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Fifteen Dollars Changed My Life 1

By Simon Marshall2
Fi#een dollars probably doesnt sound all that much to you, does it? What is it? A burger and chips for you and a couple of friends? Something you would spend quite happily without really thinking about it? It may not be much for you, but #een dollars changed my life for ever. Let me tell you a liFle about myself. My family is poor. They live in a village in Vietnam, growing rice in a small paddy eld. Its hard work its backbreaking work and theres never enough food for us all. Soon a#er my tenth birthday, my father walked out and le# us. I was pleased. I know, it sounds horrible, but he was an alcoholic. He and his friends used to sit all day and late into the night drinking and gambling. When he came home, he used to beat my mother and me. I used to go to sleep crying from the pain angry at the humiliaKon. When he le# us, I also cried but this Kme it wasnt because I was hungry, or in pain, or sad. This Kme it was because I was happy. But then my step-father moved in and he was just as bad. Almost every day he would beat one of us. When I was sixteen, Id had enough. I had to get out. But where should I go? I took what liFle money I had and caught a bus into the city. It was nearly a days journey away. Id never been anywhere so thrilling before. For a while, I wandered around just staring at the huge buildings and amazed at the cars and crowds of people. I found my way to a caf where you could use computers to get on the internet. That was something Id never done before either. I was so excited. A whole world out there I had hardly even heard of, or imagined could exist, suddenly lay in front of me. I sat in the caf for nearly a whole day, when the owner came over to me and said I had to pay. I had no idea it cost money. And then he said how much it was #een dollars. That was a fortune. It was what my step-father might earn in two weeks. I didnt have "een cents let alone #een dollars. I didnt know what to do. I sat there and cried as the owner began to clean the shop. A#er a few minutes he came over and said he knew someone who might be able to help. I was so happy. He gave me a telephone number and allowed me to use the phone in the caf. I spoke to a really nice lady called Giang3, who told me not to worry. Ten minutes later, she was in the caf and paid my bill. You cant imagine how happy I felt; how grateful I was to her for helping me. She just smiled and said, Thats what I do

We le# the caf and Giang said that she could nd me a job in a souvenir shop, and a room to live in. I thought all my dreams were coming true. She took me to a small shop and bought me some new clothes, I then went to a hairdressers and had a haircut. Id never been to a hairdressers before my mum had always cut my hair with some blunt scissors. I looked at myself in the mirror I was a dierent person. New clothes, new hair, new friend, new job all I had ever wanted. We got into Giangs car and she started to drive. I expected the journey to be only a few minutes but we drove all night. Out of the city, into the country. Through town a#er town; village a#er village. I fell asleep and woke up as the car stopped outside a large building. Get out! Giang said. Where are we? What is this place? Just follow me. And so I did. Into the building and then into a small, window-less room with no table or chairs just a rough mat on the oor and a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Wait here. Giang said as she le# the room. The key turned in the lock and Giang disappeared. I never saw her again. Then the light went out. I screamed and banged on the door desperate for someone to come and open it and rescue me. But no-one came. So, I waited. And waited. I sat on the oor and, exhausted, dri#ed o to sleep again. Suddenly, the light went on and the door opened. A man was standing there. He looked at me for a long Kme without saying anything. Then he came in, grabbed me by the arm and started to push me towards the door. I shouted at him to stop. Asked him where Giang was. He looked at me, and with a small smile playing around his lips, he said very quietly, You are mine! You belong to me! Ive bought you, paid for you. Youre mine. Now come with me quietly or youll pay for it! I didnt know what to think or do. I pleaded with him to let me phone my mother. Screamed I wanted to go home. Begged to speak to Giang. Anything but go with this man. I was so confused. He dragged me out of the building and pushed me into the back of a van. There were ve other girls there. All of them crying.

We drove all day and most of the next night. But when we stopped, things only got worse. We were taken from the van and pushed and shoved by a group of men into a house. But not a normal house. We were locked in a room ve of us in a room no bigger than a prison cell - and we waited for hours. Cold, hungry, afraid. Then, nally, the man returned. We were his property he said. He had bought us and now we had to pay our way we had to earn him money. Nothing personal he said. Its just business. It was simple. We would work as prosKtutes, serving the customers in the brothel, and hand over the money to him. He would give us a room to stay in and some food. I did this for two years. Crying myself to sleep every night. Never allowed out of the house for fear I might escape. Sharing the same small room with the four other girls. Always cold, always hungry and always scared of catching some disease. Then, one spring morning, when we would normally be asleep, one of the girls heard some Vietnamese being spoken in the street. We looked out and there were some Vietnamese men and women outside. We hurriedly wrote a note and dropped it out the window, hoping one of them would pick it up. They did. She looked up and smiled. We waited. And nothing happened. A day went by. And another. We began to lose hope. Then, a week later, a group of people arrived at the brothel, it was the police. We were rescued and taken to Hanoi. Now, my life is dierent. I sKll havent gone back to my home village I couldnt. The shame would be too much. But I am studying to be a secretary and I live in a refuge for tracked women. My future looks very dierent from what it did just a short few months ago. But I sKll wake in the night crying. I sKll jump at the sound of a door banging shut. I sKll cant look a man in the eyes or bear to be with one alone. But things are dierent. They are geang beFer. But the past cannot be altered those #een dollars changed my life for ever.

Hagar pursues the highest degree of care and protection for each of its clients. To protect the identity of Hagar clients, names have been changed. 2012 Simon Marshall 1 Adapted from hFp://
2 For more informaKon, please visit Simons blog: 3 Pronounced /yaang/