Growing up, my mom would always say to me, “Ăn quả nhớ kẻ trồng cây,” which roughly translates to “when eating a fruit, think of the person who planted the tree.” She wanted me to understand how easy it was to take our privilege for granted and to forget all those who have helped us along the way. To remember and be grateful for everything that has come before whatever may seem easy in the present. No matter how impossible life might feel, we must be grateful. That lesson has stayed imprinted on my mind ever since.
My mom immigrated to the US as a Vietnamese refugee, escaping the Vietnam War by herself at the age of 15 years old in 1988. Despite having no high school diploma and not being able to speak English, she worked hard to financially support four kids. I would act as a translator for her, accompany her to medical appointments or helping her pay her bills. And when I was 7 years old, her face became almost a blur to me as she had to work overtime almost every day. Yet, she would always make sure to come home before my brothers and I fell asleep so she could tell us all a bedtime story. I value the vulnerable stories she told me of her life in Vietnam from childhood to the time during the Vietnam War. Even now I can see so clearly the rivers of tears streaming down her face as she tried to put into words the trauma of war she witnessed. It gave me a perspective on how fragile and awful life can be for so many human beings around the world. Outside of my little bubble, there were literally billions of people just like my mother struggling to survive.
Growing up and hearing what my mom had been through was a catalyst for me to create the changes that I wish to see in this world, to voice and work against the injustices and oppression amongst us. I began by researching the living conditions in my home country of Vietnam. Immediately, I was crushed with an unbearable weight of sorrow and anger. I saw article after article documenting the prevalent issue of human trafficking in Vietnam, especially targetting the youth and those living in poverty. I couldn’t believe that this was real. How could it be that in the same world I lived in and in the same country I was from there were people forced to sell their body without consent and without any hope of escape? It was an endless cycle of forced servitude and terror and it made me absolutely sick.
As kids, we believe that the world is all sunshine and rainbows. I could feel those illusions disappearing and, in their place, a state of hopelessness where my stomach churned every time another report about trafficking came onto the news. I tried to speak with my family about it, but all I got back were protective responses like “You are too young to do anything, wait until you are an adult.” So like all kids do when their family orders them to do something, I did the exact opposite. I rebelled. It was time to get to work. I started working with Rotary Vietnam Project (RVP), a non-profit organization that fights human trafficking in Vietnam through providing scholarships to Vietnamese youth at risk in partnership with One World Play Project and NGO Pacific Links. Rotary Vietnam Project sparked a fiery passion within me: it empowered me by showing me that it was possible to create the changes I wish to seek in this world. Working with RVP was stressful and often difficult as we struggled to fundraise, raise awareness, and plan community events, but throughout it all I found myself being even more compelled and dedicated to work harder and harder. Through RVP, I truly gained more knowledge on the issue of human trafficking and learned that not only do we need to focus on aiding survivors, but on the prevention measures with the Vietnamese youth at risk. One of the reasons why the Vietnamese youth are lured into human trafficking is the lack of resources and education. Despite obstacles and struggles, the RVP leadership team and I raised a total of $100,000 dollars this year, providing more than 200 scholarships for educational financial aid to the Vietnamese youth.
We didn’t want to just stop there – the scholarships were only the beginning of how we wanted to support these students in their community. Thus, we planned an annual summer service trip for members of our team to travel to Vietnam to be guidance counselors for a summer camp to help teach the Vietnamese youth on career skills and self-defense from trafficking. RVP gave me an opportunity to see that it was possible to prevent these stark futures from happening, that a young person like me can pave a change in this movement to end human trafficking. As you can guess, I don’t plan on stopping there! Through creating a community platform, I plan on interviewing survivors of human trafficking in Vietnam to voice their stories to the world. In our society, survivors have always been silenced and shamed for what they have faced. I want to show people not only necessary it is to abolish this issue of human trafficking but to display the strength and courage of the survivors. Stories of innocent people being trafficked are far more common than one thinks!
This is why it is absolutely crucial to break out of our shells and refuse to be complicit and to turn our anger into action, let our voices roar loud into the world and create the change needed to protect those in danger.
Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.
Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.
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