Caroline Nguyen Ticarro-Parker is the Founder and Executive Director of the Catalyst Foundation, an nongovernmental organization that aims to eliminate human trafficking in Vietnam. Caroline and the Catalyst Foundation were both featured on CNN’s Freedom Project earlier this year. The Catalyst Foundation has a living matching grant challenge on OneVietnam that ends in 2 days. If you believe in their cause, give them a hand now! They are less than $300 away from meeting their goal. Help them get there and beyond.
Below, Caroline shares why she’s committed to ending human trafficking.
In April of 2011, my staff and I travelled to Buon Ma Thuot to rescue one of our community’s daughters. Catalyst Foundation is not in the business of putting our work and our staff in danger, but we are in the business of enforcing the belief that “NO child is disposable!” Every child deserves a chance – today, not tomorrow. Tram, the young girl who were on our way to rescue, had been rescued once before, but was again trapped in a brothel. The “bad guys” weren’t your stereotypical evil villains – they didn’t even look scary because they were her mother and another woman in her 30s that could have easily been her aunt, neighbor or friend. Her mother had sold her for $150 – her own 15-year-old daughter! The money wasn’t needed for food or to pay off debts, but for alcohol and gambling.
Tram was one of our first students in the school Catalyst built for the community. She loved school and was doing well. She flourished in her classes and was the first in her family to be literate. Unfortunately, as it is part of Vietnamese culture to help your family, Tram dropped out of school to help her family by working.
Tram was originally sold in December 2007 and rescued immediately before she left the province. Then, once again in October 2010, we found out her mother had organized another sale. Catalyst does not believe in paying off the “sale price” of these young girls and reinforcing the idea that children are a thing rather than a person. Several times we organized her return but that never materialized. Unable to contact Tram directly and not believing her mother who said she was fine and wanted to stay, we took action and drove with her family 16 hours to meet with Tram and the brothel owner.
Tram is 16 years old and can decide on her own whether she wants to stay in the brothel (which was housed in a beauty salon) or return to her home province. As we walked into the beauty salon, Tram was scared and apprehensive having not seen her parents in 6 months.
Immediately upon being asked what she wanted to do, Tram said she wanted to go home. It was at this point that the brothel owner demanded payment of $2500 for her release. As we found out her mother had been using her daughter as collateral to continue borrowing money, Tram’s face changed from fear to anger. She also looked desperately at her father, the man who should have protected her.
As word spread throughout the area, the brothel filled up with Vietnamese “strong men” and supporters of the brothel owner as well as the Provincial Minister of Justice (PMJ). He (PMJ) immediately said “I know you,” “I have been here before” and “I have warned you.” He then asked Tram what her job was in the beauty salon. When she replied “massages and haircuts,” he started pointing his finger saying, “Don’t lie to me, I know what you do here.” He then lectured the mother and the brothel owner that young girls shouldn’t work in a place like this. He also forced the mother, father, and brothel owner to sign a contract that they could not and would not sell their daughter or use her as collateral for money lending.
Once the contract was signed, we took Tram to the hotel to shower because she had already been “working” and had serviced several customers before 8 am. She was scared and panicky whenever someone knocked on the door or approached her. Realizing she feared for her own safety, we immediately checked out of the hotel and drove back to Kien Giang leaving her parents at the bus stop to travel on their own.
Once Tram was in a safe place she broke down and started telling her story. A story that started at 6 am and finished at 10 pm. Her requirement from the brothel owner was to service 10 men before 9am. If she met this requirement she only had to service another 10 men before 3 pm. She never questioned it or received any money. She never asked for help or screamed or tried to run away because she felt it was her obligation to help her parents. She later confided that the men hit her and performed sadistic sexual acts upon her.
Tram is now back in Kien Giang. She personally appealed to Catalyst to allow her parents to remain in the community. The community now watches her parents and they know everything the family does. Given many options to return to school or get vocational training, Tram spends her day at home because she is broken. This once happy and excited young girl is broken.
Broken by a family that sold her.
Broken in a community that knows what happened to her.
Broken because she feels she has nothing left to offer in this life.
Tram isn’t alone. 16 other girls in the community have been raped and abused by neighbors. The average age is ten with the youngest being 4 years old.
There are shelters for young women in Saigon (HCMC), however, only 2 out of 9 girls from our community have remained longer than a few months. The reasons are varied but the common thread in each is they don’t feel they belong. They don’t belong because of their ethnic background. They don’t belong because of their socio-economic background. They don’t belong because the counselors don’t relate to them. They don’t belong.
There is no simple option to stop trafficking. Catalyst Foundation believes there is only a holistic approach to ending this tragedy. Through education and community development, we are giving these communities and their daughters HOPE!
Hope that allows young girls to hold their heads up!
Hope that provides women with decent job opportunities!
Hope that stops mothers and fathers from selling their daughters!
Hope that empowers a community to stop traffickers!
We believe that NO child is disposable.