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Running back home

Fundraiser and Beaverton woman to increase awareness of human trafficking epidemic


by: TIMES PHOTOS: ADAM WICKHAM - Nang Dunn runs at Cooper Mountain Nature Park on Friday as part of her training for the Run Laos Challenge. She and two other women will take the ultra-marathon on Nov. 1-3 through three Laos provinces to raise money and draw attention to the human trafficking epidemic. Nang Dunn is under no illusion that jogging through the Laos villages where she grew up is going to generate the spectator excitement that local fun runs and the Portland Marathon attract.

“I think they will be curious,” she said. “I don’t think there will be people handing out water and Gatorade. But I think they’d be very curious about why this is taking place.”

What’s taking place is the Run Laos Challenge, an ultra-marathon relay in which Dunn, a Beaverton resident, and two other women will run 130 miles through three Laos provinces during the first three days of November. The goal is to raise money and awareness and support the victims of human trafficking in Laos.

“Being a woman and being a mother, this cause is giving voice to women and children who can’t speak for themselves,” Dunn says. “Other countries come in and take these women out. We need to shine a light on that.”

Those interested in spreading awareness and funding to battle the scourge of selling girls and young women to the sex trade are invited to “A Night of Awareness and Change.” The event will be on Saturday from 7 to 11 p.m. at Mekong Bistro at Eternity Hall, 8200 N.E. Siskiyou St., in Portland. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at runlaoslivelaos.eventbrite.com. Those who make a pledge for the runners will become Virtual Runners in the Run Laos Challenge.

The run and anti-human trafficking campaign is sponsored by the VillageRun Foundation, a nonprofit organization that Dunn, 33, founded and serves as chief executive officer. To make the most of the fundraising opportunities, the organization is collaborating with Village Focus International and other humanitarian groups.

“We started the nonprofit in California two years ago,” Dunn explains. “We host a 5K charity run, with funds going to build schools in Laos villages. Last year we built a school in Luang Prabang. Once that project was completed, we decided to take running to Laos.”by: TIMES PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - 'Being a woman and being a mother, this cause is giving voice to women and children who can't speak for themselves,' says Nang Dunn, advocate for awareness of the human trafficking epidemic.

Going home again

At first, the marathon idea was a hard sell for locals in Dunn’s homeland.

“It’s an underdeveloped country,” she says. “Running is a leisure time activity for (Americans). The people were like, ‘Why would you want to run?’”

When scheduling conflicts prevented Dunn’s original partners — one man and two women — from committing to the November trek, Dunn recruited two new females to join her. She met Jennifer Kue, a Laos native and former Portland resident who is now a professor at The Ohio State University, through a mutual friend.

Another friend led Dunn to Siri Ketavong, a Laos resident and former Lao Olympic runner. She was the first Lao national to participate in the marathon at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

“It’s a pretty big honor for her to be one of the women,” Dunn says.

Each runner will take on about 43 miles of the course, alternating 14 to 15 miles per person across the three days.

“Each day we’ll be staying at different homes in the villages,” she says. “That will be an opportunity for us to kind of share why we’re doing this.”

One of 13 children in her family, Dunn, whose blueprint draftsman father served in a post-Vietnam War reeducation camp in Laos for 12 years, says she remembers her childhood as simple, but mostly joyous.

“We didn’t have much in the village,” she says. “No clothing, video games, or what you’d think of based on today’s children as an abundance of toys. The parents would go out in the field to hunt and look for food, so the children would get together to play simple games and go swimming in the river. It was a happy time.”

Dunn didn’t encounter human trafficking until years later. Pregnant with her third child, she was living in a condominium complex in Pleasant Valley, Calif., with her husband, Kirk.

“We noticed some weird things going on,” she recalls. “Every morning these men would be standing outside the complex downstairs. Women would come with different suitcases. My husband and I kept our eyes and ears open.”

Local police told the Dunns they also had their eyes on the complex. In a subsequent raid, Dunn saw about 10 young girls escorted out of the condo.

“All of them are Asian. It was just sickening to see,” she says. “They barely have any clothes on. They were 15, 16 years old. So that was our first encounter. When we moved here, we were introduced to friends who were working with a human trafficking task force here in Portland.”by: TIMES PHOTOS: ADAM WICKHAM - Nang Dunn runs at Cooper Mountain Nature Park on Friday as part of her training for the Run Laos Challenge. She and two other women will take the ultra-marathon on Nov. 1-3 through three Laos provinces to raise money and draw attention to the human trafficking epidemic.

Strong support

When she set about organizing the run, Dunn realized she had to be aware of the sensitivity among Laos’ leaders surrounding the human trafficking epidemic.

“It’s a very sensitive subject, and we have to be very diplomatic,” she says. “That’s why we got the (U.S.) embassy involved.”

Dan Clune, the new U.S. ambassador in Laos, was responsive. He even expressed interest in running a leg of the marathon with Dunn and her new friends.

“They’ve been very supportive in this cause,” she says. “When they heard about the run, they were on board right away.”

Dunn also received support at home, from Kirk, her husband of 20 years, who serves as co-director of the race.

“When her run in southern Laos was discussed between us several years ago, I knew that one day it would become a reality,” he says. “Nang has an amazing sense of determination to achieve her dreams, and whenever the time is truly right, she accomplishes the task no matter the obstacles or the challenges. I’ve witnessed her grow and strengthen herself from this internal drive to succeed.”

With Saturday’s fundraising event at Mekong Bistro now at the forefront of her mind, Dunn looks forward to concentrating on the physical challenge that awaits her this fall in Laos.

“Once the event is behind us, I can focus on my training,” she says. “It’s hard to squeeze that into the schedule.”



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