AWC Berlin is participating in 2020’s “16 Days” campaign by posting stories on gender-based violence to inform and inspire action. Follow the series on our blog and social media and let us know what actions you’re taking.
Editor’s Note: The following story is an updated version of Suzy’s post in 2016’s “16 Days” series.
Human Trafficking: A Personal Encounter
by Suzy Nguyen, AWC Berlin Member
The Pacific Links Foundation is a grassroots women’s and youth empowerment organization fighting against poverty and human trafficking in Vietnam, one person at a time. It has been worthy of our family’s attention for over nine years. The foundation was started by my husband’s friend from Harvard, and that’s how we came to know of it.
Cofounder of Pacific Links, Diep Vuong, is not a gal who is merely the front woman sitting on a board, distancing herself from the action. She and her team are on the front lines, working to empower communities vulnerable to trafficking with the knowledge and skills to protect themselves against traffickers, as well as helping trafficking survivors returning to Vietnam after escaping their captors and their bondage. If and when the young women and girls manage to make it over the border, her team is there with open arms to take them to safety, where their journey of mental, physical, emotional healing, and reintegration begins.
Their main supporters have been Diep’s friends, like us, who have donated money and organized events to bring awareness to her mission. The money she brings in is humble and she uses it well. Other significant contributors include multinational companies doing business in Vietnam. The Pacific Links’ shelter for trafficking survivors in Lao Cai, near Sapa on the northwestern border, was built with support from the British Embassy in Vietnam. This shelter houses the residents for as long as necessary to heal, to educate, and to teach them work skills to ready them for a life of independence, and hopefully, financial freedom.
For me, Pacific Links is exactly the cause that draws my compassion. I am from a family of five girls exclusively: no boys. For all of my life, I’ve seen my mother’s struggles to empower my sisters and me, raising us in a culture that does not respect its women. I think back on whether she would have succeeded if all five of us had never escaped Vietnam at the end of the war. We were nine, five, four, and newborn at that time. In desperate poverty, could she have saved us from being lured or blatantly kidnapped by our “uncles” taking us away to be child brides of some Chinese farmer or to be sex servants in sleazy Chinese brothels? Or would my sisters and I have been educated or clever enough to walk away from a pair of plastic sandals as a trade to follow a stranger into their car?
For this reason, I’ve taught my son Revel about the plight of girls and women, starting when he was a young boy as we sat around our kitchen table after Thanksgiving to decide which charitable organization would deserve our attention for that year. Then, when he was eleven years old, we travelled back to Vietnam for his first, but by no means last, trip there. I made sure we scheduled a special side trip to the northwest corner of Vietnam to visit the residents of the Pacific Link shelter.
On this side trip, Revel discovered that it was difficult to communicate with the residents. He knew they each had a painful and heinous past, so he could not speak to them of that. But how meaningful can an exchange be when all he can talk about was their vegetable garden? Then he remembered he had been keeping a travel journal chock full of sketches, Polaroid photos, and funny anecdotes, so he set out to share it with them. Right there on the floor of the shelter, Revel took out his travel journal to share—to their amusement and delight. I translated his entries as best as I could. Then we remembered that people in the third world seldom have an actual photo of themselves, so we took photos of the girls for them to keep. Our Polaroid camera worked overtime, and luckily we had enough film on hand that day. One girl even mimed that she would like to have Revel in her photo!
On that visit to Pacific Links, we were able to witness firsthand where our money went, and we believe it is a truly creditable and noteworthy cause.
We’ve continued our support for Pacific Links. Since March 2020, I developed and taught a Zoom class for Pacific Links to teach teenagers to draw. As well, my son’s high school community service class has begun a cultural exchange program with them that includes an English reading and conversation group. Fellow AWC Berlin member, my cousin My-Linh Kunst also tutors English with Pacific Links teens and university students.
CALL TO ACTION
- Share this post on your social media
- Peruse the Pacific Links website. Read their blog for personal stories of survivors and the review the impact page for metrics. Watch CNN’s report on trafficking in Vietnam that’s linked to the Pacific Links homepage.
- Consider supporting Pacific Links or similar grass roots organizations fighting human trafficking on the front lines.
- Contact Suzy Nguyen or My-Linh Kunst directly if you are interested in remote volunteering with Pacific Links.