June 15, 2009: Jennifer Pham, who is generously volunteering her time in Penang office of the Coalition to Abolish Modern-day Slavery in Asia (CAMSA), has this news about her work.
“Two years ago, I helped out with a panel put on by an anti-sex-trafficking organization called Stop the Traffick at UC Berkeley. Through this event, I was exposed to the atrocities of the sex trafficking industry in the US and the many myths that came with it.
This pushed me to research sex trafficking, specifically in Vietnam, for a class project, and I learned how at risk of trafficking many Vietnamese women are, especially poor women in rural areas. In a situation with such scarce resources, women are forced to use their most precious commodity, themselves, to sell for a high price in order to change the course of their futures as well as piously take care of their parents. I think about women in those desperate types of situations, and I shamefully think about the times when I thought my life sucked because I had two finals and a paper due in the same week. My friend once said that if that’s all I have to worry about, then my life is really good. He’s right.
I am about to head to Vietnam for three months on a program called the Vietnamese Advanced Summer Institute to learn Vietnamese starting mid-June. Since I had a close friend working in Malaysia at the Penang office of CAMSA, I wanted to stop by to visit him and volunteer at the organization.
I got to Penang a few days ago. Yesterday, I was introduced to the office and the staff. Here in Malaysia, there are a significant number of Malaysian locals, Chinese (who helped expand the economy here), Vietnamese (who are usually laborers), and South Asians. I learned that the goal of this CAMSA office is to combat human trafficking, yet practically all of their cases have been labor-related cases because it’s easier for laborers to contact the office, and because sex trafficking is organized crime and it gets complicated. Labor trafficking was not what I was familiar with, but I was definitely excited to learn about it.
I’ve been working on a PowerPoint presentation to educate people about human trafficking and CAMSA. I found out that the majority of human trafficking cases are labor trafficking cases, but sex trafficking definitely gets more media attention. Just talking to people, I have heard that the majority of Vietnamese people in Malaysia are laborers. Vietnam, the source country, exports workers to Malaysia, the destination country. Continuing research for my presentation, I found out that Vietnam’s policy, called the Eradicate Hunger and Reduce Poverty Program, strongly encourages workers to work abroad and send money home. When problems arise with Vietnamese workers abroad, Vietnamese officials will even come over to the destination country and solve the problem in order to guarantee the quality of their product (their workers). This can mean threatening the workers or even physically abusing them into submission so that they will return to work. It saddens me that Vietnamese citizens are treated by their own people as dispensable tools to build up Vietnam’s economy, rather than as dignified human beings.
Tonight, I joined two staff members to interview a Vietnamese laborer. With my Vietnamese-American Vietnamese skills (not the best), I caught only about 65 percent of what the worker was saying, especially with her different accent. However, I could see her frustration at her workplace. Racial tensions and language barriers prevent her from speaking up. All she wants to do is make money to send her children to school in Vietnam yet she gets ripped off left and right as others blame her constantly for problems within the factory. She takes it because that’s all she can do, and with her Vietnamese, she cannot communicate to the people who run the show. She accepts it as fate and just tries to work a little harder to earn enough money.”
“Lives that flash in sunshine, and lives that are born in tears, receive their hue from circumstances.” – Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs
Stay tuned for more updates from Pham as she takes in the details of CAMSA and Penang.