02/09/2015, 00.00
VIETNAM - NEW SLAVES
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Saigon: Catholic groups in the front line against slavery and human trafficking

by Thanh Thuy

Sister An wants "small scale prevention plans" to help people, especially "young" people in difficulty. Many Catholic volunteers have decided to dedicate part of their life to helping victims of trafficking. For social workers, balancing between individual and group development, material and social development, is essential.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - "When I see the poor, the less fortunate, I feel a deep love for them," said Sister An. For this reason, she spends a lot of her time with poor people in the villages around her convent, Cai Nhum, in Cho Lach district, where she has been helping the marginalised for years.

Born on 13 May 1968 in An Hiep, a village in Chau Thanh district, in the southern province of Ben Tre, she spoke to AsiaNews. "When we carry out activities in the social field, we express our deep love for others, and joy in giving ourselves to them," she said.

For her, "working with young people living in difficult circumstances helps us understand the need to promote small scale prevention plans". Over the years, many others have joined her "with enthusiasm".

Sister An's experience is similar to that of many other volunteers, religious and lay Catholics, who have decided to dedicate a portion, or even most, of their life to others, individuals or groups, in difficulty.

As we reported a few days ago, Vietnam is the scene of modern forms of slavery, the trafficking of young women forced into prostitution in brothels along the border with China or sold as brides across the border.

Working with those most at risk, Catholics have been able to set up self-help groups and associations that include people of different faiths (Buddhists and Protestants) as well as people without particular religious beliefs.

However, the desire to help those living on the margins of society is the driving force, in accordance with Church guidelines outlined in the first Day of prayer and reflection against human trafficking, which was celebrated yesterday, 8 February.

In Vietnam, one of the groups most at risk is that of young women - often underage, from rural areas. More recently, the problem has involved girls and young women from the cities, who end up sold into prostitution or married off to Chinese men across the border.  

Trafficking in youth, often teenagers aged 16 or 17, has become a city problem, in places like Ho Chi Minh City in the south. In 2014 alone, thousands of girls and young women crossed the border with China and Cambodia, ending up in brothels or forced marriages.

The Church and Catholic volunteers focus their work in this social area, as well as other areas. Many choose to dedicate themselves to social issues out of "compassion" and a sense of closeness to underprivileged children and poor people.

However, over time this desire to help others has led to the creation of groups and associations that work with competence and professionalism, promoting targeted programmes and specific projects.

In some cases, these people are materially poor but spiritually "rich", willing to donate some of their time and resources to help others, especially children, girls and young women victims of prostitution rings.

Vietnam is going through a period of economic development, which is changing the country in depth. This has undermined the old foundations of the family and society.

In view of this, social workers try to balance individual and group development, including material and social development.

A Catholic involved in social work is "a person who believes in God and has faith in people." Hence, "When we love people we feel happy," said a volunteer.

Examples abound. Although they are not paid, nuns for example devote themselves fully to others. Many ordinary Christians do the same, promoting "full human development."

"We want to work in communion with the Church," said some volunteers in Saigon. "We are determined to help the marginalised, without any discrimination."

"In Vietnam, some people are discreet and modest in their work," they explained. "And we have much to learn from these examples."

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