Creating opportunities, taking on challenges, building self-confidence, being brave… On International Women’s Day, the women and girls of Blue Dragon share their proudest moments and what women’s empowerment means to them.
“What a wonderful day. I am going to make the most of every opportunity that comes my way.”
Blue Dragon’s co-CEO Skye Maconachie woke up to that motto every morning when she was a child. Her mother repeated it cheerfully as Skye and her siblings got ready for school. That concept stuck with her. Since then, Skye has reflected deeply on what it means to have opportunities. It wasn’t long after leaving her family home and her mother’s morning dose of inspiration that she began carving out a career path devoted to creating opportunities for others.
“In my life, I’ve always taken the opportunities that have come my way. But I’ve also been very lucky to be able to create opportunities for myself. When I came to Vietnam, I could see that there were so many people who, because of where they were born, were unable to create those opportunities for themselves. People could only think about survival.”
Every day, Blue Dragon supports women and girls who have survived human trafficking and exploitation, who have lived on the streets, or had to leave school to marry early or find work so their families could make ends meet.
“Sadly, most people meet Blue Dragon because of the struggles they’ve had to endure but, in that, there’s an opportunity to make their lives better. We can give them the opportunities they need to grow, earn money, care for their families, and shine. That’s what really drives me in the work that we do, particularly with women and girls but also with everyone we serve. I truly believe everyone has the right and the ability to shine,” says Skye.
For all the darkness Blue Dragon witnesses, we also see women and girls shine brightly. Every day, Blue Dragon meets inspiring women and girls who light the way for those around them. Women who fight to forge their own path, women who challenge stereotypes, and women and girls who overcome their own struggles and go on to transform their communities. These are their stories:
Ngan, a proud university student
Ngan grew up in a remote mountainous community in northern Vietnam where poverty and human trafficking are rife. There, gender expectations are deeply-rooted. Girls are expected to leave school early, marry early, and take care of their home and their family. Lacking an education perpetuates their hardship and forces many women and girls in Ngan’s province to leave home to earn a living. During those dangerous journeys seeking a better future, many become the target of traffickers.
Ngan wanted a different life for herself. She knew that meant she’d have to challenge social norms. She’d have to pave her own path to find opportunities and happiness.
For other girls in the situation in which she once was, Ngan has an inspiring message: “Try your best. We shouldn’t give up on any chance to study and move forward in life. For students in remote mountainous areas, it may be the only way to break the poverty cycle.”
Trang, a proud social worker who rescues street children
Every night, Trang gets on her motorbike and goes out on the streets of Hanoi to find homeless children and youth in need of assistance. To help vulnerable children, she walks down dark alleys, under secluded highway overpasses, and into the maze of pillars that hold up the bridges over the Red River.
Trang is one of the few female social workers in Vietnam specialising in street outreach work, which is commonly perceived as a masculine job. Blue Dragon’s outreach team has historically met more boys and young men than girls and young women. Because of this, culturally, this type of work is often not considered suitable for a Vietnamese woman. Trang has faced those perspectives and beliefs head on to fulfill her passion for helping street children. She’s also had to reassure her loved ones, who feared for her safety.
Her sheer determination to “change the lives of street children for the better” is what gives her the courage and motivation to do her job every day. That passion is also what eventually changed her family’s mind.
Tien, a proud mother and farmer
“Women weave the world together. Women hold families together and communities together. Particularly here in Vietnam, every woman is carrying the world on her back, for her family, for her children, and for her community. And those three things always come before she does. That’s why, when we keep women safe, we keep their children safe,” explains Blue Dragon’s co-CEO Skye.
Tien is one of those resilient Vietnamese women weaving her family together. Like Ngan, Tien comes from a remote ethnic minority community perched on the hills of northern Vietnam. There, Tien is raising her own children while also caring for her elderly mother and her sister’s children.
Tien is the glue that keeps her family together, but poverty and disadvantage have always got in the way of her crucial mission to keep everyone in her home safe. That’s why starting her own pig farm, which now provides for the entire family, is Tien’s proudest achievement. “I hope that other women that are in the same situation as me will always try their best to overcome difficulties. I hope they are ready and brave to face any upcoming challenges.”
Dung, a proud social worker who serves survivors of sex trafficking
Despite the pain she witnesses every day, Dung’s smile never fades. Kind and patient, this social worker is one of the first people who women and girls meet when they first arrive back in Vietnam after being rescued from slavery.
Dung welcomes them to Blue Dragon’s emergency accommodation with open arms and a soothing voice. There, Dung works to ensure that these women and girls feel safe and at home after the traumatic experiences they’ve had to endure.
Her hope is for a future where “no women and girls have to suffer the pain caused by human trafficking.”
“Opportunity protects girls and their rights”
“Empowerment, to me, is giving people back their power so that they can make decisions for themselves, do what they love, find their strengths, find pathways, take opportunities. For girls and women in particular, there are more barriers to taking their power back because of gender roles and expectations, not only in their culture but also in their particular family,” says Blue Dragon’s co-CEO.
“In Vietnamese culture, family is the centre of life. There are plenty of strengths about family life in Vietnam that we, in the West, could learn from. The importance placed on family, however, also creates an expectation that girls will get married and have children,” explains Skye.
In rural areas, family and societal pressures to marry begin at a much younger age. There, says Skye, “girls get married earlier, whereas in cities where they have more access to information, more exposure to the world, and more opportunity, they may be able to hold off the marriage for longer. Opportunity protects them and their rights. It gives them the time and space to develop. And what they learn through those opportunities to develop, they then take it into their relationships, into their own family, into their community.”