Timeline of events
September 2008, Indonesia
Ben arrives in Asia for what will ultimately be a 3-year overland journey from Indonesia to India.
May – August 2010, Vietnam
Ben arrives in the hill town of Sapa, in the mountains of northern Vietnam, where he first meets the Hmong people. Planning to stay 3 days, Ben is offered a position teaching English, and stays for 3 months. There are a group of teenaged Hmong girls who regularly sit on the corner of his street, selling treks and handicrafts to tourists. Ben becomes friends with several of these girls, including May and Pang, who are 14 years old at this time. Over the next 2 years, 5 of these girls will be trafficked in separate incidents, to be sold to local men in China.
January 2011, Vietnam
Pang is abducted from Sapa and trafficked into China to be sold as a bride.
July 2011, Vietnam
May is abducted from Sapa and trafficked into China to be sold as a bride.
August 2011, Nepal
Ben has continued his journey through Asia, and is now based in Nepal. He is first alerted to May’s abduction at this time, in an online message from another of the Hmong girls. Despite having lived in Sapa for 3 months, this is the first time he becomes aware of the human trafficking crisis in that region. Not knowing what to do, he does nothing.
November 2011, India
After 3 years and 3 months, Ben finishes his first journey through Asia, and returns home to his family in Australia.
May 2012, Canada
Ben moves to Canada (first to Quebec City, and later to Lake Louise).
November 2012, Canada
Ben conceives ‘The Human, Earth Project’, to search for May and raise awareness of human trafficking. As the search for May seems impossible, it is incorporated into a broader search for 100 local people Ben photographed on his first journey through Asia. The majority of these people are poor and poorly educated, the demographic most at risk of human trafficking. Ben decides to reprise his first journey, to locate as many of these people as possible, learn their stories, and understand what makes them so vulnerable to human trafficking. This journey later becomes known as ‘Epic’. With insufficient savings, Ben needs time to organise and fund the journey.
February 2013, Canada
Ben begins full-time work on ‘The Human, Earth Project’, assisted by his brother Nick.
March 2013, Canada
Ben launches ‘The Human, Earth Project’ and an initial fundraising campaign. He receives confirmation that his friend Pang was also kidnapped from Sapa in 2011. Ben first begins discussing the abductions with Michael Brosowski, founder and CEO of the Hanoi-based Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, which rescues trafficked Vietnamese girls from China. Michael will later advise Ben throughout his investigations in Vietnam and China.
May 2013, Canada
‘The Human, Earth Project’ receives its first major exposure via CBC, Canada’s national TV network.
June 2013, Canada
Ben confirms that his search will be produced as a series of documentary films. Two cameramen, Marinho and Patrice, will accompany him in Asia to film the story.
August 2013, United States
Patrice leaves the project after his father suffers a stroke. Ben leaves Canada, and presents a TEDx talk on ‘The Human, Earth Project’ in Black Rock City, Nevada.
September 2013, Indonesia
Five years after his first journey through Asia began, Ben meets with Marinho in Indonesia and begins the search for the 100 local people he’d previously photographed. One of the first he finds is “Amak Juni”, an Indonesian man who has just returned from three years as a slave on a Malaysian palm oil plantation.
December 2013, Thailand
After three intense months working on ‘Epic’, Ben and Marinho spend a month in Thailand. Here they meet with numerous local and international organisations working against human trafficking, organise a human trafficking information evening, and assemble a team to prepare a second fundraising campaign.
January 2014, Vietnam
Ben and Marinho arrive in Sapa to investigate May and Pang’s abductions. Pang has recently contacted her family, for the first time in 3 years. Ben acquires Pang’s Chinese phone number and passes it to Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation in Hanoi.
March 2014, Vietnam
The second fundraising campaign is completed successfully.
April 2014, China
Blue Dragon have difficulty communicating with Pang, and have been unable to locate her in China. Ben succeeds in contacting, locating and meeting with Pang in China. She has been forced into marriage with a local man, and has given birth to a baby girl. Pang faces the heartbreaking decision between returning home to her family in Vietnam, or remaining with her child in China. Ben succeeds in contacting May.
May 2014, China
After an extremely difficult month, Ben succeeds in locating and meeting with May. She is in a similar situation much further north, and faces the same dilemma. After a great deal of deliberation, both May and Pang decide to leave their Chinese-born daughters in China and return home to their families in Vietnam.
June 2014, China & India
May and Pang ask to be rescued together in the first week of August, after May’s daughter’s first birthday. Rescue plans are complicated by a territorial dispute and soured relations between Vietnam and China. The task is divided: Blue Dragon is to help Pang escape, and Ben is to assist May. Ben and Marinho travel to India to complete the ‘Epic’ search. Ben ultimately succeeds in finding no less than 80 of the 100 people he was searching for, and shares their stories online.
July 2014, India
Marinho finishes his work with the project and returns home.
August 2014, China
At the last moment, May cancels her own rescue, as she is being watched too closely to reach the arranged meeting place. Pang’s rescue is delayed, with Blue Dragon’s attention required elsewhere.
September 2014, Vietnam
Ben is denied entry to China by the authorities, and is unable to assist May.
October 2014, China & Vietnam
Blue Dragon enter China to rescue Pang, only to learn she escaped by herself 3 days earlier. Pang makes the long journey across China alone and without identification, only to vanish in the border region near Sapa. All contact is lost. Three days later, Pang reappears and returns home for the first time in 3 years and 9 months, where she is reunited with her family. Ben remains in Sapa to assist with Pang’s reintegration. May wants very much to return home, and has an opportunity to do so, but is unable to leave her Chinese-born child.
December 2014, Vietnam
Part of Pang and Ben’s story becomes the focus of Charly W. Feldman’s ‘Bargain Brides’, a 47-minute documentary produced for Channel NewsAsia’s ‘Undercover Asia’ series.
Ben leaves Vietnam, and begins post-production on the feature documentary ‘Sisters For Sale’.
May 2015, China
Incredibly, May’s Chinese “husband” allows her to return home to Vietnam. May travels first to southern China where, with incredibly intelligence and bravery, she orchestrates the arrest of her Chinese Hmong trafficker.
June 2015, China
As May arrives at the border, only an hour’s journey from her home and family in Vietnam, her Chinese “husband” calls and demands her return to northern China – and she chooses to do so, for the sake of her child, without returning home or seeing her family.
The first trailer is released for ‘Sisters For Sale’.
Editing is completed on ‘Little Sisters’, a rough cut of the first 40 minutes of ‘Sisters For Sale’. A second, extended trailer is released.
The project receives the attention of millions of people via social media and a third fundraising campaign is completed successfully, raising the funds necessary to finish ‘Sisters For Sale’.
The BBC’s Claire Harris begins work on a 10-part serialised podcast based on ‘Sisters For Sale’.
Our work is featured by The CNN Freedom Project.
The ‘Sisters For Sale’ documentary is completed, but for the sound and music.
November 2017, Vietnam
May returns home to her family in Vietnam for the first time in 6 years and 4 months.