Diep Vuong did not have to look far for case studies when she set up a foundation in 2001 to help some of the millions of people who become victims of human trafficking each year in the Asia-Pacific region.

Vuong spent four years as an asylum-seeker herself in the United States some years ago and has seen how vulnerable young people often are exploited. Determined to do something about it, she opened the Pacific Links Foundation in the US, VN Express reported.

Now Vuong has been selected as the Global Citizen of the Year at a dinner in Dubai in recognition of her efforts to educate people about the dangers of trafficking and help those who become victims. The award is presented by the Henley & Partners Group, a London-based global citizenship and residence advisory company.

“Human trafficking is the major issue of our time, representing the ugly side of globalization,” she said. “It is all-pervasive and yet largely ignored. The more we recognize the painful realities of our world, the more effective we can be in addressing and correcting them.”

Working mostly in Vietnam and its borders with Cambodia, China and Laos, the foundation aims to empower women and young people by “improving life skills, raising self-awareness, bringing new knowledge and opening opportunities and supportive networks”.

It has an education portfolio that helps disadvantaged improve their skills and gain better economic opportunities. But it is the portfolio dealing with counter-trafficking that has attracted most attention, as the group works with international companies to combat the illicit use of labor and reduce the risks of abuse by monitoring supply chains.

More than 40 million people, including many children, have become victims of trafficking syndicates, either as forced labor or for sexual exploitation, in an industry worth an estimated US$150 billion.

In her acceptance speech Vuong related the story of a child called Sao who was kidnapped from Vietnam’s northern highlands at age 15 and sold to a man in China to serve as his wife.

“She was forced to have a child with a man twice her age who, after she had given birth, was going to sell her to another family. She managed to escape back to Vietnam, but sadly, had to leave her child behind,” Vuong said.

Sao became more confident and revived her dream of becoming a doctor after going to Pacific Links. Three years later she graduated among the top group in her class and was now enrolled in a medical college in Saigon. She now dreams of one day opening a clinic to help others, especially girls like herself, Vuong said.

“Human trafficking has become a global epidemic, yet the people who abhor it and want it to end far outnumber those perpetuating it. Let us find each other and work together to turn the tide.”