Hanoi. Hoa says she wants to open her own business so her neighbors will stop saying “bad things” about her and she can support her 2-year-old son.
It’s a daring ambition for the 23-year-old, who escaped an abusive husband in rural Vietnam only to be sold to a brothel in China. Her inspiration has come from a surprising collaboration between a Japanese doll-maker and a nail-painting course.
Hoa, not her real name, was one of 30 women aged between 15 and 30 to graduate from a rehabilitative nail-painting course in Vietnam, thanks to a $25,000 donation by the makers of the Blythe fashion doll.
The class included former prostitutes and girls who are HIV positive. All have since found work in local beauty salons.
Japanese company Cross World Connections last year decided to fund a course to help disadvantaged women escape poverty in Vietnam. It contacted non-governmental organization Plan International, which suggested a course in nail-painting, already popular in Vietnam.
The project was implemented through Reach, a local NGO set up by Plan, which has been running vocational courses for disadvantaged people since 2008.
Hoa’s class is the first of three to be funded by the project. The opportunity is a world away from her experience so far.
After leaving her abusive husband, she went with a neighbor on what she thought was a business trip to China. Instead, she found herself abducted and smuggled to a Chinese brothel.
“I was there for five months,” she said. “We could only sleep for a few hours in the day as long as there were no customers. I tried to run away twice, but they caught me and beat me.”
She eventually managed to escape through a window in the toilet and ran to the police.
“I was in a detention center for two months. It was like a prison,” she said.
Finally, she found the training course through one of the groups set up to help trafficked women.
In a country with poor levels of education and low-quality vocational training, Reach’s courses on hospitality, marketing, information technology and customer services aim to fill the training gap for employers, as well as providing new life opportunities for the students.
“The government can’t keep up with the changing face of the market, so we look for gaps in the workplace,” said Chris Bane, Plan’s manager for the program.
More than 6,600 Vietnamese women and children have been trafficked abroad since 2005, according to police. Local organizations run three large centers across the country providing counseling and vocational training to trafficking victims.
However, a report by the US State Department in June said the government “lacks the resources and technical expertise to support shelters, and as a result, in many areas shelters are rudimentary, under-funded, and lack appropriately trained personnel.”
The nail-painting course has helped the women, but some of the problems they had were too deep-rooted to be shaken off in just a few months, their teacher Pham Thi Thu Huong said.
“At the start, they didn’t work well together. They were traumatized by their past,” she said. “Some students threatened to beat the other girls. One girl was assigned to check discipline and the others were not happy with that.”
However, the girls eventually built a rapport and Huong said they made an improvement.
It has given Hoa the confidence to start planning a future for herself and her son.
“In 10 years’ time, I want to have my own shop and be financially secure so I can look after my son,” she said. “The people in my village don’t understand I was cheated. All I want to do is prove to them that I can look after my son and be my own boss.”