What a week of twists and turns this has been!
It's ending well, although with much more yet to happen. So a brief update.
I'm writing tonight from Ho Chi Minh City. It's great to be here, and while I was frustrated earlier in the week at being so far from all the action I can see that the kids we've rescued have been in very good hands.
On Tuesday, Blue Dragon staff worked with various police departments to locate and rescue 15 children from Dien Bien province who were trafficked to work in garment factories. (If you're not familiar with Vietnam's geography, Dien Bien and Ho Chi Minh City are opposite ends of a very long country).
On Thursday, another 3 children were found. These 18 children, along with another 4 who had run away from their factory last Friday, have been through some terrible times but they know that their ordeal is over now.
Of the 22, only one of the kids speaks fluent Vietnamese. Most speak a little, but they are from an ethnic minority which speaks a different language and has its own customs and culture.
Being slaves in garment factories is not a part of that culture.
I am yet to find out very much from the children; this morning I spent some time with them and didn't want to start questioning them, as they've all been giving statements to the police. I figured they'd prefer to have a laugh then retell their stories, and I happen to be outstanding at playing the fool so the kids got a few laughs.
What I did gather, though, was that it's no exaggeration to say that the kids have been held as slaves.
One of the boys, about 15 years old, has been in a factory for 7 months.
Since the day he entered the building, he has not stepped outside. Not even once. His skin is pale from being indoors with little sunlight. For 7 months.
Apart from being a fool, I can also be a real wimp. I had tears in my eyes when he told me this. I'm not sad, though; I'm angry. The people who kept that boy locked away, working for a few dollars per month ("if he completed his work satisfactorily"), deserve all the punishment that's headed their way.
One thing that did stand out to me, though, was that the kids have been trafficked and held captive by just a few people: one trafficker and her 2 adult sons. By contrast, there are now dozens of people working together for their welfare: police, Blue Dragon staff, and even some friends around the world who have sent money for the children.
The kids have had an awful time, but what I saw today was 22 smiling, happy young people who just can't wait to get home to their families.