With kids coming and going from the Blue Dragon centre every day, I try my best to get to know everyone so I can call them by name when I see them and make them feel at home.
But there’s one group of young people who pass through the centre who I rarely get to know at all: the girls and young women who have come back from sex trafficking in China.
Without exception they are amazing people – they have survived something I cannot imagine, and their escape from slavery requires an uncommon bravery.
I figure that once they make it back to Vietnam, and are taking those first shaky steps toward healing, the last thing they want is to have some white guy start trying to talk to them with a terrible Vietnamese accent.
Blue Dragon’s psychologists and social workers are among the best in the world (why yes I am biased, but prove me wrong!) at supporting survivors of trafficking and trauma. There’s nothing I can say or do that would add to their counselling, other than to share a smile on the occasion that we pass in the corridors.
But sometimes, when family members or police travel in to Hanoi from the provinces to meet the young survivor and accompany her home, they ask to meet me so they can say thanks in person for what Blue Dragon has done.
Today was one of those days.
For all the rescues we’ve done – it’s edging close to 900 now – I still find myself deeply affected by the survivors I meet. Each has an horrific story, and the little bits that I learn from reading the reports and talking to our staff are only ever a fraction of the whole truth.
Today I sat with a young woman, ‘Tam’, who spent 8 years in China. Lured away from her home in a tiny village close to the Laos border, she thought she was on her way to a job and a stable income in a restaurant. Her whole experience of the world was through snippets she saw on television. Tam was an easy target for a trafficker who saw a chance to make some quick money.
Her years in China were horrific beyond what any movie or novel could adequately portray. Tam was repeatedly raped, sold multiple times to various buyers, beaten, and led to believe she would never see her family again.
And yet, tonight, she is on her way. Tomorrow she will be in her village, surrounded by loving parents and sisters and brothers, and all the extended family who have spent the last 8 years believing that Tam was gone forever.
For all of the horrors behind her, and all the uncertainty of what is yet to come, Tam had such a huge smile and an air of confidence that inspired me. She has survived the ordeal of a lifetime: whatever comes next, she’s going to overcome it.
I often wonder at the evil things we do to each other, and to our planet. But equally, I marvel at the resilience of humanity in the face of the worst suffering.
Nobody should have to lose their freedom and become another person’s property; nobody should experience the indignity of abuse and violence that Tam has been through.
It’s up to all of us, you and me, to keep up the fight against human trafficking and do all we can to get women like Tam to freedom.