Monday, February 26, 2007

Sinking the traffic

In November 2005, Blue Dragon rescued a young boy from child traffickers who had taken him from his village by the beach in Hue to Saigon, where he was a virtual slave.

Friends around the world who have been following the story will know that Ngoc is now 13, and studying at a special school which uses an accelerated curriculum, as he had never been to school before in his life.

A couple of weeks ago, some friends of Ngoc travelled with us to Hue to visit him in his family home. Jutta and Johann are a German couple who met Ngoc when he was working in Saigon; they desperately tried to help him, but because they never stayed for longer than a few weeks all of their efforts fell flat.

The main reason that Ngoc was originally trafficked is that his family is extremely poor; his father is a fisherman who was earning from $12 - $40 per month. For this, he would be at sea 15 days at a stretch, with a 2 day break at the end to see his family before setting out again.

But no more.

With some help from Blue Dragon staff, Johann and Jutta bought a boat for Ngoc's father. On his first day, he caught $12 worth of fish. And he was only away from home for a few hours.

That's Ngoc below, with Johann and the boat. Now, if only we could do this for all of the families...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Going home

Lunar New Year - Tet - is officially over, and it's now the Year of the Pig. I have no idea what that means, other than it's apparently a great year to have a baby.
Vietnam shuts down for Tet, although the lead-up to the holiday is the most maniacal shopping-spree you can imagine: thousands of people buying trees, flat-screen TVs, and furniture, and carrying it all home on motorbikes.

Blue Dragon didn't really shut down this year. Our Residence closed, but we still had kids with nowhere to go, so they ended up staying at the HQ watching DVDs and riding bikes around town. A few of us worked through, ploughing through piles of admin that have been glaring us in the face for too long.

Tet is the time that everybody goes home to their families, and that mostly means visiting the countryside. For our kids, Tet can be a difficult time, as they don't all have families, or families who will welcome them home.

Shortly before Tet, a 12 year old boy came to our centre and asked for help to go home. He had runaway from home four years earlier, and had not seen his family since. Apart from a few months in a detention centre, this boy had spent the whole time sleeping on the streets, in trees, and under bridges.

We accompanied him back to the countryside and found his family, who were astonished to see him again. They were sure he was dead. But now he's back home, and will return soon to school. Looks like a happy ending.
On the very first day of the Tet holidays, one of our street kids turned up at the centre with a child he had 'found' roaming the streets collecting scrap. The little guy (pictured) is 11 years old, and had run away from home two months earlier. He stayed with us over the new year, and yesterday our laywer, Van, accompanied him back to his family home near the Chinese border.

These runaway cases are always incredibly complex and sensitive. So much could go wrong... And we don't even have funding or staff specifically for this role of working with runaways and reuniting them with their families. But I can honestly say that this part of our work is the most rewarding of all.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


The past week has had some amazing events...

Last Wednesday we held our annual Lunar New Year celebration for the 160 boys and girls in our Hanoi program: The Second Annual Blue Dragon Children's Foundation Tet Awards Night.

Two hours of presentations, drama by the kids, guitar recitals, and (not too many) speeches.

Tet Awards is an unusual event. People may wonder why getting all the kids together in a hall and handing out gifts and certificates, half-Oscars / half-school-graduation style, would be such an important occasion.

But for our kids, it's the one time of the year that they can be recognised for their achievements. They all have a turn coming on to the stage and being congratulated; some by Ambassadors and special guests. Tet Awards is a fun-filled night, but it's also very emotional and significant for the children.

I promise to post some pics as soon as I get them!

And today, another momentous occasion.

Many readers have been following the story of "Binh", who went into drug rehab last March. This morning, Binh returned triumphant to Hanoi. He's a totally new person: he's all smiles, he's confident, and there's no evidence at all that this kid was ever an addict.

Binh is very special to us here at Blue Dragon, and his return home is a cause for great celebration. Of course, we are not naive, and we know that there may still be obstacles ahead. But we're off to a great start...

Monday, February 05, 2007

I'm a big man, look at me!

Tet is looming... Lunar New Year, the one major holiday in Vietnam that the country really cherishes. Preparations have started, although Day One of the new year isn't until February 17. On the 17th, and for at least a few days afterwards, Vietnam will come to a stand still. It's a beautiful time to be in the country.

But the next weeks will be anything but beautiful. Everyone is madly racing around buying furniture or clothes, renovating their home, looking for the trees people traditionally put in their homes, washing their motorbikes, and visiting the relatives they've been avoiding since last Tet.

Here at Blue Dragon, we had an idea to help out one of our neighbours. Mrs Thanh lives close to our HQ, and gets around town in a wheelchair. Her chair has three wheels, and is driven by a hand-pumping mechanism.

We support Mrs Thanh's two kids to go to school, as the money she earns from selling soft drinks on the street at night is a pittance. She's had a tough life; she lost the use of her legs in a bomb blast during the Vietnam-America war, and has spent all of her life in poverty.

When I first met her, Mrs Thanh lived in a slum that she had built herself. Last year, the local council demolished the entire slum settlement - some hundreds or thousands of homes - and relocated all of the residents. Home owners were given advanced notice, and allocated a fairly generous compensation for their loss of a home.

Except Mrs Thanh.

Somehow, she was overlooked when it came to paying compensation. The money, which would have set her up for the rest of her life, has never appeared. Go figure!

So she's had to move from home to home, renting cheap places with dirt floors and holes in the roof.

On Friday last week, some of us decided to offer a small gesture to Mrs Thanh: an overhaul of her wheelchair. The plan was to wash it, replace the cushions, fix up the brakes and steering, and repaint it.

Step One: Wash it.

At the end of our street is the Group Leader's home. He's elected or appointed to oversee security on the street; it's his job to deal with neighbourhood complaints and report to the police the goings-on of residents and visitors. And he happens to run a small business, washing vehicles.

Some of our kids took Mrs Thanh's wheelchair to him, asking him to wash it. For money, of course, because that's his business.

But - no. He refused to wash the wheelchair.

"But we'll pay you."

"I don't wash wheelchairs."


"No. No wheelchairs."

End of story. It would seem that Tet is not a time for charity.

I still feel confused as to why this guy should refuse a fairly simple job. Some of my staff have suggested that it's because he would feel inferior by washing a wheelchair. He wants to be seen washing a Mercedes, or an expensive motorbike, not a rusty old wheelchair owned by a poor disabled woman.

So, he's a big man, and apparently too big to condescend to such a task.

This week, Blue Dragon is going to use this incident to teach a bit of community spirit to our kids. We're going to ask our kids to contribute a few cents each to pay for new cushions, paint, and any parts needed in the repairs. We're going to wash the bike ourselves.

And we're going to show Mrs Thanh that people do care for her.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Hellooooo Singapore

Time for another plug!

United World College in Singapore is holding its annual fundraiser for charity in Vietnam, and part of their funds will be donated to Blue Dragon.

The students have planned a HUGE night at the Grand Hyatt on Saturday April 28. Everything is organised by the students of UWC - an amazing event. Go there! Have good night!

Their web site has all the details: