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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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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I am, because you are

I am, because you are

Written by Mark Wexler

15 years ago I sat on a balcony overlooking the Indian Ocean in Durban, South Africa. I was with my former professor and future co-founder of Not For Sale, David Batstone. Stiff drink in hand, we discussed this insane thing called human trafficking.

It was during this conversation that we decided to start Not For Sale.

For the previous half year I had worked with a friend, Tom Hewitt, assisting his non-profit organization that uses sport to support at-risk and exploited youth. Tom later became Not For Sale’s Southern Africa Director, helping drive our programming in both South Africa and Mozambique. 

One of the many lasting things that stayed with me from my time in Southern African was an ethic called ubuntu. 

Quite literally my humanity is tied to yours, and your humanity is tied to mine. And our humanity is tied to the people that Not For Sale serves on a daily basis.

Co-Founder of Not For Sale – Mark Wexler

A rough translation of ubuntu’s meaning is: “I am because you are.” 

Another way to think of ubuntu, is that everything I do has an effect on you and your well being, and everything you do has an effect on me and my well being. Sure, we might be different, but undoubtedly we are interconnected. And importantly that is what animates our humanity. Our connectedness is actually what makes us…. us. 

Today, for the first time ever, on a global scale we are facing down a foe, COVID-19, that illuminates these (for many of us) previously invisible ties of ubuntu. Quite literally my humanity is tied to yours, and your humanity is tied to mine. And our humanity is tied to the people that Not For Sale serves on a daily basis.

Over the last few days we have talked with many of Not For Sale’s project leaders around the world. COVID-19 is having a real effect on people we serve.

We wanted to briefly share with you some of the immediately known effects on our work:

UGANDA: Last year Not For Sale supported 1,512 children refugees gain access to education in Uganda. We learned Friday that schools have been ordered closed for a month as a precaution. This will have a massive ripple effect on our kids. For most of them the food they receive at our school is the only meal they eat on any given day. We’re working on a way to safely deliver meals throughout the refugee camp.

NETHERLANDS: Our Dignita restaurants in Amsterdam have been ordered closed indefinitely. This has meant that our culinary training program for survivors, which supported 164 people last year, is working to set up an online video training course.

VIETNAM: Our partners are seeing an uptick in human traffickers preying on people most effected by COVID-19. This is in large part due to business closures and job losses which means that families are unable to provide for their children. It means that teenage girls are at higher risk of early marriage. But even through all this, just yesterday, our team rescued a 23 year old woman that was trafficked into China 6 months ago. (She remains in 2 week quarantine.) 

Over the duration of this crisis, we will be sharing with you updates on the effect COVID-19 is having on our team, friends, partners, and the people that we serve. Later this week we will share with you an interview with co-founder, David Batstone. 

More than ever we are committed to helping people that need support. Our resolve has not wavered, it is only strengthened by what we are up against with COVID-19.

In the spirit of ubuntu, acknowledging our interconnectedness, we will also be coming to you, our Not For Sale family, as specific needs arise in our community of survivors and at-risk people to appeal for your help as well. 

In Solidarity, Mark Wexler

Co-Founder & CEO, Not For Sale

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