Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Cutting the kids down with voodoo

Sorry, but it's not every day I get to write a headline like that.

We didn't really cut the kids down - just took them for a haircut.

And not using voodoo, either - but a hair salon named Vu Doo.

Vu is one of the top hair stylists in Hanoi - still in his 20s, he has started his own business and serves the upper-end of the local community and expats.

He also volunteered to give the Blue Dragon kids a free hair wash and style before Vietnamese New Year!

Blue Dragon staff started taking the kids yesterday - Tuesday Jan 10 - and we'll keep taking a few at a time until the end of the month.

New Year falls on January 29 - the Year of the Dog! - and that's an extremely important time for all Vietnamese people. It's about the only time of year that I get to use the word 'propitious'. Lunar New Year, or Tet, is like Christmas, New Year, Thanksgiving, and your birthday rolled into one and dished up with a serving of local cuisine, Li Xi (lucky money), and gifts to celebrate the start of a new year.

For the Vietnamese, the first days of the new year are of greatest importance. They signal how the rest of the year will be: so it's essential to have new clothes, new (unused) money, and other symbols of 'newness' and good fortune.

Hence the new haircuts!

In the grand scheme of things, a haircut at a high class salon might not seem so significant. But to Blue Dragon's kids, it is a big deal.

Our kids lead hard lives. The typical Blue Dragon child lives with just one parent or with other relatives - usually, at least one parent is dead or in prison. The kids are totally powerless, living right at the bottom of the social ladder. They are frequently subject to a level abuse, robbery, and violence that seems absurd.

To start off the Vu Doo haircuts, we took 4 boys yesterday (see photo above). One of those boys - and for the sake of privacy I won't say which one - turned up at the Blue Dragon office late last night, having been robbed at knife point by a gang of thugs who wanted his money and his trousers.

The boy was hysterical, terrified that such a thing could happen out in the open. In fact, he's the third of our kids in the last five days to be robbed on the street. One of the social workers and I jumped onto a motorbike and went through the streets looking for the thieves, but they were long gone. We'll go looking again tonight, though, because for sure they'll be back to try their luck on some other poor child.

So a new hairstyle and a shampoo might not wash away all of our kids' fears and problems. But at least the kids can feel a bit better about themselves and start the new year with something new that they can be proud of.

BIG THANKS to Vu and his staff (go get your hair cut there! 32c Cao Ba Quat - phone 733-8329). And thanks also to Glenn, who has found his true calling in life as a hair photographer.

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