NFS Vietnam – The Challenge Ahead

NFS Vietnam – The Challenge Ahead

NFS Vietnam – The Challenge Ahead

Written by Michael Brosowski

People sometimes ask me what a typical day is like at Blue Dragon. I have to answer very honestly that there’s no such thing as a typical day. And this week has been illustrative of that.

Early in the week we represented survivors of trafficking in court for a case that’s over 23 years old. Two women trafficked more than 20 years ago finally saw their trafficker jailed. This is the first “cold case” we’ve been involved in.

We brought back a woman from China, handed across the border by Chinese police, who was quite ill and needed immediate medical care. It wasn’t coronavirus and she’s fine now, but there were certainly some tense moments.

The challenges ahead are complex, but I’m confident that Blue Dragon and Not For Sale Vietnam can rise to meet them. After all, this is what we are here for.

Director of Not For Sale Vietnam

Mid-week, while focusing on cases of sexual abuse of street children, an urgent call came through from a boarding school way up in the mountains that had noticed two of their girls missing. Blue Dragon coordinated between the school and the police, eventually locating the girls in a mini-van headed to the border with China.

The traffickers knew they’d been detected so slipped off the bus before the police could get to them. The girls are now safely with us and police are investigating.

And then a call came to help a 21 year old university student from Ho Chi Minh City. She’d lost her part-time job because of the coronavirus some months back, so thought she’d finally got lucky when she was offered a waitressing position in a café. The café turned out to be a brothel, and for 3 days she had to fight to protect herself before finally being able to call for help. She, too, is safe now.

As these urgent calls for help came through, the street outreach team continued meeting record numbers of homeless children in Hanoi; our staff out in the provinces continued investigating cases of children failing to return to school to see where they are and what they need; and a street kid disclosed that there’s an organized ring pimping out boys at a lake.

So, a week of constant surprise and struggle.

There has been plenty of good news through the week too, of course.

Every one of the 100 Blue Dragon scholars at university and college is back in class. These are all young adults who grew up in Blue Dragon programs and are now pursuing a tertiary education.

We had some wonderful reunions of women who were rescued from trafficking but have been in quarantine for 2 weeks, including a young woman whose son has waited months for the day his mother would walk back through the front door.

And we even had the good news that an organic corn project we’ve been working on in the mountains is yielding excellent results – more on that in a future post!

At Not For Sale Vietnam and Blue Dragon, we’re familiar with turbulence. Our whole organization is set up to respond to crisis. And it looks like the coming weeks and months will continue to demand a lot from us.

While the coronavirus pandemic is largely over in Vietnam, we are seeing its impact in the desperate situations that so many young people are in.

Until the whole world recovers, no one country can return to normal. This really is a case of us all being in the same storm, even if we are riding it out in different vessels.

The challenges ahead are complex, but I’m confident that Blue Dragon and Not For Sale Vietnam can rise to meet them. After all, this is what we are here for. And we are not alone: we have friends around the globe who are cheering us on and donating to make sure the kids have what they need.

Our work now is like riding in two gears simultaneously. We are still dealing with emergency needs arising from the pandemic, while also starting the process of rebuilding lives and communities as they begin their recovery.

There are tough times ahead for the kids. We stand ready to respond.

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NFS Vietnam Update – The Secret To Healing

NFS Vietnam Update – The Secret To Healing

NFS Vietnam Update – The Secret To Healing

Written by Michael Brosowski

I heard a story once about survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York.

The story went that there were essentially two categories of survivors. There were those who saw, who watched from their windows or their TV screens or were speaking to the dying over the phone, but were unable to do anything other than look and listen.

And then there were those who were able to run in and help; who could offer support, take someone by the hand and lead them – or drag them – to safety.

Whether it’s knitting for new mothers, or donating to charity, or even just sharing something on social media to lift someone else up, you will grow in strength when you make others stronger. You will have more joy when you give joy to others.

Michael Brosowski Not For Sale Vietnam Director

Guess who was more resilient in the aftermath of the crisis? Who do you think was more able to cope psychologically as the dust settled?

Without question, those who came through stronger were those who could help.

There’s something about being able to help that gives us strength. You see, helping others might begin with a selfless motivation, but it happens to give back many times over. The giver really does receive, even though that was (hopefully!) never the intention.

Helping others reminds us that we’re important. That we’re not powerless or useless. That we have agency.

And that lesson which so many learned on a terrifying day in 2001 in New York City – and in wars and earthquakes and bushfires and road accidents – is just as true today, in the days of coronavirus.

Here in Vietnam, the public message has been that staying home means helping the country. So, people have helped; they stayed home until community transmissions reached zero. And there is a tangible sense of national pride that everyone has done so.

Along the way, many have found means to help. I’ve had emails and phone calls from people wanting to give food, or money, or face masks to help the kids. Beautiful sentiments, often from people who have little themselves.

Community members have set up “rice ATMs” where hungry people can go and take a days’ supply of rice, no questions asked.

The Not For Sale Vietnam kids have helped out in their own ways. Some of our girls, high school students in central Vietnam, signed up as volunteers to cook for hundreds of people in quarantine camps. Others used their savings to buy food for others. One of our old boys who is now the head chef for a large company led a campaign to deliver hot meals to homeless people on the streets at night.

All of these acts were undertaken with no intention of personal gain, but each of these volunteers and donors is stronger because of their giving.

Wherever you are in the world, I encourage you to use your resources to help others. Whether it’s knitting for new mothers, or donating to charity, or even just sharing something on social media to lift someone else up, you will grow in strength when you make others stronger. You will have more joy when you give joy to others.

We’re all hurting right now. The secret to healing is not to try to heal ourselves.

The secret is to heal others.

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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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