One in four girls and one in six boys under the age of nine in Vietnam are victims of sexual abuse. Most of these children are from poor, struggling families, living in rural areas or city slums, and missing out on their childhood before they have the chance to learn to be adults.
The Little Rose Warm Shelter in Ho Chi Minh City is one of few organisations in the country that works to rescue young girls from these situations. It runs on donations of time and money, providing safety, housing, care and an education for its girls, and trying to inspire them to work for a future outside of the life into which they were born.
At least half of the shelter’s donations are provided by The Shelter Collection, a section of the non-profit Danish Vietnamese Association (DVA) that was set up in 2005 in response to the financial needs of Little Rose.
“I think the most important thing that we do is to financially support the Little Rose Warm Shelter,” says Ms Loan, chairman of The Shelter Collection, which currently covers 50% of Little Rose’s financial needs.
The social workers at Little Rose raise the rest, working with corporate sponsors, volunteers, and with some of Saigon’s international schools.
Aside from financing Little Rose, The Shelter Collection team also runs campaigns to educate and inspire the girls, and to spread awareness about the issue of abuse among the Vietnamese community.
“I started a ‘career day’ at Little Rose, running different activities to make them more motivated to study hard in school,” says Ms Loan. “The girls come from extremely poor families, so most of them are not motivated to finish school, they just want to support their families.”
Locally, the Little Rose social workers promote a greater understanding of the issue within the Vietnamese community. “They go out, for example to schools, to gather 100 or 200 people and talk about Little Rose, what we do and the sexual abuse problem in general,” says Ms Loan.
But in a society where saving face is engrained in both culture and habit, it can be hard to communicate such a painful issue. “The families exposed to [sexual abuse] don’t want to stand up and talk about it,” says Ms Loan. “They want to hide the problems, and this makes the situation worse.”
Aged eight to 18 and from a range of backgrounds and communities, the girls at Little Rose all have one thing in common — extreme poverty. To Ms Loan, this is the main driver for sexual abuse in Vietnam.
“Most of the girls’ parents have to work so much that they are never home,” she says. “Sometimes they just hang out on the street all day or the parents send them to their grandparents’ house or the neighbours. When that is the situation they are at a high risk of abuse.”
No longer working, grandparents often lack the resources or the energy to care for the children, and many can’t afford to pay for school fees so the kids stay at home or on the streets. Other children are forced to work at a very young age, living with the neighbours because the rest of their family have left to find work.
Phera is one such girl, rescued and brought to Little Rose at just eight years old. “[Her] parents worked very far away and they were never at home,” says Ms Loan, “so they sent their daughter to stay with the neighbour.”
Living with her neighbour, Phera had to work, selling noodles from very early in the morning until late in the evening. The local authorities noticed her and contacted Little Rose to take her in.
During her first few months at the shelter, Phera did not smile, but after a while she started to feel at home. “At the career days I would ask [Phera] what her dream was, and she would be very shy and wouldn’t open up,” says Ms Loan. “But now she is an active and happy little girl. Her dream is to become a doctor.”
I Know You Can
With just enough funds to cover costs for this year and 2018 fast approaching, the future of the Little Rose Warm Shelter remains uncertain. The shelter is currently trying to raise support for the following year, looking for volunteers, mentors and donors in Vietnam and abroad.
If you would like to get involved in The Shelter Collection’s work, contact Ms Loan via the Little Rose website — littleroseshelter.com.
For these young women at the beginning of life, a moment of your time or money could make all the difference in the world.