The extra mile

Last week, Blue Dragon held one of those events that NGOs sometimes do – the launch of a new program.

Meetings and workshops drive me crazy. They rarely feel productive, and I sometimes wonder if the whole purpose of conferences is just to make people feel like they’re actually serving a greater purpose, when in reality they are just attending conferences…

This launch was important, though, because it brought together people from across the province of Ha Giang, as well as agencies and organisations in Hanoi, to share and discuss, and commit to finding solutions to the end of human trafficking in one of Vietnam’s poorest and most vulnerable provinces.

Bordering China, Ha Giang is both spectacularly scenic, and desperately poor. In a province of 770,000 people, there are 54,000 women who are completely illiterate.

And so the program launch brought together police, district and provincial leaders, a director of the national Police Academy, senior Women’s Union officials, the leader of the anti-trafficking unit of the Ministry of Social Affairs, and representatives of vocational training NGOs based in Hanoi. A rare multi-disciplinary effort.

It all went very well, and the program is now officially underway. But it was events that took place the day before the launch that really exemplified how Blue Dragon works.

Several of our team were in Ha Giang prior to the launch to get everything ready. Unexpectedly, a call came through asking for help. A young western woman, Vanessa, was staying in a village way up in the mountains and became aware of a highly distressed girl, aged about 10, wandering the streets alone.

The girl seemed unresponsive to all other people, as though deaf. She was filthy and malnourished, and slept out in the wild.

Vanessa managed to forge a fragile friendship with the girl, but as a foreigner knew she couldn’t stay nor really find out how to help.

When my staff heard of this, they abandoned their event preparation to travel to the village. As the crow flies it wasn’t far, but in a car it was a 4 hour drive in each direction, along a pot-holed and windy road.

We learned some of the girl’s story from members of the community. “Tam’s” father is dead, and her mother has long been missing in China, probably trafficked and sold. Tam was left at home with a brother who could not care for her, and eventually wandered away. She was now living wild, refusing to speak to anyone and appearing to have lost her hearing and senses. It was as though she had lost her mind.

Even though local people were concerned, there seemed to be no way anybody could help. There are some local services, but everyone had an excuse for why they couldn’t do anything. So my team pushed and asked questions, and finally a local protection centre agreed to take Tam in.

It’s easy to judge the local community for not doing more, but keep in mind that this is in a very remote area. There’s no funding, no specialised service, no expertise. People were afraid to help because they didn’t know what to do.

But now Tam is on the way to being safe. It’s early days so I dare not say she’s even on the way to recovery; that remains to be seen. We have a commitment from some agencies to provide emergency accommodation and medical care, and to get a court ruling that her mother is missing so that Tam can officially qualify for special care.

And of course, if we can find out where her mother is, Blue Dragon just might be able to bring her home.

It even turns out that little Tam isn’t deaf; when Blue Dragon staff called her name, she responded. Most likely she is experiencing deep trauma, and if so she’s going to need some very skilled counselling and support. And that’s something we can help with for sure.

Once the team had spent some time with Tam and found out what they could, it was a 4 hour drive back to the provincial capital, and back to preparing for the launch.

And that’s what I love about Blue Dragon. The importance of an event never overrides the needs of an individual child.

Tam was in a desperate state, so she became the priority.

My hope now is that we really can get her the long term care that will bring healing. It’s going to be a very long journey.

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