In 2012, I met a brave woman who made a deep impression on me. Her name is Thuy. Due to the stigma attached to sex work, she felt forced to hide from her family that she was earning her money as a sex worker for eleven years. Her story is about overcoming difficulties in life. Thuy was born and grew up in My Tho, a province in Vietnam, got married and had children. Her family lived a peaceful and stable life, selling wholesale children’s clothing. But when she was 38 years of age, her husband fell seriously ill. Thuy and her mother-in-law asked for money from many people, even sold their property and used the business capital to pay the treatment. But finally he passed away, leaving Thuy with a large debt and a family to take care of. She was desperate.

But her old mother needed her support, and she wanted to keep her daughter in school. So, after three years, she moved to Ho Chi Minh City to find work as a domestic help and waitress. However, the money she earned was not enough to pay the flat rent and to send home. After three months in the city, she decided to become a sex worker. This was a turning point in the life of Thuy. She was 41 years old then, and still beautiful.

Sex work offered me an opportunity to support myself and my family

She looked for customers in parks, always bringing a home-cooked lunch with her to save money. She felt lucky that she had a steady number of clients every day. But some customers were drunk, did not want to use a condom and offered her money for that. Sometimes, they became violent. Thuy said: ‘Although many times I felt humiliated, sex work offered me an opportunity to support myself and my family.’ After four years, Thuy’s family came to live with her in the city. She paid her daughter’s college fee, and later the girl received a scholarship to study in Singapore.

I met Thuy during my outreach work, and we became friends. Because she did not know much about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, I updated her. And I told her about my past life as a sex worker, and how I guide sex workers to support others. The members of our group, called Hoa Cat Tuong, inform sex workers about sexually transmitted diseases, and teach them skills to avoid risks in sex work. Thuy joined us. Thanks to Hoa Cat Tuong, she knew how to avoid diseases like HIV and gonorrhoea, she said. And she learned the skills of persuasion, to convince customers to use condoms. In 2013, Thuy retired, but she still participates in our activities. She shares experiences with sex workers, about how to save money, for example. I feel so happy to have met her! Each person has her or his own reasons for doing sex work. Thuy is a great example – she faced challenges, loved her mother and daughter, and worked hard. Her spirit is truly adorable!

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