At Hagar Vietnam a few weeks back, 13 women stood proudly and confidently receiving certificates and flowers. Each was a survivor of human trafficking or domestic violence. Each had completed an important part of the journey toward wholeness. They were graduating from Hagar's 'Career Pathways' program in Hanoi, ready to begin their first work placements at Joma Bakery Cafe, Hagar's enterprise partner. For most, this would be their first experience with safe and dignified work, earning a sustainable income.
Each woman survivor made a bold statement that night. Their pasts would not define their futures. It was a night to remember, with nearly 200 people watching in awed silence. "The women had no idea that so many people cared about them," said Agnes Lam, Hagar Vietnam Country Leader. "Many of them were in tears at the end of the night, as were many of our guests."
One of the women who celebrated her empowerment was Bih:
Bih grew up always feeling different from others. She didn't feel smart, because she only finished fourth grade. The hardest part was she had the nagging feeling that she would never be a daughter that her parents could be proud of.
When a kind friend of Bih’s asked her to go shopping at the Chinese border, she jumped at the chance. But a fun excursion turned into a nightmare. It wasn’t long before she realized she’d been trafficked. Bih spent three years in a China brothel and was only rescued when a man alerted the police. When she got back home, her family rejected and disowned her.
Now Bih is safe with Hagar. She is learning to take care of herself. A self-portrait painted by Bih was displayed at the Career Pathways graduation ceremony. Bih said, “My portrait reflects the strength I have found in myself, despite my difficult past.”