Just by chance, I was sitting on a boat when the call came.
The ‘boat’ was a café moored in Hanoi’s West Lake. I was on the top deck with some friends on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and when my phone rang I was surprised to see it was an international call.
Hugh, a close friend who had left Hanoi a few years earlier, was living in Fiji now. His call came out of the blue, but as it turned out he had an offer that I immediately accepted.
Hugh had bought a boat in San Fransisco – a 42 foot Peterson – and needed to get it to his home in Fiji. Would I be willing to help him take it on the journey home?
Having never been sailing before, my immediate thought was of blue skies and smooth seas. How could I say no!? And so, two weeks later, Hugh and I set sail from San Fransisco, bound for Fiji.
Usually when I tell people the story of my one-and-only sailing adventure, the immediate response is: “You were brave to do that!” I quite like the compliment, but it’s not true. I wasn’t brave at all, because I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Had I known, I might not have boarded the flight to the US. My enthusiasm to go wasn’t bravery. It was stupidity – I went into something with my eyes closed.
Having said that, I am glad I went. Parts of the trip were frightening, and it took me a full 5 days to overcome sea sickness – but in hindsight it was one of the best things I have ever done. Never have I learned so much about myself and tested my own limits. (And, for the record, I didn’t make it to Fiji – I only reached Hawaii).
It’s easy to mistake stupidity for bravery . The results are often the same, or at least similar. But bravery is knowing what you’re up against, and yet going in to a difficult and dangerous situation anyway. Stupidity is going in with your eyes closed, not knowing or maybe not caring what the consequences could be.
Every day at Blue Dragon, I am surrounded by people who act with extraordinary bravery. I often think that, back in my home country of Australia, these people would be showered with awards for what they do.
I see boys who dare to make statements to police about sexual abuse they have endured, knowing that their friends and family may think less of them or they may be exposed to public shame.
I see girls and young women who have been held against their will in brothels or in family homes deep inside China, constantly threatened with violence and beaten into submission, who dare to beg or steal a mobile phone so they can call for help and so begin the arduous process of being rescued.
I see mothers and fathers who will give up all they have just to find their missing children and get them safely home, regardless of community perception or the personal risks they face in searching for their sons and daughters.
And I see my own team at Blue Dragon – the Social Workers, lawyers, and even the cleaners and administrators – risking their personal safety day after day for the kids who walk through our doors or who call for help.
Just 2 weeks ago, a little boy turned up at our centre with a shackle on his ankle – a police handcuff had been used by a violent family relative to lock the little guy up. He had broken free, and found his way to us with the cuff and a long chain dangling from his foot. And so one of our cleaners grabbed some tools and started cutting the boy free, knowing full well that the enraged relative could come in at any moment, but also knowing that this boy needed to be set free. The wrath of the family was not as important as the care of the child.
Our rescue work in China is another case in point. We receive calls for help from girls locked in to homes or brothels in unknown cities scattered throughout China. In responding to those calls, we know that every rescue operation carries a risk of us being found out by the traffickers, who lose substantial money – and their freedom – every time we succeed. But we go anyway, because we believe that the need to intervene outweighs the fear of the traffickers’ vengeance.
Yesterday I was texting with one of the Blue Dragon staff about a particularly murky situation we are involved in; gangs of pimps here in Hanoi are recruiting underage boys to sell to pedophiles. My staff replied to one message with the observation: The world is getting worse.
I want to believe that that is not the case, but sometimes the evidence certainly seems to point in that direction. Either way, this situation demands that we face up to the dangers and stand in the way of the pimps and pedophiles; not rushing in blindly, but preparing for what’s to come and standing our ground.
In comparison to all this, my boat trip a few years back seems easy. I could almost wish again for some weeks on the open seas. But there’s much more to be done here, and facing the traffickers and the abusers will take great courage – not only from me, but from the whole Blue Dragon team and, most importantly, the kids.