Sunday, November 18, 2007

Is this a culi I see before me?

Last week, a crisis of a different kind hit Blue Dragon...

One of our volunteers, Amy, received a frantic late night phone call from a girl in our Hanoi program named Yen. Aged 16, Yen is one of our stars - she's bright and compassionate, and gets involved in everything that's happening.

Yen came to us over a year ago when we started working with one of her school mates, Hieu, who has cerebral palsy. I won't say that Hieu 'suffers' CP - she makes the best of life and is doing really well at school - but of course she does suffer from plenty of discrimination everywhere she goes. Yen is not only Hieu's best friend, but also her number one advocate to stick up for her when times are tough. Yen's just that kind of person.

So when she came across an endangered animal last week and saw that it was about to be trafficked, Yen was desperate to find a way to save it.
Some months back, we took a group of our kids, including Yen, to Cuc Phuong National Park. One of the animals that they saw for the very first time was a culi (pictured), which is found in northern Vietnam and some parts of southern China. There aren't many of them, and most people don't even recognise them, but when Yen saw one here in Hanoi she sure knew what it was, and that it belonged on the forest, not in the city!
But the culi was in the hands of a friend's family who planned to sell it; and the buyers were pretty mean looking people. I don't know what the asking price was - but it was a lot. The culi was clearly worth something, and Yen couldn't convince the family to hand it over to conservation agents.

Finally, she did what she hoped would save the culi: she offered to buy it herself. Using her own money, she bought the culi from her friend's family, saving it from being trafficked... or eaten.

And so the culi landed in my office for the day. Thanks to some friends who work in conservation we were able to work out what to feed the little guy, and he spent a day cowering among leaves inside a cardboard box.

At the end of the day some animal rescue people came to take our new friend away, and he's now living happily ever after in Cuc Phuong National Park. For Yen especially, and her friend Hieu as well, this was a great chance to put their love of nature into action.

Friday, November 16, 2007


The flood waters are well and truly gone, and the Hoi An Children's Home is getting back into shape. Our manager there, an Australian volunteer named Nicole, has been working hard to get the piles of mud out, work out what's gone missing, and try to get the kids back into a regular routine.

The social worker and teenagers from our Hanoi center are heavily involved in the clean up, and they're able to give Nicole some relief so that she can take a break. Her own home was completely flooded, so she also has a lot to do there.

The community has responded OVERWHELMINGLY and we now should have enough money to replace and repair everything that has been damaged or destroyed. So I need to let you know - if you have pledged money, please do send it... if you are just learning about this, we do have enough funds now to deal with this crisis.

Thanks everyone...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


The flood waters have washed away... The Hoi An Children's Home is muddy and wet, but no longer under 10 feet of water!

About 8 people have so far offered support, so we have around $500 already. Tonight, a Blue Dragon social worker, Lan, and two of our teenage kids, are heading south on the train to help out.

Lots of the cleaning may be done by the time they arrive tomorrow, but there'll still be plenty to do - and also lots to buy. It looks like the beds (double bunk timber) may be OK, despite being submerged for a day. But the cupboards, desks, and dining tables are mostly destroyed... and I am guessing the bicycles are, too.

Our trio will return by the end of the weekend, but hopefully they can relieve the burden on the Hoi An staff.

A BIG THANK YOU to everyone who has expressed concern or sent their contribution. We still need plenty more help, so email me at of you can get involved.

... And still no pictures!!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Wet wet wet

An urgent post today...

The Hoi An Children's Home is drowning!

The biggest floods in living memory have swamped the whole town. The Home is a two storey building, and the flood waters are lapping at the base of the SECOND STOREY!

No photos are available right now... there's no electricity, and both our staff and the 30 kids are trapped on the second floor, hoping that the waters don't rise any more.

Although most equipment has been moved upstairs, a lot of furniture and personal belongings have been destroyed. The girls have been worst affected, as their rooms are on the ground floor.

People in Hoi An are used to regular flooding, but nobody was expecting anything on this scale.

I will post some updates in coming days, but I am hoping that some generous people out there in the land of Blog might be able to help. We need at least $3500 US to replace everything that has been destroyed... and we need it urgently!

If anyone can help, even with just a few dollars, please contact me at: I'll get back to you asap...


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Our conquering heroes return

The Hoi An Children's Home is home to 30 girls and boys from central Vietnam who would otherwise have no place to live. Blue Dragon has been working there since August, when we took responsibility for managing and funding the entire operation.

The kids there are great; they all go to school and generally do well in their studies. The Home is a two storey building with some pretty big gardens; and of course it's all situated in Hoi An town, one of the most beautiful places in Viet Nam.

It's all ideal; except that getting staff to work there has been a challenge for the past few months. An Australian volunteer, Nicole, is the manager, and relies on a small team of Vietnamese social workers and carers to look after the children around the clock. But being located in such a small town, it's taken longer than we'd hoped to get all the staff in place.

When the main social worker decided to turn off his mobile phone and treat himself to an extended holiday, I decided to send down some help from our Hanoi center, where we have 4 social workers. The idea was to give Nicole some breathing space while she continued her search for new staff.

Our youngest social worker, Diep, was keen to take on the assignment; he's just 18 years old, and was a street kid shining shoes when I met him 4 years ago. Although Diep doesn't have any formal qualifications, he's an amazing social worker with a heart of gold. All the kids, without exception, love and respect him.

And so I also suggested that one of our kids should accompany Diep to help out: a 16 year old boy named To Cuong, who is a member of our Link program. Sending To Cuong was playing a wild card: we really didn't know how that would work out. To Cuong is well known for his colourful vocabulary, and has been living on the streets on and off for the past two years. We really weren't sure if he'd be more help than hindrance, but wanted to give him a chance.

On Wednesday afternoon, Diep and To Cuong returned to Hanoi, having completed their two weeks in Hoi An.

Diep's time at the Home was spent supervising kids, organising games and activities, helping with homework, and being a big brother. To Cuong was assigned some dirtier tasks, like gardening and cleaning.

And by all accounts, they have achieved some remarkable outcomes. The residents were all terribly sad to see them go; they held a party on Monday night to say farewell, but they are all hoping that Diep and To Cuong can return.

For To Cuong, this was an opportunity to rise to the occasion - and he did. As far as I know, his behaviour was perfect the whole time! He didn't complain at all about the work, but was eager to do all that he could.

This is a huge achievement for both To Cuong and Diep. Days like this, I really do believe that anything is possible.

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!