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. 

 

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Impossible

May 10, 2021

Impossible

WRITTEN BY - Not For Sale

We thought that Lan was dead.

Her last call to the Blue Dragon Rescue Team late one night in March 2020 delivered a chilling message.

Please say sorry to my family. Tell them I love them, but death would be better than one more day of this.

Lan was 26. She had been trafficked from her home in Vietnam across the border into China when she was just 21 years old.

“Human trafficking can be defeated. We can do this; we only need to try.”

– Michael Brosowski

After five years of being held in slavery, raped and beaten repeatedly by the man who bought her, Lan found a way to call for help.

Her call reached Not For Sale Vietnam partners Blue Dragon, but the COVID pandemic had just begun. The border between Vietnam and China was closed; travel within both countries was heavily restricted.

The first time Lan thought she might find freedom, she was denied it.

We tried everything to reach her. And when we knew that we couldn’t, we resorted to comforting her, assuring her we would find a way.

But for people in slavery or situations of domestic violence, lockdowns are more than an inconvenience. Being locked down means being trapped in the same space as your abuser, all the time, with no relief. For Lan, the lockdown exacerbated her already-terrifying situation.

That night, she tried to take her own life. She did not succeed.

Since then, her traffickers watched her more carefully, reducing any chance she might have to call again for help or to attempt an escape.

Until now.

This week, Blue Dragon reached Lan. More than a year since we thought it was all over, feared we were too late, we found her. She is free.

Lan crossed the border late in the week, back into Vietnam, and is now in quarantine. We don’t know how long she will be there, because a new COVID outbreak has caused havoc across the country, but Lan is finally safe. The worst is surely behind her.

Every call for help demands urgent, immediate attention. COVID has made it so much harder for Blue Dragon to find and rescue people from situations of slavery, but it has also increased our resolve.

Because we can see how much more dangerous life is now for the poorest of the poor; how much more risk is faced by people who are jobless and desperate; how much more violence women and girls are facing when they are locked in with their abusers.

Lan’s rescue and return home seemed impossible this time last year. Now the impossible has happened.

Human trafficking can be defeated. We can do this; we only need to try.

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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...

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Impossible

We thought that Lan was dead. Her last call to the Blue Dragon Rescue Team late one night in March 2020 delivered a chilling message. Please say sorry to my family. Tell them I love them, but death would be better than one more day of this. Lan was 26. She had been...

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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.

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COPING MECHANISMS

COPING MECHANISMS

Written By Ellen Falltrick (NFS Supporter)

“What kind of painting do you do?”

That is equally the most daunting and exciting question I am frequently asked as an artist. How can I quickly and impactfully explain that my large paintings depicting nudity, death, pain, self-harm and sorrow are not some kind of odd kink, but pay homage to the people that survive such tragedies. 

How do I make easily digestible the complex, painful and inspiring stories that inspire my artwork? How could I possibly illuminate the emotional turmoil, perseverance and recovery necessary to make these paintings beautiful?

Because, they are. These horrible paintings are beautiful.

My hope is that by donating funds from the sale of the Coping Mechanisms paintings, I can help to provide peace and emotional release to those that need it most.

Ellen Falltrick

In truth, I cannot easily elaborate on the inspiration behind my work which is why I fear such a question. However, to the right audience – for the attentive listener – it is the most valuable question to reach my ears. Asking me to explain my painting may be difficult to answer, but it allows me to share my vision for creating art that empowers survivors of extreme adversity. 

Painting has always been more than a hobby for me; it is the way that I express the feelings that are not easily spoken. What started as an outlet for my own feelings, challenges and triumphs quickly became a method of sharing the stories of others that were brave enough to confide their adverse experiences in me. 

I was approached by women in abusive relationships with their partners or employers, men who had been raped, people who had felt trapped, lost or hurt in a myriad of ways. As honored as I felt to receive their grief, I also felt the need to release the weight of their stories through art. Incorporating their experiences into my paintings not only allowed me release but – more importantly – honored their strength, recovery and survival. Although I do not label my paintings with the names of the people that inspired them, they know who they are; they know the depths of their own strength, courage and perseverance and, should they ever forget, they need only look at one of my paintings. 

These many stories culminated in my latest series, Coping Mechanisms. Upon completion of this set of paintings, I felt extreme peace. In fact, the emotional release was so strong that I felt guilty for keeping the healing to myself. Therefore, I pledged to donate 40% of the proceeds of the Coping Mechanisms show debut to people with stories similar to those that inspired me. Not For Sale seemed like an obvious choice to receive these funds, considering they serve those that have experienced one of the most severe adversities: sex and labor trafficking. 

Not For Sale’s mission to rescue survivors of trafficking and prevent future exploitations aligns well with my passion for empowering those that have survived exploitations of all kinds. My hope is that by donating funds from the sale of the Coping Mechanisms paintings, I can help to provide peace and emotional release to those that need it most. 

Coping Mechanisms is on display in Chico, CA at Tin Roof Bakery through January 31st. However, a virtual viewing option will be available at www.ellenfalltrick.com through February 28th. Online purchases are encouraged through the site, at which point, the painting will be shipped to the buyer’s location and 40% of the purchase price will be donated to Not For Sale.

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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.

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Leap to freedom

Leap to freedom

Written by Michael Brosowski

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.

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.

Michael Brosowski Not For Sale Vietnam Director

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.

Not For Sale Vietnam partners 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’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.

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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

Impossible

We thought that Lan was dead. Her last call to the Blue Dragon Rescue Team late one night in March 2020 delivered a chilling message. Please say sorry to my family. Tell them I love them, but death would be better than one more day of this. Lan was 26. She had been...

read more

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read more