Trinh was tricked and held captive in human trafficking for 45 days. Today, she is recovering in the care of her mother and taking part in a Holt-supported vocational training course so she can pursue a better life. 

Trinh’s eyes blinked open and her vision gradually turned from hazy to clear as she looked around. She saw she was in a large building, with armed guards at every entrance. Her head hurt. She didn’t know where she was, but this didn’t feel like a good place.

Slowly, she realized what was happening: She was being trafficked.

It all started when Trinh wanted to find a summer job to help support herself and her mother. She was 14 and finishing her last days of ninth grade. She started looking at job postings online and soon got a job offer from a young man. He said he had a great opportunity for her just over the border in Cambodia. Where she lives in southwest Vietnam, it’s common for people to cross over the border for better paying jobs. She knew lots of people who did it, so this opportunity sounded safe. She packed her bags, left quietly so her mother wouldn’t hear and began traveling towards Cambodia.

But when she reached the meeting place, she began to feel nervous. She found the person she was supposed to meet up with, and he offered her a drink. She took a sip — and it was the last thing she remembered.

Human Trafficking in Vietnam & Southeast Asia

Trafficking in persons is a significant issue in Vietnam,” Hang Dam says, Holt’s director of programs for Vietnam. “Men, women and children are trafficked domestically and internationally for a variety of reasons, including sexual exploitation, forced and exploitative labor, fraudulent and forced marriage, debt bondage, organ trade, involuntary servitude and slavery.”

“Victims are often young, live in poverty, have a low educational background and are searching for a better life situation — and are therefore easy targets, unaware of the risk of trafficking and willing to pursue seemingly promising opportunities.”

Today, many traffickers are a part of organized crime, and use cunning trickery and false promises to lure their victims — often false job offers presented through social media. Victims are often young, live in poverty, have a low educational background and are searching for a better life situation — and are therefore easy targets, unaware of the risk of trafficking and willing to pursue seemingly promising opportunities.

In many ways, Trinh fit this description. She wanted a better life for herself, but unknowingly walked into a trap.

Trafficked for 45 Days

Trinh had been drugged and taken over the border into Cambodia. There, she was forced to do illegal work, such as cheating other Vietnamese people on social media platforms — much like she had been cheated herself. She worked exhausting hours, and was not given much food. Several times, she was brutally beaten. After about a week, Trinh was allowed to call her mother, and told to ask for a ransom. But her mother lived in poverty, and the ransom amount was more than she could ever afford.

Trinh had lived with just her mother ever since her parents divorced when she was very young. Her mother worked hard, but struggled to earn enough to provide enough food and other basic items for Trinh and herself.

Her mother knew she had to find a way to save Trinh. She reached out to the Vietnamese government and submitted a report about her daughter being trafficked. At the same time, she connected with a social work office that partners locally with Holt Vietnam. She spread the word about her daughter’s situation, and unexpectedly, a wealthy individual from her village stepped up and offered to pay the entire ransom to get Trinh back from the traffickers.

So after 45 days in human trafficking, Trinh was rescued and returned safely to her mother’s arms. Trinh was a survivor. But this was just the beginning of her recovery…

“She still gets emotional when she remembers the hellish time in Cambodia.”

Trinh’s social worker

“Trafficking victims often develop health problems due to inhumane living conditions and brutal physical attacks used to control them,” Hang says. “The roots of their trauma deepen the longer they remain under a trafficker’s control. Unless trafficked victims receive proper support and counseling to address the mental and emotional damage, victims will continue to suffer long after escaping.”

Thankfully, with the support of her mom and the social work experts she had connected with, Trinh had immediate access to these resources that would help.

Life After Trafficking

Life was difficult when Trinh first returned home. At first, she vomited every time she ate and drank — she had been starving for so long it took her body time to adjust to food again. And every night she had terrible nightmares that woke her up.

“She still gets emotional when she remembers the hellish time in Cambodia,” her social worker in Vietnam says.

But over time, things have gotten better and the trauma has lessened. With the love of her mother and the counseling she’s received at the social work center, she is on the path to healing.

One critical part of Trinh’s recovery is an opportunity that empowers her to build a better future, and to move forward in hope. And this is where Holt Vietnam — and Holt sponsors and donors — come in.

Empowerment, New Opportunities

Once she was in a physically, emotionally and mentally stable place, Trinh enrolled in Holt Vietnam’s economic empowerment program, where she was free to pursue a skilled trade. She chose hairdressing and cosmetology, and for the past several months has been completing an apprenticeship.

Human trafficking in Vietnam, a survivor works as a hairdresser through Holt Vietnam's economic empowerment program.
Today, Trinh is 16 and thriving in her vocational training program.

Her instructor is kind and gentle with her, slowly giving her more opportunities and responsibilities. This has been just the encouragement and environment Trinh needed. Today Trinh is 16, and she hopes to continue her apprenticeship and become a professional makeup artist and hairdresser in the future.

“Trinh wishes to thank Holt’s generous donors for helping her to have a different life, and she promises that when she has a stable career in the future, she will follow the example of the donors to help others living in difficulties.”

“I don’t know how to use words to describe my deep gratitude to all the people who helped my family.”

Trinh’s mother

Her mother shared a similar sentiment, and feels like her daughter is now free to have a new life.

“I was heartbroken when my child was scammed into human trafficking,” Trinh’s mother says. “Thanks to everyone’s kind hearts, [having her back] was like giving birth to Trinh again. I don’t know how to use words to describe my deep gratitude to all the people who helped my family.” 

Trinh’s social worker at Holt Vietnam also expressed her gratitude to Holt sponsors and donors, and all the ways they have helped Trinh and children like her: “The beginning of the story is sad but it ends with joy and hope for the future. And you, our donors, made this happy ending. Thanks to the sponsors who have brought faith and hope in a better future for underprivileged children around the world and in Vietnam.”

*Name changed for privacy

Girl in school uniform and backpack smiles in front of house in Cambodia

Send a Girl to School, Keep Her Safe

So many girls in impoverished communities around the world become victims of child trafficking, domestic violence and child marriage. Your gift of school supplies will help keep her in school, and keep her safe.

Stories Up Next

All Stories
children playing in classroom

Become someone’s hero. Sponsor a child in Vietnam.

Find a child in need