the world’s most vulnerable who are facing the grimmest of futures because of the virus.

Families living without access to health facilities – or without the ability to pay for testing – can do nothing but hope they don’t fall ill.

Women who spend all day selling their goods in the crowded markets of villages around the world have to choose between working in a high-risk environment… or their whole family going hungry.

Elderly and chronically ill people, who are most at risk of fatal consequences if they catch the virus, risk being stranded at home alone, knowing that simply going out in public poses a risk to their life.

And for Blue Dragon, a very particular group of people is suffering: women and girls in slavery.

Blue Dragon is well known for our rescues of people who have been trafficked and sold for labor or sexual exploitation. Last year alone, we rescued 111 women and girls who had been trafficked from Vietnam into China and sold, mostly to men wanting wives.

Since the coronavirus forced the closure of the Chinese-Vietnamese border, and travel within China became heavily restricted, these rescues have all but ceased. We’ve succeeded in getting just a few people out of slavery and into safe houses to hide while waiting for the restrictions to pass.

Calls for help, however, keep coming. And while all are urgent, some are extremely distressing. One woman last week made the call at risk of her life, knowing that calling for help would be dangerous, but if she cannot escape she will be killed anyway.

The man who bought her beats her routinely and regularly. It’s just a matter of time before he kills her.

That woman is safe now – but there are 27 more people in contact with Blue Dragon hoping we can get to them too.

The coronavirus is bad for everyone, without exception. For the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, the virus is a risk to their life whether they are infected or not.

So what can I do?

If you want to take action, don’t feel helpless. Some ways you can help right now:

  • Check with your neighbors and community – are there elderly people, single parents with kids at home, or chronically ill people who need supplies delivered to their home? Or just a friendly phone call to check in on how they are doing?
  • Make a donation. Right now, charities around the world are canceling fundraising events, and donations are drying up. If you have a few spare dollars, they will be deeply appreciated.
  • Support your local businesses. Unless your government (or a doctor!) advises otherwise, get down to the shops with your facemask on rather than ordering from giant, automated online systems. The first people to lose their jobs as business slows down will be those who are already on low salaries in your local shop or cafe.

The world has seen global crises before, and we will again. And every time, it’s the poorest in society who are the hardest hit.

As we pull through the coronavirus in coming months, let’s stay determined to make the world a more just, fairer place for all people, for the long term.

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