Saturday, August 12, 2006

From the streets of San Fransisco

Today I am in another world.

San Fransisco - the weather is gorgeous, the streets are wide and the shops open at lunch time.

The flight over here was interrupted because of the latest conspiracy out of England... I lost my toothpaste in Hong Kong, lest that Colgate be used for evil.

I am now with two of my best friends: Hugh Adams, who invited me on this trip, and Pham Sy Chung from Vietnam. Back in the very earliest days of Blue Dragon, Chung was working with me - before there was even an intention to start an NGO (Non-Government Organisation), Chung was working alongside me to help street kids in Hanoi. (That's Chung in the photo. He won't be happy when he sees I've stolen his university photo).

And, by coincidence, it was Chung who introduced me to Hugh. Since then, Hugh has relocated to Fiji, and Chung has moved to Santa Monica where he studies at Rand. But today we are together again. Just like before, except in a different country. And the street kids here have MP3 players.

Back in Vietnam, as I sat waiting for the taxi to pick me up from our street kids' center, a new development arose that is playing on my mind.

Anyone who knows Blue Dragon - anyone who reads this blog - will know that our kids go through a lot. They are at the bottom of the social ladder. Everyone is out to get them.

We've been working hard to change that, though. Our local policeman, Mr Thang, is even about to start coming around to the center to have some informal workshops with the kids on how to stay out of trouble with the law. That kind of thing is extremely rare in Vietnam.

But on Wednesday, as I was about to leave, I learned something truly shocking. A new, all-time low, I think.

Some of our kids have reported being locked in a room and beaten, quite savagely, and they have the bruises, scars, and witnesses to prove it.

Why were they beaten? Somebody had been robbed, and they were beating the children in the hope that one of them would know who had stolen the money, and would confess the information.

So, the big question: Who was this? The police? No.

A local householder, a private citizen? No.

It was another NGO. That's right, another charity. A charity that's fully foreign funded, and claims to help street children.

Now, the NGO community tends to stay closed-lipped about each other's dirty laundry. Some pretty awful deeds are done in the name of charity, but usually nobody says anything.

But this action goes right against everything I believe in, and everything my staff and I have worked for over the past few years.

We won't stay quiet about this.

Van, our lawyer, has started talking to the kids to find out the details and verify if this is all true. While my first instinct is to believe the kids - or at least believe that there is SOME element of truth in what they say - we do need to confirm, to be sure, before we take action.

Of course, I am about to get on a boat and sail to Hawaii, so I won't be writing any more about this for a while. But if these kids are telling the truth, then there will certainly be some follow up to come.

As always, stay tuned.


Caitlin said...

What the ????? Anything I can do?

kptn said...

Hi Michael

Nice to hear you enjoy yourself. I think you are doing a great cause, inspiring. About the beating up of kids, I think this is unacceptable, no matter who you are, which NGO you're from. You have no right to beat them up for information, and i can tell you, they will not say a word. Street rules are stronger.

I hope you still have a plan to get to the end of this, and I hope its not one of the NGOs I have been looking to volunteer.

Enjoyr the trip


Tuan said...

Hi Michael,
I am a friend of Doug (Vitual-doug) in Hue. I have heard about your blog before and came to read sometimes. Yesterday, I read Tuoitre newspaper and so glad about what they wrote about your organisation and the kids. I really appreciate what you have done here, in Vietnam. And Since then, I began talking to friends and people about you and your wonderful job. Keep it up! I hope I could do something to help you.
Wish you all the best.
Tuan, from Hue University.