2009 - Caroline Le

Here is an excerpt from Caroline Le, a Vietnamese American, who worked with Vietnamese and other Asians at a shelter for exploited women in ? Taiwan. 

I don't know exactly where to begin with this update; much has happened and I've seen a lot of people come and go here. English classes are going extremely well and some individuals have requested tutoring outside of class, so they can have extra practice with the language.  I truly enjoy teaching these individuals because it is evident how enthusiastic most of them are to learn. I am really quite proud of my students and their achievements.

Some of the things we've gone over so far are the ABC's, basic greetings, counting from one to one hundred, how to tell time, body parts, how to talk about the weather, etc. We also do a lot of singing, which is fun and helps them with their pronunciation. Our weekly computer classes are also a hit.  I've also taught them how to create email addresses so they could send messages back home to their families and friends in Vietnam.  They are all very fascinated by the internet. We go on to BBC.com and read the news every now and then because their articles have Vietnamese translations.

Aside from classes, I've also been working on a project for the office that entails conducting interviews with individuals at the shelter. The purpose of the project is to collect information on how much these migrant workers/trafficked victims paid in order to come to Taiwan to work, in addition to other related fees, and compare these amounts to the actual wages they are receiving. Ordinarily, for most workers, so many arbitrary costs (that are not specified in their contracts) are deducted that their paychecks amount to very little. This, coupled with the fact that many of them are working under exploitative and abusive conditions illustrates the unfair and unethical treatment of migrant workers in this country. On top of all this, people who come to Taiwan to work are generally extremely poor already and have a tremendous debt on their shoulders. 

Of the people I have interviewed so far, the fees charged by brokers are around US$7,000. This is an exorbitant amount given the services that they provide. Most of the people that I've talked to do not even know who their brokers are and have no way of contacting them, if they need any help regarding a labor-related problem. It is clear that most brokers in Taiwan and Vietnam are in this business only to make money and have no regard for basic human dignity. 

I write daily in my own personal journal of the various cases I hear about throughout the day. It is overwhelming, as I want to record everything I hear and see, but it is nearly impossible unfortunately there are too many depressing stories.  

I could never have anticipated the experiences that I am going through right now. Before I left, I was trying to mentally prepare myself for working at an NGO that focuses on victims of human trafficking and labor exploitation, but in retrospect there was no way I could have prepared myself for any of this. I feel truly blessed to have this experience, however challenging it has been, and I want nothing more than to be able to help these people in any way that I can and share their stories--especially with those who don't even realize the gravity of human trafficking in our world today. 

My roommate is a trafficked victim. Initially, I knew very little about her situation, but I have been learning more and more as we've spent time together. I don't know what to say, but that I think that she is an incredible human being... a warrior.

She came to Taiwan to work as a domestic housekeeper, but her broker trafficked her to 14 different employers over the course of two years. She couldn't even escape if she had wanted to because she would have been considered “illegal”, working in so many different places when her contract specified just one place.  The thing that's so infuriating is that many migrant workers escape from their current places of work because they simply cannot tolerate the working conditions, but then they are considered “illegals” because they have broken their contracts. It is such a difficult situation for them, especially if they don't speak Mandarin and are faced with the threat of repatriation (which is extremely common).  

My roommate is currently waiting for her case to go to trial, and the process has been extremely slow.  She is determined to seek justice and I have nothing but admiration for her courage and perseverance. Even after having suffered through so much, she is an extremely delightful person and I love having her as a roommate. 

I've grown so close and attached to the women here; although we've only known each other for a few months, they are like family to me. I am so touched by the way they look out for me, like I'm their younger sister. The other day, one of my “sisters” accompanied me to the doctor (because I don't speak Mandarin). They always make sure I have a enough food to eat--it's the kind of nurturing feeling I get from my mom. I truly feel at home here. I wouldn't trade this experience for the world.


© Richard Payne 2016