Hanoi, Hoi An, Halong Bay and Sapa. Travellers on tour to Vietnam are very familiar with these magical places.
But further north, in the remote province of Dien Bien, the poorest people in Vietnam struggle through their daily lives.
Dien Bien is one of the poorest provinces in Vietnam: a shocking 51% of households are classified as poor, with an average monthly income equivalent to AU$24. The majority of people are from ethnic minority groups so a high percentage cannot read or write Vietnamese. Family sizes are large, with one third of the population under 16, but there are few services for children, and little chance of graduating to high school, let alone training or job opportunities.
Intrepid and The Intrepid Foundation have been very pleased to bring support to Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation in Vietnam. Amongst their programs, they reach out to children in Dien Bien by focusing on the prevalent issue of human trafficking.
Blue Dragon has been working in the province since 2011 when they first rescued children who had been trafficked to garment factories in Ho Chi Minh City, over 1,500 kilometres away. Traffickers seek out poor, remote families in Dien Bien and steal away children like Cuc and Nam who were both just 13 years old.
Cuc’s family life was difficult as her father was a drug addict. In desperation, her mother left the family home and took the three children into a deep forest, living in a temporary tent. Cuc had to drop out of school. Nam didn’t go to school. He worked in a paddy field – the only way to reduce his parents’ financial burden and help his disabled brother.
When the traffickers came to their homes, the families listened carefully to the promise of training and an easy well-paid job in Ho Chi Minh City. The traffickers said they would give the families a small payment of ‘advance wages’. How could they say ‘no’ to such an offer?
The traffickers took Cuc and Nam away with many other children. But instead of the promised ‘better future’, they had to work up to 16 hours a day locked up in a 40 square metre factory where they both worked, ate and slept. Their diet consisted of instant noodles and plain rice. They had only one toilet and shower to share, and each child was allowed a maximum eight minutes per day to use it. If they exceeded this limit, they were beaten.
Cuc and Nam’s case came to Blue Dragon’s attention during a workshop with local police. Blue Dragon staff spoke with the families, who were amazed to hear the real story behind the trafficker’s lies and were desperate to get their children home. With support from local police, Blue Dragon raided the factory in Ho Chi Minh City in November 2012. After months of slavery, Cuc and Nam were brought home to their anxious families.
A major focus for Blue Dragon in Dien Bien is to ensure that children receive ongoing support after rescue, particularly focusing on education.
Cuc and Nam both decided to go back to school with their families’ encouragement. Blue Dragon staff spoke with the school and assisted with the documentation they needed. They ensured that Cuc and Nam were well-prepared to return to school, both academically, psychologically and physically. These days, their school fees continue to be paid by Blue Dragon. They are visited by Blue Dragon staff every month, and spoken to once a week. They have been taken to the doctor, given extra tuition and guidance and provided with all the support they need to stay in school.
While most kids of their age have been forced to drop out of school because of poverty, Cuc and Nam, now 16 years old, both passed the entrance exam to enrol in high school last year. Cuc is living with her grandparents since her mother has remarried. Nam is at home and he really enjoys going to school every day. There are still difficulties ahead, but kids like Cuc and Nam now have more to believe in, especially with the support of their families and communities.
Blue Dragon will continue to raise awareness in Dien Bien about the dangers of child labour and trafficking, through workshops, community forums, liaison with the police and local authorities, and of course by rescuing children directly from their places of slavery.
You can support Blue Dragon’s anti-trafficking work by donating through The Intrepid Foundation. All donations to The Intrepid Foundation will be matched by Intrepid Travel up to AU$400,000 in each financial year and a maximum of AU$5,000 per donor in each financial year.
Intrepid also supports Blue Dragon through Project SAMA. Learn more about this gender equality initiative and how you can be involved.
Visit Blue Dragon! Join in with a ‘Breakfast With the Stars’, hosted by Blue Dragon staff and some of the kids, on a fabulous 22-day Indochina Discovery, travelling through the heart of Indochina through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.
Photos © Blue Dragon.