Making a Comeback

Storyteller: Mai* – a victim of human trafficking in Yen Bai province

Introduction: Mai had known him for a month and thought she had found new love after her divorce. So when he invited her to visit his hometown in July 2010, she excitedly agreed and decided to take her teenage niece with her on the trip.

Both Mai and her niece felt happy because it was the first time they had left their remote village in the northern province of Yen Bai. However, their dream journey soon became a nightmare when the object of Mai’s affections revealed his true intentions. After smuggling them into China, the man sold Mai to a Chinese local, who forced her to be his wife, and sold her niece to a brothel.

Fortunately, Mai was able to flee China and return home in 2011, while her niece also managed to escape her captors to join her aunt in their hometown later. Mai now runs a clothes shop in the town after receiving support from the local authorities and World Vision’s End Trafficking in Persons programme.

Mai has also met and married a local man who understands and sympathises with her traumatic experience and the couple are expecting their first child. Mai’s niece’s life has turned around too as she is now engaged to be married.
Following is part of the story that Mai shared with fellow participants at a workshop jointly held by World Vision.

When I came back, things were very difficult. Some of my relatives and neighbours shunned me because they didn’t believe I’d been an innocent victim in the scam. They thought I’d sold my niece. Her family wouldn’t let me tell my side of the story and just spat insults at me. It was very stressful and I felt unsafe.

Fortunately, members of the local Women’s Union, who knew about my plight, advised me to contact the police about the trafficker and they explained what had really happened to the others in my community.

Life was not easy for me. My parents were old, my daughter [with my ex-husband] was small and I didn’t have any money or a job. How could I prove my innocence? I felt so helpless.

But the sight of my parents and daughter every day encouraged me to act. I went to the local police station to report what had happened to me and, thankfully, the trafficker was arrested. At his trial in September 2012, the man admitted his guilt and was forced to pay my family VND20 million [US$950].

Still, I had trouble integrating back into my community. What could I do to help my parents and bring up my little child? Luckily, Mrs Hop – the Chairperson of the Women’s Union in my town – assisted me a lot. She encouraged me and helped me find a suitable job. 

She introduced me to members of the provincial Women’s Union and also World Vision, who taught me how to develop a business plan for myself. After my plan was approved in September 2012, World Vision gave me VND9 million [US$428] to open a clothes shop. I also received another VND600,000 [US$28] for things my daughter needed for her new school year.

The amount of money was not large, but it was a huge help for me at that time and I promised myself that I would run my business well so I could earn enough money for my family.

At first, I took my clothes to local markets because I couldn’t afford to rent a shop. I made a profit of VND50,000 [US$2] most days and after I became used to the business and found a lower cost supplier, I borrowed some money from my relatives to buy other kinds of clothes. After four months, my monthly profit was VND2 million [US$95 or US$3 a day].
When I don’t have many customers at my shop, I weave shrimp pots and embroider brocade scarves to supplement my income. I can weave 20 pots a day and sell each one for VND3,000-3,500 [14-16 US cents].

When I first returned home, I stayed with my parents, but now I have my own place that doubles as my clothes shop. A year after I received the support from World Vision and the Women’s Union, I had saved enough money to build a small house on 40 square metres of land. With more help from them, I’ve also been able to expand my shop and have regular health check-ups.

My life and those of my family have been transformed. I now have a stable source of income and I’ve joined in activities held by the Women’s Union and the Farmers’ Association in my community. I meet and talk with new people at these events and learn from their business experiences. I’ve also attended special music shows, sport events and other campaigns run by the organisations.

I feel my life now has more meaning thanks to the support I received from World Vision and the Women’s Union.

*The storyteller’s name has been changed to protect her identity.