My name is Loan. I’m a woman and I live in Vietnam. Sometimes, sex workers tell me sad stories about their life before they entered the industry and about their present situation. I used to be an outreach worker for the community outreach programme of PSI in the period 2008-2011. Currently I am a core member of the self-help group of sex workers named Hoa Trinh Nu in Hai Phong, which runs the Bridging the Gaps project operated by SCDI. I talk with sex workers and support them. I remember one girl who made a deep impression on me. Her name is Tran Thi Phuong, she is about 27 years old now and did sex work for only four years. Life was difficult for the family she came from. Her parents divorced when Phuong was 14 years old, so then she lived with her aunt’s family. But this family was poor and her uncle was always drunk. The situation depressed her and in 2010 she left home and went to Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital.

In the city, she stayed with a group of friends, sometimes in a rented room, sometimes when she didn’t have money she slept in a park. Some people advised Phuong to do sex work to earn a living. So she decided to become a sex worker. She had a lover who was using meth and often beat her when she couldn’t give him enough money to buy drugs. This is why in 2011 she ran away to another city and started to work in a coffee house, Khong Ten Coffee.

People advised Phuong to do sex work to earn a living. So she decided to become a sex worker

In August 2011, I met Phuong when I was doing community outreach work, but first she didn’t want to talk to me. After five times of outreaching, she agreed to chat with me. Since then, we are very close and Phuong shares her stories and challenges with me. She told me, for example, that sometimes she didn’t use condoms when customers paid extra money for her services. So I convinced her to have an HIV test. Fortunately, Phuong didn’t have the virus. But she got another STI, condylomataacuminata, also known as genital warts. After treatment, she said to me: ‘I will go back home and rest for a while’. I was happy that we kept in touch so I continued to know how she was doing. Phuong decided that she couldn’t do sex work for her whole life and looked for another job. Now she works in a hair salon. And in October 2014, I received a wedding invitation from Phuong.

Because I’m a sex worker and outreach worker at the same time, I can understand the challenges sex workers face and find ways to support them. Phuong felt empowered to make her own decisions and I feel proud that I played a role in her life.

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