An Australian supporter, Naomi Nixon shares her personal experience meeting survivors of trafficking and abuse.
Relocating to Singapore six years ago with my husband and three young children has turned out to be a wonderful move for our family. Singapore has been such an easy and friendly place to settle down in, with good schools and ample opportunities for travel.
But scratching the surface, I was to learn that safe and law-abiding Singapore, which so many of us call home, was not only a transit place for human trafficking victims, but also a destination. I found this really surprising and disturbing.
I was first introduced to HAGAR by a Singaporean church friend. I felt compelled to support the work of HAGAR, and wanted to learn more. So when the opportunity to join a five-day supporter trip to Vietnam presented itself, I was really grateful to be included.
Our diverse group of 18 supporters from around Singapore stayed in a small hotel in Hanoi’s characteristic Old Quarter. As we dined together, and shared delicious dishes like bun nem and pho xao, we began to build relationships and find out more about what sparked our common interest in the work of HAGAR. One of the only times when we couldn’t find common ground was our like or dislike of Hanoi’s famous drip coffee and sweetened condensed milk!
Our visit to the HAGAR office, where we met many of the staff, really opened my eyes and helped me to understand more fully how HAGAR supports those in its care. I learnt that HAGAR had a shelter in Hanoi and another in a rural province, but that it supported the majority of survivors in their own homes. I heard about the challenges that HAGAR faces in the course of its work, and the very real emotional and financial pressures that exist. I also heard stories of lives turned around, or just small daily triumphs, which encouraged the staff to go on.
The Hanoi shelter was quite different from what I had imagined. I think I had expected something quite basic. But it turned out to be a spacious four-level home with high ceilings, tucked away discreetly in a residential street in one of the leafy, more upmarket areas of Hanoi. It was homely, warm and welcoming. I understood that this area was chosen for its relative safety, as the house was gated and the close proximity of the police headquarters kept the ladies safe from potential assailants.
We entered the shelter with some apprehension, because we wanted to ensure that we were not adding to the stress of the residents there — Vietnamese ladies, teenagers and even young children, whom we understood had all survived great trauma. Most residents met us with warm smiles. Some moved away warily, with arms crossed over chests. But over two afternoons spent with them, I can definitely say that even those who were wary at first eventually shared smiles, which were even more precious to us, being so hard won.
At the shelter, we showed the residents how to cook bubur chacha (Nonya coconut milk dessert), and bake banana chocolate chip loaves and muffins; in turn, the residents demonstrated how to cook Vietnamese specialties, which were absolutely delicious. We picnicked together on the floor and shared an amazing intercultural feast, amidst dancing, games and echoes of laughter.
One thing that really struck me was the love and dedication shown by the social workers who worked in the shelter. This was often hard and thankless work, working with those marginalised by society, who had undergone trauma almost too difficult to verbalise. We heard about how many of the ladies supported by HAGAR had been sold and escaped, not once, not twice, but multiple times. Yet each of the social workers spoke of the calling that had been placed on their hearts, to journey with and support the survivors to bring them to a place of healing so that they could start their lives afresh.
Even though I had watched HAGAR’s videos and heard individual stories of trafficking and abuse, I could never comprehend the enormity of their trauma. From our comfortable lives, I doubt that any of us could. But going to Vietnam and being able to physically stand alongside these women and girls, has allowed me to glimpse more deeply into their experiences, and attain one more notch of understanding.
I’m grateful that we are in Singapore — right here in the centre of Southeast Asia, with so many opportunities to get involved and help improving lives in this region. Out of this experience, I certainly hope to encourage others to share in HAGAR’s love and compassion, and show practical support for trafficked survivors, because the need is great.
With just $50 every month, you can help restore wholeness and empower the future of a trafficking survivor. Thank you for taking this important step today.