A woman from the Hmong ethnic group in the mountainous regions of northwestern Vietnam stages plays drawn from her own experiences with human trafficking to educate and help protect fellow villagers from the threat.
It was a cold, breezy evening in the Hmong commune of Ta Phin, Lao Cai Province, when villagers began flooding into a local community hall for a play about the intense rescue of Vietnamese women and children who had been trafficked into China.
Hang Thi Xa, the 42-year-old playwright, director, and lead actress of the play from Ta Phin’s Giang Tra Villiage has personal experience with the scars human trafficking can leave on the victims and their families.
Drawing on her experiences, her tireless work to end the practice in the Southeast Asian country has earned her the honorary title of ‘representative reputable person of northwestern Vietnam’.
Xa’s dedication to the ending human trafficking began in 2012 with a phone call.
The first rescue
Five years ago, Xa was doing housework when she received a panicked phone call from fellow-villager Hang Thi Chu who said she had been tricked, along with Chau Thi Dinh, a 13-year-old girl from the neighboring village of Trung Chai, and sold into China through Lang Son Province.
Without hesitation, Xa and her husband notified local authorities and began brainstorming plans to bring home the abducted woman and child.
Their ‘rescue plan’ was to travel to Hanoi, a five-hour drive from their hometown, and give directions for Chu and Dinh to escape back to Vietnam where they could be picked up by Xa and her husband.
“We didn’t have enough money and were unsure how to get to Hanoi, but she was so determined that I followed her without thinking twice,” Xa’s husband Giang A Ke said, adding that the two had never even been outside of their home province.
To afford the travel, Xa sold the family’s five ancient coins, an indispensable and cherished heirloom in all Hmong families.
Xa kept updated Chu and Dinh’s situation via phone throughout the trip to Hanoi, carefully giving directions on what moves they should take to return home safely.
“I was so anxious that all our efforts would go to waste if the connection lost because I knew they were in an area with very poor reception,” Xa recalled.
Following Xa’s directions, Chu and Dinh managed to run to an open road, where they met a Vietnamese merchant who frequented China for business and helped the duo sneak back into Vietnam.
“They looked as if they had been to hell and back,” Xa recalled of the moment she reunited with Chu and Dinh at Hanoi’s Gia Lam Railway Station. “We hugged each other and cried like babies.”
Mother to the rescue
Just three years later, it was Xa’s own daughter Giang Thi Tung who fell victim to the crime.
Tung was abducted and sold into China by Giang Thi Lan, a woman from the same village who lured Tung into her car by telling the girl that they’d be traveling to Sa Pa to hang out.
After realizing Lan had fled from the village, Xa knew it was time to report the case to local police and pray that her daughter would somehow manage to contact the family.
Three months after the girl’s abduction, just as Xa began losing hope of ever seeing her daughter again, Tung was able to call her mother and ask for help.
“She was crying and so was I,” Xa said. “She said she had been forced to marry a Chinese man and was often beaten and left to starve if she disobeyed him. Our first conversation was short, since she was worried about getting caught. I told her to find the house owner’s ID papers and figure out her location.”
Tung called again a few days later, telling her mother that she was in Henan Province in central China.
After receiving instructions from Vietnam’s Department of Criminal Police, Xa told her daughter to make a statement at the nearest police station.
With the help of Chinese police, Tung was brought to the border between Vietnam and China where she was intercepted by Vietnamese authorities and returned home safely.
“I will never forget the moment I saw her again,” Xa recalled. “But it was not until that night when I had her in my arms on our bed that I was able to cry tears of happiness. It was only then that it truly hit me that my daughter had returned.”
Xa now works to raise awareness of human trafficking in her local community by writing plays in the Hmong language in which she stars as an antagonist who kidnaps and sells Vietnamese women and children into China.
She performs her plays across the villages of Ta Phin Commune, asking villagers to fill in for the roles of victims, parents, and police.
“Xa is respected not only among the Hmong community but also by people from different ethnic groups throughout the region,” said Ly Phu Sieu, secretary of the Party Committee of Ta Phin Commune.
“With more people like her in Vietnam’s ethnic minority communities, we will soon be able to completely eliminate the trafficking of women and children in the area.”