Linh Phan, Communications Manager, EpiC Vietnam
Lan Ha Ngoc, Project Manager, Combating Trafficking in Persons, EpiC Vietnam
Van Nguyen Thanh, Senior Technical Officer, Combating Trafficking in Persons, EpiC Vietnam

In 2022, Hoang Thanh Thao, a social worker at the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs, faced a serious professional dilemma. Four survivors of human trafficking walked into her office seeking help, and Thao grappled with a lack of skills to provide them with adequate care. “I felt helpless,” she said.

Recognizing substantial gaps in knowledge and skills for frontline responders like Thao, the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs, and the Meeting Targets and Maintaining Epidemic Control (EpiC) project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), developed a robust capacity-building strategy and training curriculum. The strategy aimed to equip provincial staff like Thao, other social workers, and Women’s Union representatives with the requisite skills to support survivors of trafficking from the first point of contact through reintegration into their communities. The curriculum covers a diverse range of topics including:

  • National Law on Human Trafficking Prevention and Combat and related policies
  • Psychological first aid
  • Trauma-informed care
  • Gender sensitivity
  • Case management strategies

In April 2023, Thao attended one of the first trainings where she gained an understanding of survivor experiences and learned how to evaluate their needs and challenges and offer personalized services and referrals. Her new knowledge and skills, as well as job aids provided during the training, became powerful tools, enabling her to navigate the complexities of survivor support with empathy and understanding of available resources.

Thao and fellow social workers, along with women’s union representatives, improving their skills to empower survivors of trafficking through EpiC training. (Photo Credit: Nguyen Minh Duc for FHI 360)

Along with nine other participants, Thao was selected for personalized coaching and mentoring to become a peer trainer. She wasted no time sharing her knowledge by conducting 13 departmental trainings for social workers and community-based collaborators within three months. She also organized anti-trafficking communication sessions in schools and industrial and export processing zones, solidifying her role as a champion against human trafficking. Thao firmly believes that awareness is key: “The more people who are informed about how to prevent human trafficking, the better.” Thao is not only an advocate for survivors, she is also a driver of change.

Thao is just one example of several individuals who have benefited from the knowledge- and skills-building provided with EpiC support. As of August 2023, the project had trained approximately 200 frontline workers across 11 provinces, including 107 individuals reached through sessions conducted by peer trainers. EpiC, in collaboration with its partners, regularly refines the curriculum based on field testing and participant feedback.

Looking forward, Vietnam’s Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs, with support from USAID and EpiC, is in the process of institutionalizing the curriculum for pre- and in-service service providers, including students of social work at the Ministry’s University of Labor and Social Affairs. This demonstrates Vietnam’s commitment to building long-term, sustainable local capacity to prevent and combat human trafficking.

The project’s success lies both in its strategic approach, and in the dedication and passion of those like Thao, who are committed to making a difference in the lives of survivors and the broader community.

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Featured image: Thao leads anti-trafficking sessions for students, fostering awareness and empowerment. (Photo Credit: Nguyen Minh Duc for FHI 360)