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Michael Brosowski along with Blue Dragon's co founder Pham Sy Chung (in blue denim) talking to street kids in 2003 (Supplied)


Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation and the Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW Sydney form links to stop child trafficking in Vietnam and beyond

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English language teacher turned humanitarian, Mr Michael Brosowski AM (BABEd `96, Med `02) and his team at Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation have made a significant impact on curbing child trafficking in Vietnam.

With the Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW Sydney, Blue Dragon is exploring how its blueprint could create a best practice model for addressing child trafficking globally.

Mr Brosowski has dedicated his life to providing children with the education and ongoing support they need to live a prosperous life. Since 2004, Blue Dragon has rescued 585 young women from forced marriage or brothels and 404 children from labour exploitation. 

Throughout their many years of work, Blue Dragon has established a blueprint proven to prevent child trafficking. But they still require a comprehensive analysis of their various programs and resources to apply the model more broadly. 

Blue Dragon has linked with Australian Human Rights Institute Director Scientia Professor Louise Chappell to consider how its blueprint could be translated into a best-practice model for government and non-government organisations working towards the elimination of child trafficking globally. 

The beginnings of Blue Dragon

It was Mr Brosowski's upbringing that inspired him to help other people who had experienced poverty and hardship like him. He grew up 30 kilometres outside of the town of Bundarra, New South Wales, where his family built a house from the ground up, installing water and electricity over time. While in high school, Michael volunteered to help a group of Vietnamese refugees learn English. "It lit the fire in me to be a teacher because I could see the power of education and how personally disadvantage you are without it," says Mr Brosowski. This experience led him to study a combined arts and education degree at UNSW. 

After graduating, he worked as a high-school English teacher at a local high school, but while on a trip to Vietnam he found his calling after a chance experience teaching local children. Upon returning to Australia, Mr Brosowski knew he wanted to work in Vietnam. He enrolled in a Master of Education at UNSW and in 2002, moved to Hanoi and began teaching English to masters students at National Economics University (NEU). It was here, faced with poverty every day, that he started the groundwork for Blue Dragon. "I saw kids shining shoes on the streets, and they would say 'do you want a shoeshine,'" says Mr Brosowski. "Being poor myself as a kid, I didn't feel right asking the children to shine my shoes. Instead, I would buy them a fruit shake, and we'd have an English lesson."

Mr Brosowski's peers and students from NEU saw the work he was doing and were inspired to offer their time and teaching expertise to educate local street children too. Before long, they were offering more than just English lessons. Mathematics and art were also taught, and children were given access to medical support and food. 

The first child spared from exploitation

It wasn't until 2005 that Mr Brosowski, for the first time, helped release a child from labour exploitation. It was during a visit to Ho Chi Minh City that Mr Brosowski met Ngoc, a young boy who was forced to sell flowers to people on the street. 

"We had a conversation, and it became clear that he wanted to get out of there," says Mr Brosowski. He offered to pay Ngoc’s trafficker $US50 for his release and upon agreement, Mr Brosowski returned to Hanoi. However, the trafficker didn't release Ngoc, so a Blue Dragon volunteer who was studying law at the time called the trafficker, and lied that Mr Brosowski was from a heavyweight international organisation. They allowed Ngoc to get on a train back to his village the next day. "That's the first and last time I've given money to traffickers and lied about where I work," says Mr Brosowski. "Although it worked, I'll never do that again." 

Ngoc is now a social worker at Blue Dragon and lives in his hometown near Hue with his wife (once another child Mr Brosowski helped to release from sex trafficking) and their two children. What started as a simple idea turned into an enterprise dedicated to ending child trafficking and helping people restore their lives. "We realised we had to do this properly, or we were going to have to stop because it was starting to become all-consuming," says Mr Brosowski. "So, we continued.”

For many years, children from disadvantaged communities were trafficked within Vietnam to work in sweatshops. "No one was aware of it and no one was addressing it, " says Mr Brosowski. "So, we decided to go and get the children back ourselves. We would talk with their families and get their permission, and then go and find those children in factories and bring them home." 

Fast-forward 15 years 

Now in its 15th year, Blue Dragon's focus is rescuing Vietnamese girls and women who are trafficked into China to be sold as brides or into the sex industry. "We help them return to Vietnam and follow up with psychology services and accommodation, job placement and university scholarships, as well as the legal advocacy to prosecute their traffickers," says Mr Brosowski. 

"The trafficking of children into the sweatshop is very different from the trafficking of girls and women into China," says Mr Brosowski. "Different tricks are used to convince them; different interventions are needed to prevent it." 

Mr Brosowski believes the Australian Human Rights Institute could provide the expertise to add significant value to organisations working across prevention, intervention and rehabilitation relating to child trafficking. "UNSW has been a significant part of my life," says Mr Brosowski. "And so much of what I learned there is helping children here in Vietnam. I can't believe what started as helping children with a bit of English, has grown into something substantial."