An Empowerment Story - Chapter 3: Hong An
Read the story in the Collection Lookbook
Hong An grew up in a violent and divided household. She and her sisters feared their father who was an abusive alcoholic. He would come home and when he saw them playing he would grab and beat the sisters, then following this, he would beat their mother. Being the eldest daughter, Hong wanted to protect her sisters so they would often hide from their father in closets, under tables and among the trees. Life was filled with terror.
Hong and her sister had to leave school as her family was in deep poverty and debt. At the age of ten she started working with her mother in a small factory, soon she returned to school again but needed to continue working to ensure her family had enough money. She worked tirelessly to be the best she could be for her family.
As she grew older her father continued to abuse her mother, he also regularly brought women home, and wasted their hard earned money on his personal pleasures. Her mother finally found the courage to divorce him, and Hong An thought this would change everything but her mother left Hong and her sisters behind with their father, who took custody of the children. He beat them horribly and blamed them for the divorce. Hong An began working harder and was able to graduate high school. She started working in retail and real estate. Her work consumed her, if money wasn't brought home, she and her sisters were beaten. After two years, Hong’s mother returned home and forced their father out of the house, life then turned around and her family was happy again. Then COVID-19 hit Vietnam.
When the virus spread to Hong An’s village, many lost their jobs, including Hong who was the only support the family had. The family was left with nothing, no means of income, no financial security, and no hope. Hong An wanted to make everything better. She wanted the happy and secure family she had always dreamed of. She tried everything to get a job but was unable to.
Then an old friend of hers told her about a job opportunity for her and her sister in a foreign country. He said it would be a long journey but she would make a lot of money for her family. She agreed and her friend arranged the journey. She said goodbye to her mother and left with her sister. After two days of journeying through the forests and mountains of Vietnam, she started to have a bad feeling about this new job. Her friend continued to reassure her but she knew something wasn't right. They met her friend's brother in a restaurant, and were left on their own while her friend and his brother discussed things in the backroom. What they didn’t know was that they had already arrived in Myanmar and were being sold for sexual exploitation. Her friend’s behaviour and kind, reassuring face changed. He shouted at Hong An and told her she belonged to his brother now. She screamed back at him yelling, “Take me home! Take me home!”. He grabbed her and beat her in front of her sister who tried to help Hong but she was also beaten. They were beaten until there was no fight left in them, then they were carried to a brothel.
Their phones and papers were taken away from them, they were forced to relive the traumas they faced growing up, but this time they couldn't hide from their abusers.
When Hong An and her sister first arrived they were starved in order to make them more compliant and less resistant. She was then commanded to do horrific work and when she refused she was tortured and abused. She didn't understand how she could be so easily tricked into this terrible job. She felt numb and defenseless, Hong An was covered with bruises and scars. She tried everything to ensure her sister wouldn't have to work, she protected her with all the strength she had in her. After working there for a few days and already having faced horrific treatment she met a Chinese woman who saw Hong’s condition and told her that she wanted to help her.
So in the dead of night, Hong and her new friend would whisper to each other through the small window of her room and plan her escape. She pretended to be compliant to the brothel owner and after three days of planning, her friend was able to take the keys to Hong An’s room and open the door, and, setting her and her sister free. They ran and found a safe space where Hong An used her friend's phone to call her mother who informed the Vietnamese police of the situation. The Vietnamese police then contacted the Anti Trafficking police who rescued her and took her to the embassy. After communicating with the Vietnamese embassy Hong An and her sister came to Eden whilst they awaited repatriation.
Broken, defeated and desperate to return home Hong An hardly talked when she arrived at Eden. She believed that it was pointless making friends because she would just leave them anyway. She dug herself into a deep pit of depression and hopelessness and it was only through trauma counseling and feeling accepted and empowered that she was able to climb out of the pit of sorrow and rise up, leaving her burdens behind to find the joy and boldness she had been searching for her whole life.
After she had time to settle in, she wanted to get involved in helping the women and girls at Eden, she began to teach Nail Art at the new Eden Drop-in center, sharing love with women who faced debt bondage and sexual exploitation. Even though she couldn’t speak the local language she would still pour out incredible amounts of love on these women and girls, helping them feel empowered, accepted, and loved.
When a further 94 Vietnamese women and girls were rescued and came to Eden she was actively organizing schedules and took initiative to ensure the new women felt safe and secure. She taught them new skills and empowered and encouraged them. Hong An was never built up as a child, her father would always tell her that she was worthless, that she was a waste of life and would never be good enough; it wasn't until she came to Eden that she found her self-worth. Through being empowered by words and actions, Hong An has gone from a prisoner to a leader, she is no longer frozen by fear but soars above the storm like an eagle, seeing her future and not her failures, seeing her potential and not her painful past, seeing restoration and redemption and not ruin. Hong An was able to rise from the ashes of defeat, and she is an inspiration to the many trafficked Vietnamese women at Eden who have found hope in seeing her restored strength.
After being at Eden for 4 months she has returned to Vietnam but wants to learn new skills and return to Myanmar to help more women who have faced injustice, trauma, and exploitation. Her story shows us that in the midst of chaos, fear, and corruption, we must rise up as leaders and ambassadors of freedom and use our voice to pierce through the oppression.
It is time to rise!