Sunday, April 09, 2006

I Do Miss Saigon

A whirlwind weekend comes to an end... On Friday evening I flew to Saigon and have just returned to Hanoi. It's good to be home, but I really do have a soft spot for the south.

When I moved to Vietnam four years ago, it was to live in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) where I had fallen in love with the thriving culture and the gorgeous peace of the surrounding countryside. I had never been north, until late in 2002 when I moved to the capital to work in a university. It took a long time to adjust - the northern and southern cities ar every different places. And now, although Hanoi is where I hang my hat (or my helmet, to be more accurate) the south still draws me in.

The main reason for this trip was to visit one of our kids who is staying in a rehab center there. But it was also a chance to catch up with a cohort of street kids who I have known over the years - some of whom are making progress, others who are not doing so well.

Around the tourist district are many kids who have been trafficked from a village in central Vietnam to sell flowers and chewing gum. This is an extremely lucrative business, and the best thing about it for the traffickers is that they don't have to do anything! In fact, the hardest work they have to do each day is sit and watch their slaves earn them money.

In the world of international NGOs, there is a tried and tested approach to dealing with the issue of trafficking. It is this: get a grant of half a million dollars, and hold a conference (somewhere like Thailand is always good) where 'experts' can talk about what a terrific job they are doing. Between conferences, the experts go back to their homes and prepare papers to deliver at the next conference. It's great work if you can get it. Even more lucrative than trafficking.

My own line of work is with Hanoi's street kids and children with disabilities, but I have helped one boy escape the trafficker who took him to Saigon. On this trip, I met up with some of the others from Ngoc's village and believe that there is a good chance I can get some more away from their situation.

Helping the kids on a case-by-case situation like this is not ideal for trafficked children: arguably, every child I help will simply be replaced by another. But for now, there seems to be no other way. Vietnam has lots of big foreign NGOs, although none want to get involved in the case of the Hue kids being trafficked south.

So hopefully I'll be heading south again in a month or so, and will be able to get two more children away from the men and women who have enslaved them. Another trip to Ho Chi Minh City... Not such a bad thing to have to do.. .


Preya said...

I admire your dedication to the children of VN. My mother has been doing humanitarian work in Vn for 18 years:)

Anonymous said...

I work with street children in Ukraine and my philosophy is that it is "one child" at a time. That one life you save could change the world. Don't give up and keep up the good work!