My stories on this blog and on the Blue Dragon Facebook are often about the journeys taken by Vietnamese youth, particularly trafficked children returning home and runaway boys being reunited with families.
Indeed, last week saw the Blue Dragon team bringing 7 teenage girls back from China, where they had been sold into the sex industry, and accompanying a 14 year old boy home to his family in the countryside after he had run away and spent several nights on the streets of Hanoi.
Since we began back in 2003, we've walked with Vietnamese kids on thousands of journeys. Some have been simple: re-enrolling in school or a trip to a doctor. Others have been long and complex journeys: escaping from systemic abuse or facing terrifying ordeals. And not all journeys end well.
During these last 2 years, many of our journeys have been dark and painful. We are receiving ever more calls for help from Vietnamese girls who have been deceived by apparent friends, employers, and lovers, only to be sold into brothels or forced marriages in China. The psychological damage is inevitably deep and lasting; and too often the girls suffer serious physical harm as well.
And in Hanoi, where Blue Dragon's HQ and children's centre is based, too much of our work is in healing boys who have been entrapped in pedophile rings which prey upon homeless children.
All of these journeys have been filled with sorrow and despair.
We continue this work, however, believing that we can have an impact. When we rescue a girl from a Chinese brothel, we are changing her life forever and also shutting down an entire trafficking ring which could otherwise traffic another 5, 10, 50 girls.
Our work with boys in Hanoi is also aiming toward lasting change. Vietnamese law currently does not acknowledge that males can be victims of sexual abuse, and so the pedophiles feel that they are safe in their exploitation. We plan to turn that around: there are loopholes under which they can be arrested, and we are looking at how this law can be revised to outlaw the abuse of boys.
In the coming Year of the Goat, I know that many difficult journeys lay ahead. As Vietnam develops, its youth face increasingly complex social issues, and the vulnerability of the poor seems to be spiraling out of control. The exploitation that we see is growing worse every year, both in nature and in incidence.
But we will continue, because giving up is not an option. Every setback is only a lesson to prepare us for the next step of the journey.