‘They believe they're garbage'

Written By komlim puldel on Minggu, 22 Maret 2015 | 20.01

Former teacher Michael Brosowski, 40, is saving street children in Vietnam. Picture: Blue Dragon Source: Supplied

SLEEPING rough on the street before being picked up and exploited by traffickers, these are the children the world ignores.

But an Australian hero has made it his life's work to rescue and protect Vietnam's forgotten street kids.

Michael Brosowski and his team save young girls and boys sold as sex slaves and into child labour. His charity gives children a new chance at life after they have suffered through these traumatic experiences in their formative years.

Seven teenage girls are brought back to Vietnam by the foundation, after being sold into China's sex industry. Picture: Blue Dragon Source: Supplied

Most trafficked children come from poor rural villages and don't go to school. Picture: Blue Dragon Source: Supplied

Thuy, 16, was lured from her home by a friend who promised her a well-paying job in China, at a clothes shop near the border.

But there was no shop, and the teenager was sold to a brothel as a sex slave.

One night, she made a run for it, but was tackled to the ground by three brothel-keepers, who attacked her with knives and apparently stuffed a drug into her wounds, leaving her for dead. The Blue Dragon Children's Foundation got her to hospital, tracked down relatives and began work to heal the extraordinary psychological scars her ordeal had caused.

In one recent case, the charity brought home 16-year-old Sung, who had apparently been sold to a massage parlour in China.

He had escaped and wandered for two days through the unfamiliar country until a woman took him to the police.

This week, they rescued seven-year-old Thi, who had been kidnapped and handed to a family in China for $750.

Thi, seven, returns to her village with her father, after being sold to a Chinese family. Picture: Blue Dragon Source: Supplied

Earlier this month, Blue Dragon stopped the trafficking to China of 33 children and young adults, some of whom are seen here writing statements for the police. Picture: Blue Dragon Source: Supplied

Michael, now 40, first learned about the fate of such children when he went to work at Hanoi's national university in 2002 and began teaching English to shoeshine boys.

"They came to the city to make money for their families in the countryside," he told news.com.au

"I quickly realised they needed to get back to school."

He set up Blue Dragon and started helping these kids into education and training. He soon stumbled upon a whole village children who had been trafficked to Ho Chi Minh City — promised wages and an education, but instead forced to work selling flowers for nothing. The charity contacted their families and got them home.

Then he discovered more children being trafficked to South Vietnam to work in garment factories, living as sweatshop slaves. The charity began rescuing the children, and Michael believes their work has started to unravel the practice.

Sung, 16, is reunited with his family after wandering through China alone. Picture: Blue Dragon Source: Supplied

Three girls trafficked to China make it back into Vietnam with the help of the foundation. Picture: Blue Dragon Source: Supplied

"We've made it expensive for them," says Michael. "We call the police and get the factory shut down. Then we come back again."

It was from there that his team began bringing children back from brothels in China, dangerous work that incurred the traffickers' wrath.

The sexual abuse of boys is not yet against the law in Vietnam, so they are targets for exploitation by paedophile rings.

"You see boys lose belief in themselves," says Michael. "They believe they're garbage."

In one harrowing case from October, a 14-year-old disabled boy was beaten and raped by a neighbour. Blue Dragon paid his hospital bills, helped his family through the recovery and provided legal assistance. His attacker was sentenced to 18 months in jail for indecency — very little by international standards but a major achievement in Vietnam.

Michael hopes the country is moving closer to resolving this law. He is also working with lawyers to bring more traffickers to justice.

"It's an important part of the healing process," he says.

Michael's foundation gives these children hope. Picture: Blue Dragon Source: Supplied

Education, training, rehab and counselling help them start a new life. Picture: Blue Dragon Source: Supplied

"In just about all cases of sex trafficking, the victim knows the trafficker. If you're sold by someone you trust, how can you ever trust anyone again?"

Girls are told by boyfriends, friends and neighbours that they are going on a shopping trip to China, and then pimped out as prostitutes. Blue Dragon helps the girls recover — perhaps never 100 per cent, admits Michael, but they go on to university, careers and marriage.

Today, Blue Dragon cares for more than 1500 young people, with food, homes, jobs and rehabilitation. They are currently raising money through Roll'd in Melbourne to build a new school for 150 children in a heavily trafficked area, since kids who drop out are usually the vulnerable ones.

Michael says his team and the kids are like family, and look out for each other as they face trauma every single day.

"It's highly rewarding because we see lives change," he says. "The harrowing part is when it takes a long time. We know boys and girls of just 14 who are making money selling sex, after they've been abused. They hate themselves and think this is all they're good for.

"Knowing that abuse is happening is the hardest part. You have to keep believing."

Find out more about Michael Brosowski's work at the Blue Dragon Children's Foundation here.


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