When visiting a shelter for working girls, where adults rescued from sex trafficking, night clubs and bars and karaokes and other illegal places in Malaysia, the first thing we notice was that this could've easily been us. Some cases were in the process of getting resolved, so the girl could go back to her home county; others were waiting for a trial.
Initially I didn't understand them. I couldn't connect. But together we shared stories, cursed, danced their crazy dances....we suddenly became close.
They shared their stories with me, all the while looking at me through pessimistic eyes, not daring to hope to be released from this prison. No longer did they desire an honest life, but the simpler thing. A cigarette. An allergy pill. A bottle of body wash. They felt they had hit rock bottom and no longer even had their dignity to lose.
How were they ever going to trust anyone again, when they had been abused by husbands, lovers, and strangers who lured them to strange lands? What kind of future could they look forward to if their present consisted of high walls and barbed wires? What could they learn if the people surrounding them couldn't be differentiated as friend or foe? Would they ever know again the feeling to be a part of a happy family, with a father's love, a mother's laugh, all under a cozy safe roof?
A trial had been scheduled for the following day. Some of them would be tried as victims of human trafficking. Others fell under different categories. Traffickers. Prostitutes. Mamasans and pimps.
Finishing up for the day, we walked out, our hearts heavy for the ladies on the other side of this wall. The Vietnamese girls reached out to us and waved until our car was no longer in sight, beyond the security gates. I wondered how many of the ladies would eventually shut down and close the window to their souls....
Malaysia is one of the countries OBV works hard to support Vietnamese working girls. We work to sort out those who voluntarily work there, and those who were forced, sold or tricked into a dark job...those who long to be saved and given a second chance. But with this line of work come dangerous situations. Dealing with anti-trafficking forces, watching out for pimps and mamasans on the look out for their girls, being weary of every cop... Everything and everyone we meet may result badly for us, and so, every caution must be taken. No pictures are allowed to be taken in this facility to protect the women trapped inside.
The road into the shelter was like a web. Our driver zigzagged down small alleys and took shortcuts, always watching the mirror. She would speed up randomly, or suddenly take a turn. We kept quiet and said a prayer for peace...on the way back, the smiles of those Vietnamese working girls continued to flash through my mind.
A trip to OBV Malaysia
Translated by Jacqueline Huynh and Mr. Phung. The original version in Vietnamese entitled "Nhật Ký Malay - 1: Những Nàng Kiều Việt"