Migrant Hero: Michael Brosowski

Michael Brosowski is the founder of NGO Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation in Vietnam, which rescues at-risk street children and victims of trafficking.

Michael, who migrated from Sydney, Australia to Hanoi, Vietnam in 2002, is an example of the way individual migrants can make huge contributions to their host communities. In 2011, Michael was named a CNN Hero and in 2012 he was made a member of the Order of Australia for service to the international community, particularly young people, as Founder and Director of the Blue Dragon Children's Foundation.

The Work of Blue Dragon

Street children in Hanoi often come from poverty and broken homes and take to the streets in search of a better life. Instead, they face many dangers such as sexual predators, gang violence, trafficking and the drug trade.

Blue Dragon gets children out of crisis and on the road to recovery by providing food, shelter, medical attention, education and teaching them life skills. They have pioneered new approaches to helping children in crisis in Vietnam, including case-based social work interventions, and grassroots legal advocacy services.

Blue Dragon has a team of over 60 staff, more than 90% of whom are Vietnamese nationals and some are former street children. They have sent 3,067 children back to school and helped many access training.

In 2005, Blue Dragon’s mission expanded to include rescuing victims of child trafficking. They have rescued over 460 trafficked children and regularly respond to calls for help from women who have been sold to brothels or sold as brides.

Q&A with Michael Brosowski

How did you come to start Blue Dragon?

“When I first moved to Hanoi, I was teaching English to economics students at the National University while living in the old quarter. After work I would be sitting on the street drinking coffee and children would come by to do shoe shining. I started to form friendships with these children and some of my master’s degree students found out and suggested teaching the street children. It grew from there. Soon I had to decide between the university and the children because I was finding that more and more street children were coming and knocking on my door. So one of my students and I decided to form an organization so that we could do something more seriously.”

How did you start rescuing trafficking victims in China?

“In 2007, one of the girls from our Hanoi programme had been missing for around 6 months and everyone thought she had run away, but then she rang her friend for help. She didn’t exactly know where she was but she was able to name a town. She asked us to help her. Unfortunately, the phone went dead before we could get more details. We asked many organizations for help but no one knew what to do until Mr. Nam Quoc Nguyen from IOM Hanoi helped us.

When we told him what we knew, he knew the name of the town. Our plan was to find her, return her to Vietnam, and report to the police. The traffickers attacked us but with help from the Chinese provincial officials, we managed to rescue six girls.

The girls are often afraid to talk to the police for many reasons. There are some examples of ‘fake rescues’ in which traffickers in a police uniforms take the girl out and resell her. Also, the girls often think the situation is their fault. Maybe the trafficker was a boyfriend who convinced them to run away from home: so she’s afraid to tell her family.

The traffickers have many ways to make the girls think they cannot call for help, so Blue Dragon has to work slowly and carefully. We first communicate with the girl by telephone, building up trust and gathering evidence. Then we go to China, we find the girl, bring her to the Chinese police then back to Vietnam. We always tell the Vietnamese police what we are doing and we work with the Chinese police when we can to ensure the traffickers are arrested.”

What brought you to Vietnam?

Michael became interested in Vietnamese culture back when he was an English teacher at a high school in Australia. He observed that his Vietnamese students were loyal and would try to help him to deal with disruptive students.  Wanting to learn more about Vietnamese culture, Michael came to Vietnam for a holiday in 1998. He describes that trip, his first outside Australia, as difficult with many things going wrong. But he felt that he had to come back. During his third trip to Vietnam he started to make friends and decided Vietnam was where he wanted to live.

Michael spent the next two years in Australia preparing to migrate; he studied his master’s degree, sold his house and quit his job.

“Before I left Australia, I got rid of all of my possessions, and I came to Vietnam with just two bags. It was like starting over, starting a new life. Maybe that’s a little bit unusual; most people come to Vietnam for some years and plan to move somewhere else, but I don’t plan to move. Now I’ve been here for nearly 13 years.”

As a migrant to Vietnam, do you experience any cultural barriers?

“I still struggle with some of the culture but I find now that I can go with the flow. I have my ways of staying safe and sane.”

In contrast to his often difficult work, Michael likes his down time to be very quiet; he enjoys gardening and spending time with his two dogs.

Blue Dragon relies on supporters around the world to keep their work going. See http://www.bluedragon.org