Saturday, November 03, 2007


In the past couple of months, I have written about a boy named Ngoc from a village 30kms from Hue City.

At age 13, Ngoc had a cleft lip, which is easily fixed by a simple operation – but which he had never had treated or even seen a doctor about. Because of this condition, he had never been to school and, because his parents are illiterate, Ngoc had never been taught to read or write.

Ngoc was at the very bottom of the social hierarchy in his village. Everyone treated him like an idiot, and he had learned to defend himself by tuning out. He never smiled or talked; and when anybody spoke to him, he would turn away as though he could not hear.

And so we brought Ngoc to Hanoi to live in our main residence for a few months and to have the cleft lip operation.

On Thursday November 1, my colleague Van and I returned to Hue with Ngoc. His operation is long over; he’s spent some time in speech therapy; and his confidence has built tremendously. It was time to go home.

As we traveled overnight on the train, Ngoc reverted to the ‘old Ngoc’. He stopped talking and smiling; when we spoke to him, we’d receive no response. After all the wonderful developments in Hanoi, Ngoc was preparing for the worst.

Time for a pep talk… Van spoke to Ngoc about the importance of going home as the ‘new Ngoc’, showing everyone that he is a confident and strong boy now. No longer should he accept bullying and tormenting! After all, he has all the Blue Dragon staff and kids as his best friends now – and he’s become something of a champion roller skater! So what if his voice is still a bit difficult to understand?

Ngoc took Van’s advice on board. A few hours later we arrived in the village and a huge crowd came out to greet us. Dozens of families gathered around, and they were in awe of young Ngoc! “He’s so tall and handsome!” two girls told me. All the boys were flocking to him, asking about his time in Hanoi and looking at his cool new clothes.

I know that, on the inside, Ngoc is exactly the same person he always was. He’s smart, with a wicked sense of humour and genuine concern for the welfare of others. But to the villagers, Ngoc is a whole new person. They never realized what an amazing young guy they had in their midst.

Ngoc has certainly grown – physically and in his self esteem – but otherwise he is exactly the same boy who left his village a few months ago. The greatest change is in his community’s perception.

All it took was a simple operation in a decent hospital and some time with the Blue Dragon family!

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