Writing Hope in Tragedy

Written by David Lui //

It was the summer of 2008. Bryan Mills’ (Liam Neeson) daughter had been taken, leading to his iconic monologue to the kidnappers: “I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.” I almost squealed with excitement when the reply came: “Good luck.” It was all shooting and fighting and killing and rescuing after that – the perfect action-packed, adrenaline-pumping movie for the then 14-year-old me.

Then came the scene where Neeson found his daughter’s friend, who had been kidnapped as well, handcuffed to a bed and dead from a forced drug overdose. That was the end of the movie for me; I couldn’t focus on the plot anymore. A young girl was dead, because twisted men had wanted to sell her body to other twisted men. Absolutely everything was wrong with that sequence of events. That image haunted me. What made it worse was that I had heard about human trafficking, but never like this. Nobody had told me about this dimension of the world.

At that moment, I decided that I could not live another day without caring about the human trafficking epidemic. And that is exactly what it is: there are currently 45.8 million victims in various forms of bondage (The Global Slavery Index), from the brothels of Cambodia, to the fishing boats of Thailand, all way to the streets of America. There is not a single country on earth without some form of human trafficking or modern slavery. I was only one man, but I knew I had to do something, anything.

Caring about this issue has changed my life.

While attending a documentary screening at university, I made the acquaintance of Matthew Friedman, a renowned international human trafficking expert with more than 25 years of experience in the anti-trafficking field. Through him, I got to meet Sylvia Yu, an award-winning journalist and writer specializing in human trafficking; together, they have granted me a plethora of invaluable knowledge and opportunities. I went on to attend a number of human rights conferences that connected me with other experts in the field, widening my horizons beyond the information I could find online. The cause became more than an abstraction, taking on faces and names of countless frontline workers who dedicate their lives to the cause.

Thanks to Sylvia Yu, I had the privilege of working as a part-time coordinator for a local anti-trafficking campaign – the 852 Freedom Campaign – which seeks to empower the next generation in addressing human trafficking. I continued to absorb all these experiences, to prepare myself for my ultimate dream – to become a psychological counselor for traumatized trafficking victims.

cover digitalA month ago, I had the chance to tell the story of victims and NGO workers with my debut novella ‘When Hope Calls.’ Based on a true story, it follows a group of NGO workers in Thailand who receive a call from an unknown girl who has been kidnapped. She has managed to secretly keep her cellphone, calling them at every bathroom break, but she has no idea where she is being taken to; being a Burmese girl, she can’t read the Thai street signs along the way, nor understand her captors’ spoken Thai. In a period of twelve hours, the NGO workers must extract any clue possible in this impossible rescue mission, encountering obstacles and breakthroughs, hope and dejection at every turn.

Writing this story was a painful task. When I first read about this event in Matt Friedman’s book ‘Where Were You?’, I had the strongest gut feeling that I just had to elaborate on it. Unlike the usual social media stories of rescued victims and happy endings, this one is a tragedy. I believe that such stories are capable of jarring the public conscience, in a way figures and statistics never can. One of my intentions was to grant a voice to those who exist in a forgotten world of suffering – both victims and rescuers.

Through this book, I hope to capture the public’s imagination, so that they will be compelled to do their part.

I want to give a voice to the voiceless, and honor the unsung heroes who fight the good fight all around the world.

As a young adult myself, I want to tell other young adults that they can do something to fight human trafficking, using talents and hobbies that they already possess. No effort is too small in this struggle against evil.

I want every reader to take a small step today, to not scorn the day of small beginnings. For me, going to watch a documentary was a small beginning, but it has blossomed into something infinitely bigger than I could ever have imagined. I am far from satisfied with my contributions, and I embrace that dissatisfaction, because it only pushes me to do more, every day, for the millions of women, men, and children who are crying out for help.

So, the question remains: What will you do?

In the words of abolitionist William Wilberforce: “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

Here are two action points I want to leave you with, but know that these are in no way the only actions you can take.

  1. Learn about the issue: All you have to do is Google “human trafficking news”, and you will learn so much in five minutes. Technology is such a powerful tool to combat human trafficking. Learning is the first step to doing.
  2. Share what you learned: I’m not asking you to give a 20-minute talk to an audience. No, changing the world begins in smaller ways. Go ahead and share with a friend the first article that opened your eyes to human trafficking (it can even be this article). That’s it. Your friend’s eyes will then (hopefully) be opened to the plight of trafficking victims today, and very soon, awareness will spread across the world.

Believe me, by doing these two simple tasks, you have effectively become a part of the solution. That’s how we can change the world for the better, one person at a time.

Works Cited
“Findings- Global Slavery Index 2016.” Global Slavery Index, http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/findings/. Accessed 7 Sept. 2017.


David Lui is a counselor-in-training and writer based in Hong Kong, dedicated to fighting modern slavery and human trafficking. In addition to studying for his Master’s degree, he does coordinating and videography work for local anti-slavery awareness campaign. You can get updates and more by signing up for his mailing list at http://www.davidluiwriter.wordpress.com.

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