The Rev. Martino Thong Nguyen, the son of two political prisoners who fled to the U.S. with $45 in (their) pockets, said during his college days, he worked a full-time job cleaning toilets to put himself through school.
More than 30 students attended a public forum on human trafficking Friday night, featuring Nguyen, a Catholic priest who spoke about his work with child sex slavery in Asia, as part of USFs Journey to the East series of events last week.
Nguyen said he does not fit the mold of the typical Catholic priest.
Thu Pham, a senior majoring in business managment and this years director of Journey to the East, said Nguyens speech was part of the weeks of events, which was hosted by Asian student organizations at USF to bring Asian awareness to USF.
I invited (Nguyen) today to hope that he can spread the word and students can take initiative to join One Body Village (Nguyens organization) and become activists and help toward this cause, Pham said.
Nguyen is known for being down to earth as well as a charismatic and candid speaker.
I am the pastor of an all-white church, Nguyen said. I am the only Asian person in the group and I like it because I can say whatever the hell I want and if they say anything, I tell them Ill sue them for discrimination.
Even when speaking about the serious topic of sex slavery, Nguyen kept the atmosphere light. Whether he was talking about his dinner at Bill and Melinda Gates house or about his mission to free child sex slaves in Asia, Nguyen kept a permanent smile on his face.
We must smile, because those girls, they cannot smile, Nguyen said. So we must smile for them.
Nguyen came to USF to promote his organization, One Body Village.
One Body Villages mission is to work against sex trafficking, especially in Vietnam and Cambodia, and provide resources to help victims integrate back into society successfully, according to the organizations website.
Nguyen, along with a number of clinical physiologists and doctors, travel to Asia and Singapore to rescue and rehabilitate children who were victims of the child sex slavery markets.
In 1999, Nguyen was living and working with the homeless of Cambodia when he began to notice that little girls were being picked up off the streets and being brought back cleaned and showered, Nguyen said.
I decided to do a little investigation and at that point I realized that these children of 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 years old were being brought into the hotels to serve the tourists sexually, he said.
Within the next few years, MSNBC ran a special investigation about child sex slavery in Asia.
Youre looking at the whistle blower, Nguyen said.
A USF alumna, Thy Do, volunteered for One Body Village with Nguyen last year and also spoke at the forum Friday night.
Throughout all of college I wanted to do something to help other people, but I never did, Do said. Finally, I
realized I was engaged and about to be married and this was the time to go.
Do told the crowd about her experience on her mission trip with Nguyen. Her stories of interacting with children in homes left many audience members in tears.
Students who attended said Nguyens speech left an impression on them.
His speech definitely changed my perspective on volunteering and really putting my time into my community, Vinh Phan, a junior majoring in biomedical sciences, said. Seeing the trauma those children face at such a young age … has definitely made me want to step up as a person.
Chris Harold, a junior majoring in philosophy, also said he was inspired by Nguyen to continue helping his community.
Since college started, I went away from community service a lot, Harold said. His speech was kind of talking to me, saying Hey, Chris you need to get back to the community service that you enjoy.
Nguyen now offers his missions trips to college students, who may be able to receive credit for them as with other study abroad programs.
I am probably the least educated out of the team I work with, Nguyen said. We have doctors and physiologists with Ph.D.s, so weve begun offering the trip for three credit hours at some universities. I encourage you to talk to your school about it.
Nguyen said his goal was to inspire the students attending the forum and to call them to action.
Steve Jobs and all these people give commencement speeches where they tell you, you have the power to change the world. Im here to tell you theyre wrong, he said. Who the hell gave you the power to change the world when you cant even change yourself? So Im here to tell you, dont try to change the world, change yourself and the people around you will change. That is my message today.