Human Trafficking!!!

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Human trafficking is on the rise in Vietnam, a conservative estimate of 3,862 victims having been trafficked for forced labor, prostitution and organ trade since 2011. But these reported cases are believed by charities to be the tip of the iceberg, as many victims are fearful of telling anyone about what has happened to them because many officials fail to understand the level of grooming and mind control that traffickers exert over child/women victims.

The number of Vietnamese victims of human trafficking from 2011-2015 increased by 11 percent over five years. Human trafficking in Vietnam is increasing at an alarming rate according to Minh Hung in his article “Kidneys, newborns, wives for sale”. Provinces with the highest numbers of cases are mostly in the north, including Lao Cai, Ha Giang, Lai Chau and Lang Son. According to the Anti-crime Steering Committee, most of the victims of human trafficking were poor, unemployed and not highly educated. More than 85 percent of the victims from 2011-2015 were women and children.

According to published media, about 70 percent of the victims were taken to China while the rest were taken into Laos and Cambodia. Some Chinese websites have advertised a Vietnamese bride at 30,000 yuan (US$5,000), including free trips to Vietnam, according to the report. Police busted nearly 1,200 cases linked to these marriage brokering rings and arrested more than 2,000 people.

Last year, thousands of people in Hue sold their kidneys to traffickers. Can you believe it? People so poor and desperate that they undergo barbaric surgery to make some money.

As a call to action, “social affair agencies” have partaken in “reintegration programs, vocational training, medical treatment and legal consulting” to aid the thousands of trafficked victims in Vietnam. This epidemic will take a long time to resolve, and the work being carried out here by NGO’s and volunteers is helping to support women who have been subjects of this crime; but it is only assisting a small percentage of the population.

Most Vietnamese are unaware that human trafficking exists here so engaging women in a range of awareness raising and community education activities about trafficking, reproductive and maternal health, hygiene and HIV/AIDS prevention, will be an ongoing, serious and challenging issue.

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Two Vietnamese girls, aged eight and 10, sit on a bed in a brothel in the Cambodian village of Svay Pak, near Phnom Penh in March 2002. Sex with underage Vietnamese girls can be easily bought at the village, for around $30. The government's efforts to crack down on brothels and karaoke parlours have failed to stop the child sex industry in Cambodia, humanitarian agencies say. - RTXL7F6

Two Vietnamese girls, aged eight and 10, sit on a bed in a brothel in the Cambodian village of Svay Pak, near Phnom Penh in March 2002. Sex with underage Vietnamese girls can be easily bought at the village, for around $30.

Volunteering again in Hanoi – what’s it about this time?

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Volunteering again in Hanoi – what’s it about this time?

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There is something that keeps calling me back to Hanoi in North Vietnam.  Just when I decide that I will stay put in Australia for a little while, I get a call to dispatch back to Hanoi for another assignment and I just go.

This assignment is very different to the previous work I’ve undertaken with the Deaf and with impoverished youth.

This assignment is about working with an organisation which supports single mothers.  Some of these girls are so young and have no one to turn to when they decide to keep their baby (Vietnam is No. 5 in abortions in the world, especially when the foetus is female), they are cast out of the family, village, community.  Some of these mums-to-be have been through violence that they will not speak about, trafficked, raped – violated!

My work here is to build a business case and deliver a business model to sustain the C4C house where the girls come to seek refuge, to be assisted with the birth of the baby and be supported for six months following the birth.

Observing a group of very young single mothers at the house, has identified to me, an urgent requirement to develop a Mental Health and Wellness Program.  The model will provide education for the mums to undertake parenting classes  to understand what is happening to their body,  how to feed, clean and manage a baby and toddler.  Modules I hope to develop will also include building self-esteem and self-worth; saying no to domestic violence (in every form); protecting the baby and themselves; and safe-sex.

Through the network I have established over my time in Hanoi so far, I am hoping to source help from professionals including teachers, nurses, a psychologists and a lawyer.  Hopefully they will assist in content development and volunteer to run some of these educative lessons for new mothers on a voluntary basis.

I am currently looking at ways to fundraise for this Mental Health and Wellness program in order for the modules to be delivered regularly and when a new group of expectant mothers are rescued and brought to the house for safety.

This assignment is humbling, one young mum has asked me to be her little girl’s grandmother.  This request pretty much gave me permission to help her with her baby, stop her from feeding her daughter steaming HOT vegies and to educate her on the necessity to give her 11 month old baby water as well as breast milk.  BASIC?  Yes!

So that’s what I’m doing here in this edgy, fast-paced, traditional but changing metropolis, this time.

Do you have any questions or feedback for me?  If so send me an email I’d love to hear from you.

More soon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Designing – interiors, gardens, products! Elements Renovations & Management

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Designing – interiors, gardens, products!  Elements Renovations & Management

I love designing – I think that’s what I would call this ‘thing’ that I do!  My mind is constantly picking up on colour and shapes and stuff … like gardens, house interiors, artwork and sometimes I spend hours at night tossing and turning and designing beautiful things, in my mind.

I have dabbled in acrylics, pastels, charcoals and very large mixed media artworks.  I have designed and planted beautiful gardens in both harsh temperate climates and tropical climes.  I have worked in SE Asia designing products for the tourist market and boy oh boy did my designs, in the capable hands of my deaf friends, sell out all over North Vietnam.

But my favourite design work is the hard yakka associated with designing the renovation, interior style and the actual styling of a property.  Luckily for me, I have had the opportunity to co-design a few new builds, renovate a few poor downtrodden little homes and style quite a number of interiors.  Give me the house, and I’ll make it your home!

Some of the design work I’ve completed over the last 7 years.

The family home in Canberra: co-designed with my husband to sit on a steep block of land with views to the west and a nature park to the south of the block.  How do we sit the house so that the kids can run from a set of French doors straight out on to flat ground?

My husband and I  designed the floor plan, I oversaw the build, designed the interior and chose everything including painting all the timber windows as my ‘punishment’ for choosing timber over aluminium windows.  But hey, we are virtually living on the edge of the Australian bushland – aluminium?  Nah!!

These photos of the family home were taken after I managed the upgrade of new paint colours for the exterior as well as all interior, new carpet and refreshed the gardens with rows of white roses, climbing French roses and bulbs that created a resort like backyard on the 3 levels of gardens that lead to the pool.

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Brisbane, a seaside village:  A little old cottage previously owned by a little old lady could not be saved so we pulled it down and replaced it with this modern design.  The little old cottage had a timeline of wallpaper  holding up the walls. On a very large lean from front to back, the house sat on rotting old pylons and became surrounded by a lake when it rained.

My design work involved all interior colour schemes and choosing tiles, carpets, paint, fixtures and fittings as well as styling the property for market. 

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Brisbane – below photos of a rented cottage on a large block, overlooking a beautiful park:

Tenanted for over 20 years this cottage suffered from the lack of regular maintenance. Once we started renovations, all the interior was gutted due to asbestos.

Keeping the original walls and floors allowed this little gem to sparkle with some degree of its previous life from way back in the ’40’s. Now we have rented this cosy cottage with two sets of French doors, polished original floor boards, original cedar walls and all white furnishings.  We added a large deck out the back which overlooks a park across the road.  What a great transformation.

My design work included designing the new floor plan, stubbornly keeping the original wall linings, sourcing old French doors, new kitchen, and old bath-tub (which was couriered from Double Bay in Sydney).  Gardening using tropical plants, palms and gardenias has set off this cottage beautifully.  I love this sweetie.

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Brisbane – an inner-city townhouse ready for the rental market:

The townhouse was in need of some lovin’ after the last group of tenants moved out.  Choosing a white paint with the faintest hint of grey, I was able to bring this ‘baby’ to life.  Revamping the garden with more palms, white and purple flowers peppered through the courtyard, new blinds and some styling to suit a business couple, this townhouse went to market and is attracting large volume of groups through on its first open day with return visitors viewing it again before work.  Maybe this lovely townhouse will sell quickly to someone who loves it as much as I do?

My design work included choosing the colour scheme for interior (paint, exterior gloss door paint), new window furnishings, revamping the garden and styling the property for the market.

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So that’s an example of some of my design work – interior and exteriors.  Stay tuned for more of my designs when I showcase my product design.  Have you a passion for any kind of design?

Odd situations when travelling

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 Travelling with my husband is so very different from travelling solo. For one thing, I am a lot braver when I am with my 6’6” husband and I tend to lead us astray, not meaning too but it just happens … because I feel safe with him. When we are travelling together we love to immerse ourselves in more than just the ‘quick overview’ of a place and we tend to go off the beaten track a bit…

Take for instance when we were in Malaysia and just strolling through the night markets, watching the stall holders light piles of golden papers outside their stalls as they packed up for the night. Suddenly, to the beating of drums came a small procession winding its way through the narrow street, dodging small burning piles of fake money and gathering quite a following of locals. Ducking into a cafe at the end of the street, the procession came to an end and the small wooden, hairy head that was being carried was placed on an alter at the end of a small stage. Although the cafe was full of locals, we were invited to stay and given chairs to sit down and observe.

As the beating of the drums started up again and got wilder and wilder, the young men from the procession formed a semi circle around the small stage. My husband gave me a look that more or less said ‘wanna get out of here’? I smiled and kept watching ..for now the atmosphere had become quite frenzied and suddenly in marched a very large figure, draped in a long black cloak, long matted black hair and a long beard and moustache. The drums drummed louder, someone called across to us that the large Chinese man was about to go into a trance. Husband looked over with open eyes and mouthed …. “this can’t be good for us ..” We were the only white people in the crowded cafe – the large beast like man was shuddering and shaking and trying to get into the crowd but the young men in the semi-circle were stopping him … with their golden flags.

As the drumming hit fever pitch the beasty-man whirled around and ran to the back of the cafe, through the kitchen and out into a dark, narrow, lane. The crowd followed, clapping and chanting, including me! My husband and I backed up against the outside wall of the cafe while the beast sat himself on a throne at the end of a very long trestle table FULL of food. The crowd gathered in anticipation.

The smoke from hundreds of burning joss sticks filled the lane way and giant dragon joss sticks loomed over smaller sticks (incense) at the other end of the trestle tables, in what looked like a traditional Buddhist alter, covered in offerings.

What is going on?” I whispered to the Indian woman whose sari I was hiding under. “It’s the Hungry Ghost Festival” she said trying to move away from me but I had myself a safe haven under one of the amber coloured wraps of her sari – and I wasn’t going anywhere!

To our horror, the beasty-man had taken a large, sharp knife and was jamming it into the top of his open mouth. The crowd was roaring and the blood spewing from his mouth was being dabbed on to serviettes and placed on the table like little flags on plates and plates of covered food.

By now my husband was trying to do ‘natural blending’ with a drainpipe. Eyes wider than I’ve ever seen them – and his usually tanned face, a ghostly shade of pale. “What?” I whispered from under the sari. “What?” he spat back at me .. “only .. that I’ll probably be the bloody, white sacrifice here …. but don’t you worry about it!” he hissed and glared at me as before we knew it the beast-man had thrown himself off the throne and was walking amongst the crowd, toward us!

The Indian woman bolted to the left, taking me with her, as the crowd parted to allow the big, black-cloaked, beast to walk throug the crowd. I scanned the crowd to see if everyone was freaking out as much as we were. Nothing! One other white woman was calmly taking photos of the happenings in the lane way – using a foot long filter on her camera – fool!!

Apples and other pieces of fruit were being thrown to the crowd by the ‘cloaked one’. The line for blessings at the altar had disappeared and the drumming was getting louder and louder as the young men ran through the lane way pouring golden paper from large black garbage bags. “Sh*t” cried my husband, “lets go … ready, run down the lane way over there, ready?” But I was being swept along under the Indian woman’s sari as she headed to the end of the lane way in the opposite direction from where my husband wanted to escape. My legs were hurting from crouching, we had come to a stop and my husband caught up to me and pulled me up into a standing position.

The lane way was now over packed with locals, the buildings on both sides of the lane threw dark shadows over the people, the full moon sailed from nowhere and peaked out over the top of us and the drumming kept up. With cheers from the crowd, metres and metres of the golden paper – by now knee deep and lining half the lane way, was lit and erupted in flames.

A man ran past and when he saw us, shouted – “get out of the way … I’m Catholic and tonight the gates of hell are open and hungry ghosts are released from the underworld to wander on earth”, so it was with that bit of information, and the fact that the lane was now full of burning embers flying and spiralling close to the old buildings, that we ever so quickly dove out into the street and left them all to it.

It wasn’t until we were safely in a bar throwing back a few drinks that we actually spoke to each other – “that was awesome” I said, “how lucky were we to see that?”. No answer. To this day, he still shakes his head when I mention that night.

Three cheers for the Deafcraft 5colors family

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My Deafcraft familySo my assignment in Hanoi this time happened to be during the busiest time for the Deafcraft organisation …. funny how the request for me to return at this time, coincided with the most frantic few months of the year for the Deafcraft team.  The uphill battle to make money during the summer months was over and it was all about hitting the ground running, and running, designing, producing, selling, designing more and selling more!  This is the deal breaker – these few months of the year when the Christmas Bazaars are on and everyone is out shopping for gifts and souvenirs.  And ….. we …… blitzed …. IT!

Working with people who just want to make an organisation successful is such a breath of fresh air and it is really, really exciting.  There isn’t any power tripping, it’s just get in and do what YOU do fabulously well.  It went something like this …. ‘ ok here’s an idea for a product to sell in the bazaars, what do you think, should we make it using this paper’ ….. product made up.  ‘wow, and what if we used these tribal fabrics …?’ product sample made up, passed around, agreed upon – many products made – ‘oh and if we change it a bit ….. ‘  we have a few different products using the same original idea.  And our customers loved it!!  We sold so much stock at the Christmas Bazaars with our brand new cache of new designs and products that the Deafcraft team can go comfortably into 2015, rent paid, salaries paid and an abundance put away for a rainy day.

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We attracted new business clients, took up an offer to open our own shop in a Galleria with a six months rent free offer; and were invited to visit (and provided some beautiful Deafcraft products) the Australian Ambassador to Vietnam.  What a successful few months we had.

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Of course not everything went fabulously well … take for instance the 16 kilometre trek through the mountains of SAPA – in the mud!  Now that’s what I call trying to stay upright when you’re on a ‘slippery slope’ – a bit like being in business when you think about it!

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Sad ….. But true!!

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before we can see properly we must first shed our tears to clear the way

On a beautiful, fresh Sunday morning we zig-zagged our way through the madness of the Hanoi traffic and out into the countryside through rural towns that were  slowly stretching and waking up. We rode through small, traditional villages and passed rice fields vibrating with greenness we rode.  The three of us.  Our destination, one of Vietnam’s many disability centres.

As we came closer to our destination we stopped and filled our bags with fruit, fruit and more fruit for the people.  My backpack, stuffed with new books for the children and young adults, grew heavier with time as we wound our way up hills towards the centre.  On our arrival we were greeted at the gates by a few of the lovely staff who were expecting us and showed us to the area where we could spend time with the young adults and provide them with the fruit.

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Although I considered myself prepared for this journey, I was immensely shocked and saddened to see the young people in this centre, living with such enormous disabilities, and yet, most were smiling.  The disabilities ranged from no limbs, twisted limbs, born with no eyes and no eye sockets.  Some of the youth sat happily on the bench seats as I fed them the water melon.  Others followed me around, just wanting to be cuddled.  I noticed a young one in his cot in the dark room and let him listen to the music on my ipod.  I have never seen such an enormous, happy smile, he loved it and laughed and laughed.

The baby’s room was similar in that there were many little bodies twisted and gnarled.  Left at the centre by parents who couldn’t cope, who were not able to support the child ….. whose baby had been badly affected by the nastiness of Agent Orange, three generations after ‘that’ war!  Some large wooden cots held multiple babies who rolled against each other and cried in varying volumes and durations as the amazing carers attended to each child with bottles and nappy changes.  I held the little one whose head was twice the size of a child his age and he stretched out his little twisted legs on the floor as I held him, his eyes constantly flicking back and forth, back and forth.

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After a few hours of helping feed the babies and holding and hugging them we settled ourselves under the shade of a tree.  We were greeted by a smiling man in a wheelchair who offered us his book to read.  My Vietnamese friend commenced translating one of the stories, it told of how his disabilities affected him, but to balance that he also wrote of the goodness of the staff at the centre and the many foreign volunteers who provide love and assistance to the people here.  I know he had many more stories to tell and I hope one day to have another of his stories translated by my friend.

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So we left this centre with sadness in our hearts but we also know that one Aussie man’s work here, along with the volunteers and carers, has made so much difference to the special hearts here.

If you my reader know of any organisations/groups/individuals who may be able to provide small funds to this centre, please contact me and I will advise you of where the money will be spent, ie: project (medical assistance, milk and diapers, playground equipment, physio equipment) and urgent needs.

Goooooood morning Vietnam

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This is how my Thursday morning looks when I peek out from my balcony at Hanoi waking up.

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Ancient trees in the Botanical Gardens wheezing and coughing and trying change the pollution to fresh air for us.

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Gardeners tending the vegie gardens. Are they squatting because they cannot get up?

And now I’m on the back of the motor bike zipping down my lane to work.  I’m so glad you can’t hear my screams of nervous laughter!

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Lane 81 where so much happens – crikey, look out!!

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Isn’t there an easier way – he is about to turn a tight corner with his load.