I started at this organization as a volunteer, then staff member, and now proud Board Member. My commitment to this organization wouldn't have spanned over 5 years and counting if I didn't truly believe in the impact PALS is having in communities in Viet Nam, particularly in the lives of young women and girls. I've been able to witness firsthand how PALS approaches their work through an empowerment framework working directly with girls, families, and communities to give them agency to improve their own lives. This is evident in their ADAPT, anti-human trafficking project at Viet Nam's borders with Cambodia and China. ADAPT employs a comprehensive model of prevention, reintegration, and capacity building services that supports girls to persevere and realize their full potential. PALS is the reason I believe international development can happen at the very grassroots level, which too few NGOs can claim.
It will be a challenge to find a team who would be more dedicated to the mission of empowering young women like PALS team. I am indebted to our team and volunteers for being my constant source of inspiration the past decade.
Pacific Links Foundation ("PALS") is one of the best and most effective non-profit organizations fighting human trafficking in Viet Nam. I am the former Program Director for ADAPT ("An Giang Dong Thap Alliance for Prevention of Trafficking") in Long Xuyen, Viet Nam. The program was launched in 2005, but I did not know about it until I was introduced by Diep, PALS President, during my visit to Viet Nam in October, 2006. I accepted the ADAPT Program Director position and moved to Viet Nam in November 2006.
The office is located in a small city, Long Xuyen, in the Mekong Delta. It is about 5 hours (very bumpy) bus ride from Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). Diep said the reason she chose Long Xuyen is because one important focus is to help vulnerable children whose families live near the Cambodia border. These children easily become victims for the many predatory human traffickers in that area.
In 2006, we provided approximately 700 scholarships for children (ages from 10 to 16) in 40 schools, within two provinces, An Giang and Dong Thap. We also provided assistance to other teenagers, who had dropped out of school for a long time, with vocational training classes. We also helped the girls by giving them bicycles to go to schools since, in many cases, their houses are too far from schools.
Some young girls have to carry their heavy school bags and walk more than 5km in the 100F heat to and from schools. Our purpose is to keep these young girls in school, and the longer the better. The higher grade they reach, the more and more chance they have to escape traffickers, and a brighter future they will have. Obviously, the longer they stay in school, the more knowledge and confidence they gain.
During my year working as the Program Director for ADAPT in Long Xuyen (and not counting the time I stood on my bed screaming about mice), I have learned so much about life. Yes, it is just a simple word --- life --- but it has so many different meanings. I have met and witnessed so many beautiful innocent young girls, whose wishes are so simple, that if I were given a magic wand, I would make their wishes come true instantly. Their simple wishes are to remain in school until graduation; have more rice than cassava mixed in their meal; have a bike to ride the often long distances to school; have just a decent place to live without getting wet every time it rains; to be able to sleep as late as 5:00 am in the morning and not have to get up at 4:00 a.m. to bake cakes and sell them before going to school; to have her own pair of running shoes so that they don't have to rush home to give them to an older sister.
All of the things we take for granted, every day, are the same things about which they can only dream their simple, innocent dreams.
There are many more sad stories I can tell of these young girls and their families, and it is those stories which made me realize how fortunate and blessed we are --- and I am --- just to live in America.
I left VN in late 2007. But I still go back to visit "my" girls almost every year. Working as the Program Director for this project, and having had the great fortune to embrace these young girls' lives in my heart, I have learned NEVER to take things for granted, and I am always mindful of other's needs and our happiness in sharing our blessings.
I hope after reading my review, your heart will be open to those young and innocent girls who need your support in order to make their wishes come true.