Sunday, May 14, 2006

The highest of accolades

My staff in Vietnam are under strict instructions: If I start behaving like a celebrity, they are to shoot me immediately.

I have seen some charity leaders go down the celebrity road. At first their intentions are purely to help the poor, but eventually the media spotlight, and the admiration of supporters, distracts them. Programs are devised based more on their media potential than on their benefit to needy people.

The last 4 years working in Vietnam have taught me to beware people who name their charity after themself, and charity workers who can more often be found on TV than in the field.

While I sound critical - maybe even cynical - I know that I am always in danger of going down that celebrity road myself.

The reason I have been in Australia these last few weeks was to take care of some Blue Dragon business here, and particularly to prepare for and attend a dinner being held to raise funds.

The event was not organised by Blue Dragon Children's Foundation, but by friends in the Vietnamese Australian community.

I could never have anticipated the outpouring of support from the community. Men and women, and whole families, turned up at Friday night's dinner - more than 570 people in all. There were business people, media representatives, grandparents, kids, students... People from every imaginable walk of life.

In the lead up to the dinner, and during the dinner, and in the short time since the dinner, people who I have never met before have come up to thank me, congratulate me, for the work of Blue Dragon. And people are digging deep, so that their actions more than match their words.

One of the many surprises has been seeing how much support I have received from people who have their own charities! The founder of a Veteran's Support Group... a Buddhist monk... and a newspaper, Van Nghe, which has a very active charitable arm, have been among Blue Dragon's biggest supporters. Despite what you might expect, people who run charities rarely want to help other charitable causes.

And so the last few weeks have been a whirlwind of meeting people, hugging people, shaking hands and then, finally, the big event itself on Friday night.

My heart is with the street kids back in Vietnam; I am counting down the hours until I am home again. I have been deeply, profoundly moved by the support that has been extended to me on this trip to Australia, but I am no celebrity. All the attention has been appreciated, but it's not why I am here.

And yet, having said that, I have to acknowledge that the support of the Vietnamese Australian community is the highest accolade that I have ever received. I am flattered that they so appreciate my work - and the work of the Blue Dragon staff and volunteers.

There is an overwhelming sense of gratitude; people are actually thanking me for what I do. I never expected this.

On the night, there were countless dancers, singers, and performers of all types - all totally for free. A small army of volunteers helped with selling raffle tickets, organising the stage show, setting up tables, greeting people at reception, and everything else that it takes to pull off an event for almost 600 people.

So in return, I have to do something. I can't let them do so much for Blue Dragon and not give something back!

All of this means that, when I return to Vietnam next week, I have to work even harder. I have to prove that the time and money that people committed to Blue Dragon was not a waste, that it really will change the lives of children who have no other hope.

If I do start acting like a celebrity, it means I've lost the plot and outlived my usefulness to the street kids of Vietnam. But I think that, for now, I've got way too much to do to even worry about that.

1 comment:

Lindy Walsh said...

Hi Michael - I was at the dinner on Friday night and I have to tell you what a truly amazing experience it was for me. I've known you for a long time and I've always been impressed with you - your integrity and commitment to what you were doing - but I don't think I fully comprehended the extent of what you were doing and the impact it has until Friday night. For those of you who weren't there, and I know Michael would be much too modest to tell you, the local Vietnamese-Australians have called Michael "the Australian man with a Vietnamese heart" - and I would have to agree with their sentiment. Well done Michael - you are doing some fantastic work.