Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Hard at work

At least once or twice a month, those who profess to be "experts" in development or poverty or something obscure-but-impressive tell me that charities like Blue Dragon run the terrible risk of creating dependence.

Their argument, which sounds reasonable enough, is that if Blue Dragon was not working in Vietnam, our beneficiaries would have to be self reliant, or rely on their local community. Hence, Blue Dragon is creating a need, rather than fulfilling a need, and it might be better off if we weren't here.

I can answer that criticism in many ways. The first response that comes to my mind is: "Is it really a good thing to force 6 year olds to be self reliant?" (And a related question to the critic could be: "And have you put your belief into practice by sending your own children onto the streets to earn their school fees, so that they don't become reliant on your help?")

But rather than argue the point, an easier response is for me to explain that we do, in fact, encourage independence - when the kids are at an appropriate age and level of health.

We all know the saying, "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime." Fair enough, but it would be nice to give him a fish to eat while he learns to catch them himself.

This is the case with the Blue Dragon kids: they're not ready to be independent. They need time, care, and teaching to get them there, and that can take many years.

Two of our girls, Thuy and Trang, exemplify this process of moving from dependence to independence. These are great kids; they do well at school, they get involved in community service, and they make the most of every opportunity they can find. On separate occasions in recent months, they approached our staff to ask for help in finding part time jobs. They want to start supporting themselves even though they haven't yet finished high school.

Blue Dragon's role in helping teens get jobs is to help set up interviews and liaise with employers. The kids have to earn the jobs themselves - we never ask businesses to hire anyone as a favour. And we also have a 'one-time-only' rule: we help kids get their first job only. If they leave for any reason at all, they have to find their next job themselves.

So it's essential that we find good employers, and Thuy and Trang were fortunate to get jobs at a famous Italian restaurant where the bosses are committed to training and demand high standards, but also care about their employees' welfare. The girls are earning good incomes, and still have time to study.

Having a job doesn't mean they no longer need support from Blue Dragon. But it does mean they are on the road to independence, with an end in sight.

And surely, while the development experts talk about their theories and policies over a long lunch at a fine Italian restaurant, they've got to be happy about that.


Anonymous said...

Kudos to Thuy & Trang for being so brave & determined! It's amazing how sometimes I look at these kids and find that extra bit of motivation that I really need in life.

And PAH!!! to those so-called "experts" who often have clashing views about everything & anything. Granted, some of the theories do have their credits (although some are so contradicting one wouldn't know which way to turn), but life is never black & white. You can't use the one mould to fit on every child. And that's why charities who work on a case-to-case basis are often the most effective of all. So YAY! to Blue Dragon.

*hugs* from Melbourne xxx

Alison said...

I second that....

'YAY! to Blue Dragon"

And congratulations and best wishes to Thuy and Trang as they learn to fish on their own.