Friday, May 11, 2007

Something old, but new

I first travelled to Hoi An, in Central Vietnam, as a backpacker in 2000. At that time, I had no idea that I'd eventually live in Vietnam and work with street children.

With Hoi An, I had no 'love at first sight' experience. One of the first things I did there was book a ticket to leave. The town itself struck me as being beautiful, but somebody tried to rob me (inside my hotel room!) and some of the street vendors were driving me crazy.

But something changed: I met a family. "Big Nam", the head of the household, was selling ceramics in front of his shabby, run down house. He was very poor, but had taken in a street kid - "Baby Nam" - and was raising him as a son. This family was so warm and welcoming that I changed my mind - and my ticket - very quickly. My love affair with Hoi An had begun.

I've been back there at least 20 times since. It's where I spend my holidays, and my favourite place to go to the beach. Hoi An is very quiet, with its own pleasant pace of life and a very relaxed attitude.

While I'm there, I usually visit a children's center, called Cahors. About 30 girls and boys live together under the supervision of the elderly Mrs Diep. She's been there since the center opened, about 12 years ago. The kids are orphans, or from extremely poor families in the districts around Hoi An.

As a Center, there's obviously a welfare aspect to Cahors. The children live there, eat there, and grow up there. But the real reason that the kids are at Cahors is to go to school. Without the Center, they'd be street kids.

Cahors is a great place, but has been seriously under-resourced for some years. Different groups have pitched in to help - NGOs, local associations, and individuals - but Mrs Diep and the kids never know how their next set of bills will be paid.

Over the last few days, I have been in Hoi An again. This time, I was not on holiday. This trip was about Blue Dragon getting involved in the running of the Center, to help out with the long term needs.

Blue Dragon has been involved at the Center for some years already. A few months back, when the roof blew off the building, I posted a blog and some good friends sent some money to get the place fixed. Long before that, I've been visiting the kids, providing bicycles at times, and helping out with small needs here and there. So our involvement there is nothing new: but we're about to start working in a new way.

If all goes to plan, Blue Dragon will begin working there on a permanent basis, starting in April. We'll be taking our unique social work and psychology program to the kids, which means individual planning and a 'whatever it takes' approach to getting kids out of poverty.

The really great part to all this is that the Center's children will be the winners. They come from difficult backgrounds, which for various reasons mean that they can't go on living with their families. Living at a children's Center is only a second best solution. Our goal is to make it worthwhile and fulfilling for everyone there.

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