Ngoc was just 13 years old when we rescued him from the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.
Worn to exhaustion, he walked the streets throughout the night, selling roses to drunk partygoers in the city's tourist district. Every dollar he made went straight into the hands of the traffickers, who sat down the road watching the children they had brought in from the countryside.
That was back in 2005. He was the first child we rescued from traffickers. We've rescued 109 now, and Ngoc is a role model of a young man working in a restaurant here in Hanoi.
But the trafficking continues. Since lifting Ngoc out of his slavery, we've rescued girls from brothels and helped scores of kids get out of garment factories. Last year we undertook a rescue operation to find 3 girls who had escaped a brothel in China and were hiding in fear of their lives, over a thousand miles from their homes in a foreign land.
We've had some success so far, as well as some setbacks and disappointments.
Today we're facing a new challenge - something on a scale we haven't dealt with before.
About a week ago, the Vietnamese police contacted us to get involved in a case of children being trafficked from remote villages. When our staff arrived, they found 2 extremely poor communities in the mountains which had been approached by a single trafficker, a woman, offering to give the children a 'better life'.
Altogether, she took 35 children, saying they were headed to Ho Chi Minh City for training and jobs. The kids were aged just 10 to 15.
A few weeks ago, one of the children returned to the village: a 15 year old girl. She was pregnant.
The villagers immediately realised that something was wrong and put out a call for help. They are desperate and alarmed, but have no idea where their children really are.
It seems incredible to you and me that anybody could let their children go with a complete stranger. But keep this in mind: in each of the 2 communities, there are just one or two people who are literate. Vietnamese is not the language of these villagers; they belong to a tiny hilltribe group with its own language and customs.
These people know virtually nothing of the world outside of their mountain-top villages.
Now we're in the midst of planning to find the remaining 34 children. We have almost no information to go on, but until now we've been pretty good at tracking down trafficked kids even without any solid leads. I guess I should say we're "cautiously optimistic."
Our main worry is that this trafficker has gone to such unusual lengths to get children for the factories. There are many places in more accessible locations where traffickers can find vulnerable families. Taking the kids from these remote areas was expensive and time consuming... Which makes us think that whatever the motive, there must be considerable profit in the work.
We fear that the children are in serious danger.
Assuming that we can find them, there's a lot involved in the rescue of these children. Their Vietnamese language skills are fairly basic, and they're going to be frightened (and possibly traumatised) - so caring for them in the first days is going to be absolutely critical, and very complex!
And then there's the issue of accommodating 34 children in Ho Chi Minh City for a couple of days, before taking them all home from one end of the country to the other.
These are the sort of things we're thinking about at the moment!
I don't often do this, but I need to ask for donations for this rescue trip. We're estimating that we need about $3400, and so far we have one very generous donation of $400 to kick us off. If you can help, drop me a line - firstname.lastname@example.org - or head to the Blue Dragon donation page:
It's a lot of money all up, but in fact the cost is just $100 per child, which is pretty small considering the impact this will make on their lives. Every dollar will help!
I do have to emphasise that we're still in the planning stages, so by all means hang on to your money until I am sure we're going ahead. I'll post more in coming days, and you're welcome to email me with your 'pledge' so I can get back to you when we have more information.
There's a lot of uncertainty about this case, but what I do know is this:
34 children are missing, and we've got to find them.