Troc was sleeping under a bridge when we first met him. He was 14 years old.
During our nightly street outreach, the Blue Dragon social workers spotted him covered in a filthy blanket, sound asleep and all on his own.
Troc had come to the city to find a job. His family live about 120km from Hanoi and relied on the income of Troc’s father, a construction worker. When the COVID pandemic first hit Vietnam, his father lost his job and returned home. The family was broke.
Wanting to do something good, Troc slipped away at night and hitchhiked to the city. He was sure that he could find a job and send money home to his family, but soon realised how wrong he had been.
The city was shut down. The streets were empty and the businesses closed. Ashamed to call his parents and tell them the truth, Troc found himself homeless and hungry.
Nu’s story is not all that different, but her journey was even more frightening. From the mountains of north-central Vietnam, a stone’s throw from Laos, she was almost 16 when the pandemic hit.
Nu had been counting the days until she was old enough to leave home and get a job. Her family was desperately poor and she knew that if she stayed in her village she would soon be married to one of the local boys – a fate she simply did not want.
COVID-19 meant that just as she was able to start planning to leave, she had to put everything on hold. So she waited.
A year into the pandemic, Nu was feeling trapped. She spent her days online, chatting with people far and wide. One young woman she met through social media was particularly friendly. She even offered to introduce Nu to a restaurant in Ha Long Bay that was hiring. Finally, a lucky break!
But as happens so often, Nu’s friend was in fact a trafficker. Nu travelled to the nearest city where they met in a cafe and then hopped on a bus. They were on the road for so long that Nu eventually fell asleep, despite her excitement. When she awoke, she sensed that something was wrong.
Instead of heading to Ha Long Bay, they were high up in the mountains near China. Still, Nu held out hope that everything would be OK – but when they got off the bus late at night and started walking through the forest, she knew she was in trouble.
Both Troc and Nu took risks, and both ended up in dangerous situations.
It’s easy to judge young people for getting into trouble, and it happens all the time. People often assume that girls who get trafficked must have been asking for it. If only they had been more ‘aware’ it wouldn’t have happened.
And the same goes for street kids, who are just assumed to be troublemakers. All they need to do is go home and the streets would be safer.
Troc and Nu were setting out in search of the same dream: something better.
In fact, we all do it. For most of us, it’s about leaving home to start at university or a new job in another city. Or it might mean traveling to a new state – or, in COVID-free times, a new country.
For kids like Troc and Nu, their dream of something better isn’t about adventure or a new challenge. It’s about survival. They don’t want to live – or die – in poverty. They want to change their circumstances, help their families, find a way out of hardship.
They’re both safe now. Troc came to Blue Dragon’s emergency shelter for a few weeks, and once the pandemic eased we took him back to his family. We’ve been supporting them since then and Troc returned to school to finish Grade 9.
Nu was rescued shortly after arriving in China. Her trafficker escaped, but Nu was saved from the trauma of being sold as a bride. She’s now doing a training course and in coming months will be ready to start work in a restaurant as a chef.
Troc and Nu are typical of the young people we meet every day at Blue Dragon: good kids who are trying to escape from some difficulty in life.
In many ways, they’re like all of us. They dream of having a good life, free from hunger and hardship. But their poverty means that they have to take risks that most of us would never face – and that’s where things go wrong for them.
What Troc and Nu want is the same thing that we all should be working towards: something better. For all of us.