Early last week I found myself in a meeting at Blue Dragon where a 17 year old girl, Ha, was being reunited with her family.
Ha had been trafficked from Vietnam into China 5 months ago and sold as a bride. She was a Grade 11 student and her family loves her deeply; her parents were overcome with emotion to be back together again. A H’mong family, Ha’s mother was wearing traditional dress and before leaving our centre Ha also changed back into her customary clothing for the first time since she had been deceived and enslaved late last year.
At the very end of the week, our team reunited another teen girl, Hien, with her family. This time, we accompanied her to Ca Mau province in the deep south of Vietnam to return to her home. Hien’s father told us of how he had paid someone to find his daughter and bring her home, but with no result to show for it.
To say thanks to Blue Dragon, he sent us an enormous floral bouquet and basket of fruit. The family is far from wealthy, which made the gesture all the more touching. As a principle, we don’t accept gifts from the people we help, but sometimes in cases like this they insist, so we honour their wish and share the gift with the Blue Dragon kids. The flowers and fruit were most welcome at one of our shelters where other young women who have survived trafficking now live.
In recent times our rescue work has been in overdrive. We have normally had 2 or 3 rescue operations underway simultaneously at any one time since late February.
When we did our first rescue of 6 teenage girls trafficked to China back in July 2007, it was a momentous occasion. At that time, we had already rescued a dozen or so children trafficked for labour exploitation within Vietnam, but had no experience at all in intervening in the international sex slave trade.
Our staff returned to Vietnam by bus; I remember going out to the station on a Saturday morning to meet them and welcome them back. It was a cause for great celebration.
Now, we have so many rescues happening every week that we rarely take time to think about them before moving on to the next crisis that awaits us. I imagine that being a doctor in an emergency ward must be a similar experience: you save a life – or not – and then you move on to the next person who needs you.
Life can be such a rush that it’s easy to forget to pause and take a breath. It can be hard to take time to reflect and let ourselves be touched by the good things around us.
And this isn’t only for those of us involved in crisis work.
Whenever I travel to beautiful cities around the world, something that often strikes me is empty balconies. People spend vast sums of money on homes overlooking the sea or the city, but it’s incredibly rare to see anyone actually out there taking in the sunshine and enjoying the view. Or using the gardens and yards they work so hard to afford.
We do it in relationships, too; we consume ourselves with busy-ness to the point that too often the first time we truly appreciate the people close to us is when they are gone. The most tragic funerals are those when we regret all we never said or did. When we realise we’ve been caught up in the rush and now it’s too late.
Seeing Ha back in the loving arms of her family, and seeing the wonderful gift from Hien’s family, reminded me that I sometimes need to stand still and appreciate the good people around me and the good work we do.
It’s a lesson we all need to learn. The rush of life never ceases, and we mustn’t let it overwhelm us. There’s always time to stop and be thankful.
Read more of Michael’s blog here.