It had been two months since I’d spoken to my trafficked Hmong friend M.
M’s planned rescue had been cancelled after the Chinese “husband” who’d bought her had been alerted to her intentions. I had stopped calling M in the hopes that his suspicions would subside.
The last time we’d spoken, M’s “husband” was keeping her captive in his home, and had told her she was to be sent away to another city for work. It seemed very likely that he was, in fact, planning to resell her – and perhaps not as a wife, but a prostitute.
In the two intervening months, anything could have happened. Having been denied a visa I was no longer able to enter China to assist M, and was desperately trying to formulate a backup plan.
This May, I had spent almost two weeks near M’s location in China, attempting to meet with her. In that time, I’d met a group of expats who had taken an interest in M’s plight, and had offered to help in any way they could.
My key contacts in the area were a Kashmiri doctor, and a Texan named Charlie.
The Human, Earth Project has never been a solo venture, and it’s been fantastic to see the way in which it has brought people together.
Over the past 18 months, I’ve had the assistance and support of countless people from every corner of the globe. Some of those people came to me to volunteer their skills and knowledge, others I called in as favours, and all of them have helped bring the Project to where it is today.
I’d half-considered asking my contacts in China if they would be willing and able to assist me with M’s rescue – but it was simply too much to ask. There was no doubt of the risk involved, and any foreigner would be particularly conspicuous.
I felt a personal responsibility towards M and was willing to take those risks myself, but couldn’t ask anyone to take them for me.
September had come as a series of blows and October was looking no better. After working on the Project for thirteen months without any real break, I’d hit a wall. I needed some time to step back and breathe – but who, then, was going to help M home?
On 2nd October, Charlie read my most recent update, in which I mentioned my hope of M’s return. He reached out to ask what he could do to help.
Quite a lot, actually.
Over the next few days, Charlie and I began discussing the details of a rescue – locations, timing, means of contact, travel arrangements. At the same time, the Vietnamese-based NGO Blue Dragon were making their own plans to rescue my second trafficked friend P from her “husband”, some 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) further south.
If Charlie could rescue M and deliver her into the hands of Blue Dragon, they could arrange a safe and simultaneous return for both girls back across the Vietnamese border. We’d have two birds with one stone, and Charlie would be my hero.
On the morning of Monday 6th October, I was contacted by Blue Dragon. Their representative had entered China and, en route to rescuing P, learned that she had already escaped and was attempting to make her way home alone.
If M could reach Blue Dragon’s representative in southern China within the next two days, he could take her home. This was our chance – our best yet, perhaps the best we’d ever have, but we’d have to act fast.
It was a 30-hour overland journey from M’s home to where Blue Dragon’s representative was waiting for her, which left very little time to organise and execute the rescue.
P, it seemed, was already at the border. If everything came together according to plan, we’d have both girls home at the same time – it would be perfect.
I had to let M know, to confirm her situation and location, and to arrange a rendezvous. It didn’t have to be perfect; it just had to work.
For the first time in two months, I dialled M’s number.
Would she answer, or would her “husband”? Was she still being held captive in his home, was she free to move, or had she already been sold?
It was mid-afternoon on a Monday, and M picked up the phone. She was home alone.
In the past two months, many things had changed. M was now free to move, and a rendezvous would be easy to arrange. M’s mind, however, had also changed: she chose to remain in China.