NFS Vietnam Update – The Field

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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Co-Founder Update

Co-Founder Update

Written by Mark Wexler

This week I’d like to provide you updates from several of our projects in the field. The effects that COVID-19 is having on our community of survivors is very real. 

Peruvian Amazon

Our fishery project deep in the Peruvian Amazon has been crucial to keeping many indigenous communities COVID-19 free because they don’t need to travel into the city to purchase their protein. If the people there contracted COVID-19 it would have horrific effects, as they lack access to hospitals that are equipped to handle the pandemic. However, adding new fisheries was halted last month because of a funding shortage due to COVID-19.

“Not since the early days of the HIV pandemic have I witnessed such challenges. South Africa is under lockdown. There is so much fear around what Covid-19 could do because of the number of people with HIV.”

Southern Africa Not For Sale Director – Tom Hewitt

Bahn Kru Nam, Golden Triangle, Thailand

Typically, half of the kids that live at our Bahn Kru Nam community home attend boarding schools during the school year. Due to COVID-19, all of our kids are back living in the home. This has put great stress on our staff, who now have to feed more kids than expected, help with school work, and much more. Making things more difficult, food costs have tripled, putting pressure on our already limited budget, which had to be cut due to COVID-related funding shortages. 

 

Durban, South Africa

Our Southern Africa director, Tom Hewitt, shared the following: “Not since the early days of the HIV pandemic have I witnessed such challenges. South Africa is under lockdown. There is so much fear around what Covid-19 could do because of the number of people with HIV.”

We have ensured that all of our children are in safe local care throughout this lockdown period. This plan is vital as the homeless are being rounded up and put in poor conditions in stadiums and “hostels.”

At this critical time, our funding to support our work in South Africa has been cut short due to COVID-19.

 

We will continue to share updates from the field and the reality of the effect that COVID-19 is having on our work. Thank you for your continued support.

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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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Finding happiness

Finding happiness

Written by Mark Wexler

Finding happiness during these difficult times can be hard.

That’s one of the lessons I’ve had to remind myself repeatedly during this crisis. Happiness can be there, right in front of me, but I still have to be open to it to actually feel…well, happy.

This week I found sources of joy in perhaps some of the most unexpected places.

Over the last few weeks I have been on a litany of calls with funders, partners, and project implementers on every inhabited continent. To be honest, most of the call’s main topics weren’t positive. Candidly, we’ve lost major sources of funding during this time. Of course, the loss of funding is not out of malice, but reality. We are learning to navigate these losses, as are countless others.

I am proud to stand with them. I am proud to continue to the fight with them. I am proud to share the moments of happiness with them.

Co-Founder of Not For Sale – Mark Wexler

You might forgive me, however, if I wasn’t in the mood to be happy.

And yet, I have left every conversation with our project teams with renewed vigor to keep up the fight and…well, yeah, be happy.

For example, early Friday morning I was on a call with Ntakamaze Nziyonvira, our East Africa project director.

I chatted with Ntakamaze while he was in Goma, Congo, for some personal time. If you know anything about the history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo you might ask yourself, why go there for personal time?! And why now?!

You see, Ntakamaze was born in the DRC. When he was a child he was forced to flee to Uganda as a refugee. After later completing his studies at the University of Rochester in NY, he returned to East Africa to run our partner NGO, CIYOTA. He now helps more than 1,500 refugees go to school every year.

So, why return to the DRC, a place he was forced to run from? Well, surrounded by a small group of family and friends, Ntakamaze and his wife Vanessa were married there last week.

It could have been easy to meditate on the pain of funding losses and hard conversations, but this weekend I kept returning to the strength and joy of the brave people on the front lines of this fight against forced labor, environmental destruction, and COVID-19. And I have the utmost honor to call these amazing people friends and colleagues.

I am proud to stand with them. I am proud to continue to the fight with them. I am proud to share the moments of happiness with them.

So, today I have a simple ask: can you please join me in congratulating Ntakamaze and Vanessa? Email us ([email protected]) back with words of encouragment and we’ll be sure to send them on to the newlyweds.

And — if you want — take a moment to smile on all that gives you joy. It might come from the most unexpected source.

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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 Uganda: Founder Blog

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Written by Mark Wexler

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