When the flight touched down in Hanoi, a massive sigh of relief spread through Blue Dragon.
For months we had been working quietly to bring home the 47 women and girls who returned on Wednesday. As young as 15, they had all been exploited in the most horrifying conditions in northern Myanmar.
Forced to work far from home, they were used and abused by criminal gangs running illegal gambling operations and brothels.
One of the young women is 8 months pregnant.
Their repatriation to Vietnam means that they are finally safe. While their suffering is far from over, they can now receive help to heal and recover. Soon they will return to their families and their lives.
Blue Dragon’s involvement doesn’t end here, of course. We are in constant contact with them while they wait out their period of mandatory COVID quarantine, planning for the next step to freedom. Some of the 47 will want only a helping hand to travel back to their home towns. Others will want support with medical expenses and seek counseling, shelter, or assistance to return to school and training.
One by one, we will find a way to help them through the coming months and, perhaps, years.
While we do that, the next operations are already in the planning. Calls for help from Myanmar and China continue to reach us. And here in Vietnam, our street outreach workers are still out every day looking for homeless children and teens in need of care.
This work is difficult and dark. Every day, we meet young people who have been abused or neglected. For many, their trust in others is so badly damaged that they find it impossible to believe anyone really cares for them. Blue Dragon is often in a race against time with traffickers and pimps; when we know of someone who needs help, there’s always an urgency. Sometimes it’s life or death.
COVID, of course, has had a significant impact on our work. Restrictions on travel mean that reaching people who are homeless or enslaved is more difficult than ever.
Despite this, during 2021 we have rescued or repatriated 301 trafficked children and women – so far. And we have delivered emergency assistance to more than 30,000 people in desperate need.
Although the holiday season is imminent, there’s no time for a break. Our work continues as ever.
It can seem that the needs of the world are overwhelming and neverending. We can heal someone today, but tomorrow another person will be waiting for help.
Put simply, there’s no state of final perfection that we can reach in life, when everything is neatly finished. As long as we live, we will always have something more to do: a change to make, a crisis to resolve.
And life doesn’t just keep getting better on a constantly upward curve. Moments of joy may be followed by times of despair. That’s not a cause to give up in resignation; that’s simply the human condition.
Our challenge is not to accept the hardship, but to turn it into hope. Just like the many girls and boys of Blue Dragon have done over the years. Just as we’ve all done this past year in the face of a global pandemic.
This will be the final Life Is A Long Story post for 2021. A look back over the stories we’ve shared this year give plenty of reason for hope. These stories are not always happy. Very often, they are exactly the opposite. But in every story there is a reason to see why the effort to care for others is always worth it.
Thank you for being a part of the Blue Dragon story this past year, and see you in 2022 as the story continues.