Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Getting the girls

In the early days of Blue Dragon, when there was just me, a friend or two, and some ideas about helping street kids, we often came across the criticism that our programs almost entirely catered for boys, and not girls. One of the nuances of the NGO world is that it's fine to have programs specifically for girls, but it's something of a no-no to have programs for boys.

But we never intended to exclude girls; the problem was that we didn't know how to include them. Even when we had established a drop in center, we still found that girls rarely came.

Over time, we realised that it was a cultural issue. In Vietnam, boys have the freedom to hang out and go wandering through the streets, while girls are much more restricted by the social expectations that they will stay at home and look after the siblings or the cooking. Not unlike many other countries in the world.

Once we understood the problem, we could devise a solution. What we come up with was a more structured program of activities and classes that families would allow their girls to attend, particularly cooking and drama.

Since late 2007, Unilever has been supporting us to run cooking clubs, which we call "Healthy Dragons". Sometimes the clubs are lead by our social worker Phuong, but once a month Unilever sends one of their own chefs to conduct the lesson. The clubs are predominantly made of girls, but there's an increasing demand from boys now, as they see how cool the activities are (and how delicious the food is!)

And now that families are comfortable with the idea of their daughters coming to Blue Dragon, the girls are also more free to hang out in the drop in center. A huge shift has occurred in the past year or two; girls now represent almost exactly half of the kids in all of our programs. The clubs and activities have proven useful not only in getting the girls in, but also in teaching life skills and reaching girls in serious crisis.

Some pics from a recent weekend cooking club are below.

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