Newsletter Vol 4 – Part 6: “Lend a Hand” Vietnam Mission Trip 2012 – Overview
“We understand in details of how, why and what causes these children to be forced into sex slavery”
A group of thirteen enthusiastic young professional adults from all over America and Canada traveled back with Father Martino to our homeland, Vietnam, with an intention “to have an open heart, watch, listen, see and learn!” All of us have stepped out of our comfort zones for two weeks, in hoping for an experience that will give us a reality check and an in depth awareness about sex trafficking. The trip is a great experience for anyone who wants to SEE for themselves of what Father Martino has been talking about and the reason why he is risking his life for doing so. Here, I want to share my voice of what I saw and gave you a general overview of the mission trip 2012. So I would like to invite you to join us on this chronological quest, to see where we go, the activities that we do, and how we feel after of what we had witnessed.
On the first day in Vietnam, an appreciation dinner was organized, hosted and prepared by Father Martino with the help of the US/Canada’s volunteers to show our gratitude, kindness, and thankfulness to all the OBV-VN volunteers for their help in supporting and working with OBV. This also gave the US/Canada’s volunteers an opportunity to meet with the massive social network supporters of Father Martino and their love for OBV. The party quickly filled with guests and we were shocked with the many different occupational diversity networks that showed up to the dinner, from famous singers, to educators, community members, media/news reporters, lawyers, and many more. The atmosphere was delightful and we felt so blessed for knowing many volunteers and assistants that want to be a part of the voice for OBV.
Our mission began with a couple days expedition to explore Cambodia, specifically its capital of Phnom Penh. Cambodia has become a notorious destination for sex slavery, especially children sex slavery. We visited the street, particularly the red district of Phnom Penh, well-known place to look for prostitutes, “streetwalkers” or “call girls.” These females have on heavy make-up, wear provocative clothing, and usually waiting for customers at many street corners. The customers would walk or drive up to these “streetwalkers” to negotiate on prices. Upon agreement, they would go rent a room nearby by half or full hour; for some frequent customers, they would go to a dark alley nearby. On some streets, you can also find many houses with low red dim lights and a few women sitting outside that is similar to like a “brothel” or a “cathouse”. There are agents monitoring over these “cathouses” since a lot of these girls are immigrants and/or minors, who reside in Cambodia illegally. These “cathouses”, usually, are where a lot these females are being held and force into sex slavery. It is such a “frighten” place for so many minors and children waiting to be chosen by a customer. Here, they are being used as a “product” to satisfy these men lust.
After visiting the street of Phnom Penh, we were introduced to Thay Tung to learn and understand in details of how, why and what causes these children to be forced into sex slavery. To our disbelief, the trading of these children happened through their parents. The parents of these children would sell them to some agents with very little “monthly” money, if they’re lucky to keep contract with these agents. But there is no such thing as contracts with these “pimps”. Other families, however, would deal directly with the customers to negotiate on prices of their children performing “services” for certain hours. Worse off, we visited a village of many families that are well known to sell their children into sex slavery. It even has become a popular “TRADITION” that are proudly to celebrate routinely. But to think about it, due to the environment and their living in poverty with underlying circumstances, these parents were raised up poor with little to no education. Thus, they can’t afford to give their children a good home. Subsequently, they push their children to work to help out with paying for necessities (mainly for food) around the house. In some families, either mom or dad is a gambler, will sell their children to lenders to pay off their debts. Overall, the ultimate reason for families to sell their children is MONEY!!! Our hearts felt terrified and with sadness knowing these details. We questioned of how can any parent do something like this to their children? All of our questions, unfortunately, remained unanswered. Thus, the details strike our hearts heavily. We became angry, disturbed, frustrated, irritated and numb to the idea of sex trafficking. The parents have choices to sell their children or not for money, but to these children… They don’t have a CHOICE!
They don’t have a CHOICE!
With all the details still horrifying and lingering in our minds, we came back to Vietnam and had an opportunity to visit these victimized children that Father Martino had rescued over the years. Before we met up with the children, we knew these children are young and so it puzzled us about how these children can be sexually abuse. They are not physically nor psychologically prepare for anything like that to happen at an age of 6, 7, or 8. They are all beautiful, “carefree”, “joyful,” and “playful” children. However, the children are well aware of what had happened to them and knew what their parents have done. The most amazing thing about these children is their forgiving heart. They forgave their parents and still love them regardless of what happened. So even though their body might not be fully developed but their ways of thinking astonish us. When we saw these kids, our heart feels fragmented and heart-broken due to such disastrous life they had endured before. Thus this brings tears to our eyes. In addition, we were traumatized and learned that some of the children were damaged with permanent physically and mentally illnesses. They had been “disturbed” during their youth years, being force to pleasure customers to customers. Some we called “lucky” to be drugged with medication, but some are not so lucky, they were force, hammering and beating by their customers. Resulting from those physical torturing, many of the children in the OBV’s house, have some significant mentally and psychologically problems. One of the children was mentally frightened and physically beating that affected her speech ability for life. One other child went under seizure like behavior during the month that triggers her tragedy incidence. Others develop phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress, and paranoid disorder. Thus we were able to lessen somewhat of these pains with care and love. When we hang out with the children, they are as playful as any other children. Their smiles will truly melt your heart.
After we say our good-byes to the OBV children, we continue to explore the night life of Saigon. Annually, Father Martino organized what we called a “Night Flight,” with the purpose to deliver gifts to the homeless who lives and eats among filthy street corners. The gifts this year consisted of a red envelop, goodie basket of snacks, and some clothes. We had about twelve motorbikes driving around the city. We made as many stops as possible and had a quick chat to whoever we saw sleeping on the side walk, disabled elders and children. We were very impressed with the whole “Night Flight” gift idea. To these poor people, we are a lifesaver or even an angel sent from heaven with good hearts and intentions. For others, they think we are just wasting our time on trying to help these homeless people because they are so many and can we really help all of them? But whatever people think about us or if the homeless appreciated what we did or not, we did it anyway. As we follow the OBV’s motto “Lend a hand”, therefore, we did this out of our good heart, we don’t judge them or their stories, but just hoping with our little gifts, it can help bring them HOPE in surviving another day.
The next day, we traveled to Mien Tay (the West), places like Chau Doc, Can Tho, and Vinh Long. The aim was for us to see and experience how easily our Vietnam border can be crossed to Cambodia “illegally”. Our minivan dropped us off at the corner street in Chau Doc to wait for the illegal motor bikers to pick us up to cross the Cambodia border. As we cross the border, we took onto this role play and were assumed as “refugees” trying to migrate into Cambodia to work “illegally”. The bikers drove us a good straight distance through many villages, until we made a left turn into a huge acre of grassy land approaching a “security station”, where we all get dropped off to pay our fee. It cost about $3 per person to cross the border. The fee was claimed to help with maintenance and assembly of the border. Once you cross this bridge, you have crossed the border of Vietnam to Cambodia. No passport or any identification needed. After crossing the border, the first thing we observed is all the attractions, such as rooster fighting, and casinos. These extravagant places serve as entertainment or can also be considered a “squalor” where sex trafficking is happening. This “border” is somewhat stretchy. It is a wooden bridge that shaped like a ladder lying over a small stream helps bridging two countries together that can be easily accessed and serves as a corrupted trap. Many children have crossed this border and never get to see their motherland again.
We also went to visit the mental illness, leper and HIV-AIDS facility. The place is disgusting and heartbroken at the same time. Due to lack of space, these people are institutionalized together and not compartmentalize. They seem to be imprisoned with no medical treatments received. Untreated leprosy and HIV-AIDS are contagious and can affect other mental illnesses victims living in the same cell. Overall, the place is un-sanitized with males and females congested together. They are not allowed to go out except only for lavatory and other necessities. When we came to the place to hand out gifts and talk to some of these people at their normal stage. We were all scared at first when we arrived and talked to couple of the staff working there. We came across one lady begging for help to release her out of there. She told us she wasn’t crazy, unlike her family had claimed. We learned that some families would put their children or relatives who are drunkard and drug addicts into the facility with hope to help them, but now they are there prison for life. Overall, the place is insane for anyone to live in and we felt terribly bizarre of the whole situation.
We ended the trip with a medical mission in Vinh Long. The medical mission involved doctors, interns, dentists, pharmacist and pharmacy technicians collaborating to help over 1,000 of elders and children who need medical assistants. The interns take in patients to check their blood pressure, fill out medical background forms, and handover to the doctor for examination. The doctors then prescribed the medications and have them allocate to the pharmacy department. The pharmacy filled their medicines and hand them back to the patient. The local Vietnamese Eucharist Youth Society (VEYS) groups also have activities and games going on for the children, while their parents/grandparents are seeking medical care. This medical trip was a meaningful way to end our mission with Father Martino. After two weeks of spiteful feelings, emotional confusion, and terrified knowledge of sex trafficking, we felt restored with the medical trip that we were able to help and feel fortunate and value for what we have. We are blessed and grateful for our lives and our parents. Overall, the mission trip had helped many of us to understand and realize things that are happening around us in Vietnam, in particularly and around the world, in general. It is what we called “seeing is believing,” and now we do believe and want to take part to help better the next generation.
Sex trafficking is a real concern everywhere, but it is more prominent in third world countries, where many live in poverty and lack of education and medical assistants. Compare to us, we live in a more advanced and developed state, where we rarely witness the real problem of poverty or education as a concern. We all appreciate and thankful for everything that Father Martino had given the children. We also thank him for the opportunity to SEE and to SERVE throughout this mission trip. We had an eye opening experience on this mission trip, we felt appreciative of what we have, and the necessity to get involve. However, some will do nothing, some will ignore and walk away, and some will eagerly to get involved. We are here not to “talk the talk” but thrive forward to “walk the walk” in the passion to lend a HAND, be a VOICE, make a DIFFERENCE, and save a LIFE. Please don’t ignore or walk away when you acknowledge the REALITY of sex trafficking is happening. If you want you to see it for yourself, you are invited for the upcoming January Mission Trip in 2013. SEE THE STORY WITH YOUR OWN EYES!!!
A witness on Vietnam Mission Trip 2012
A Note from the Founder
This mission trip in January 2012 was quite a challenge. I had originally planned on taking only ten young people, but the problem was that the first ten who signed up were all young ladies! Now that might sound good to some of you guys, but I’m a priest. At the last minute, I decided to go ahead and let two young men also join the mission, mainly for the safety of the group. The group consist of a Medical Doctor, a Doctor in Psychology, a Master in Social work, a 3rd year Dental student, a US Air-force officer, 2 college students and the rest are young professional – college graduated! They are either born in the United Stated or came here at the age under 10!
One of the most rewarding things about my position is seeing the energy from all these young people and seeing them share my vision. Seeing their enthusiasm to see and hear and learn all that they can. By the end of trip they were so excited to go back and share their experiences and take some action to help better the lives of OBV children. I know that it was shocking for them to see how young these children are. Some of them could barely hold it together emotionally and had to take a few moments to gather themselves together. One of the members- Minh Thy, a civil engineer from Florida- summarized it well by saying that by listening and reading what Father Martino had written, the ages are just a number, but actually seeing and actually being around the children, the reality hits of how young they are.
My goal of the mission trip was not for them to “do”, but to come, live, experience, see, and learn for themselves what I had been experiencing all these years. I explained to them that the “doing” could start once they returned to the United States and Canada and had time to process all of the information. A few of them were also able to go undercover, to see what it was like to “select” and “pay for” the girls. Stating that it was like they were just products you can pick and choose at a store. The girls were not even treated as humans at that point. They were shocked that they were even allowed to touch the girls before making your decision.
The next mission trip will be from January 2 to 12 of 2012 and will be on a first-come-first-served basis. I already have 6 people committed! Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to be on this life-altering mission. Hopefully, there will be more guys!
As I am writing this reflection, I am getting ready to fly to my hometown of Chicago for our Awareness event on May 20th, 2012. Then I will be flying directly to Singapore to meet a women’s religious congregation and a Good Shepherd House to discuss our collaboration on opening a home in Singapore to help under-aged children who are being trafficked into sex slavery. Please continue to pray for us and our children. Thank-you for your love and support.
Father Martino Nguyen Ba Thong
Founder of OBV