Thursday, January 31, 2008


Two small renovation projects that Blue Dragon has had underway were finished off this week.

At the Hoi An Children’s Home, the kids’ bathrooms have long been in need of basic repairs. With the massive floods that swept through last year, the facilities were damaged even further, to the point of having the sinks hanging off the walls… But donations from friends both in Vietnam and around the world meant that we could finally get them fixed. Have a look at the ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots!

Watch out for the sink...

The new sinks are installed

It might seem like a simple renovation, but to the 30 kids who live at the Home, it makes a big difference.

Here in Hanoi, Ngoc’s home was repaired last month in preparation for his return from hospital. Since the stabbing attack that occurred, Ngoc’s health has slowly improved but he’ll never have full strength again. His tiny house simply wasn’t suitable for somebody with weak lungs: it was dusty, without even a ceiling to hide the asbestos roof.

The water system for Ngoc's house was one of the first things we replaced

A view inside the one-room house

Blue Dragon organized for a major renovation of the house, and Ngoc moved back home around Christmas. But our volunteer Andrew has been working on some finishing touches, which were installed earlier this week.

Andrew has been mentoring one of our older boys, Hung, who had tuberculosis meningitis a couple of years ago. Hung’s progress is extremely slow, but he loves tinkering in Blue Dragon’s Shed and has been helping Andrew to make furniture and do basic repairs to our centre.

Hung and Andrew worked together to make some shelves and a fold-away study desk for Ngoc’s house, and on Tuesday they went to install. Hung, pictured, just couldn’t stop grinning as he watched his handy-work being bolted to the wall. Ngoc and his family, too, are thrilled to have this addition to their home. Smiles all around!

Hung inside Ngoc's house, with his handy work installed

(And for those who have been following this story, the police have caught all three attackers who stabbed Ngoc).

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Picture this

A really cool link that you might like to see:

A few weeks back, Blue Dragon was fortunate to have photographer Darren Zlatareff come and hang out, and teach the kids some photography. Darren captured some images of one of the Blue Dragon kids, Nhan, whose dad works for us as a motorbike guard. Darren's pics are touching - go see for yourself...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Big 2

In the past few days, we've held both of our major celebrations for the year, with about 550 kids joining in Blue Dragon's Lunar New Year parties.

On Sunday, some staff and kids travelled from Hanoi to Bac Ninh province where we sponsor about 350 girls and boys to attend school. The New Year celebration is one of several incentives for these kids and their families to stay at school; and it's also a chance for us to reward them for their commitment to study.

Sponsored kids waiting for the ceremony to begin
All of the sponsored children - most of whom are girls - receive our support because their families just can't afford the school fees and all the other costs. Once they drop out of school, the kids are targetted by traffickers who want them to work in garment factories.

A sponsored girl receiving her gift from staff member Diep.

Over the years, we have seen the kids grow up - literally - as they progress through school and deal with the slings and arrows of their lives. On Sunday I spoke briefly with a 15 year old girl named Hien, who was the first child that Blue Dragon ever built a house for. Hien and her mum were squatting in an abandoned house that was falling apart and infested with snakes and insects. That was about 3 years ago; Hien is now doing so well at school, and starting to think about university. Having a proper house to live in made such a difference.

And then on Tuesday we held the Third Annual Tet Awards celebration at the Revolutionary Museum. This is the night that we get together all the kids from our Hanoi program and acknowledge their hard work and achievements over the past year. All the kids get a chance to come onto the stage and receive a certificate and a gift, and there's also a Special Awards section in which the kids with exceptional progress are rewarded. The children perform dramas, sing, dance, and make speeches - it's such a special night. (I am already starting to plan next year's event!)

The recipients of the Special Awards on the night were:

Good Sports Award
presented by Mr Bill Tweddell, Australian Ambassador
N. T. Anh
N.H. Tai
P. B. Minh

English Speakers Award
presented by Dr James Kember, New Zealand Ambassador
N. T. Phuong
N.M. Nghia
... with an encouragement award to P.T. Hien

Hugh and Susan Adams Award for Self Improvement
presented by Michael Brosowski, Director of Blue Dragon
N. V. Trung
H. V. Ky
N. V. Minh
P. V. Hung

Creativity Award
presented by Nadine Ziegeldorf, Program Development Officer at Blue Dragon
N. V. Thuy
N. V. Son
N. P. Hanh

Computing Skills Award
presented by Mr Sean Hoy, Head of Irish Aid
N. N. Bao
N. T. Phuong
N. T. Van Anh
N. M. Nghia

Pham Sy Chung Award for Good Character
presented by Michael Brosowski, Director of Blue Dragon
Vu Thi Lam
C. V. Toan
L. D. Nghia

Strength in Adversity Award

presented by Tam Tran, Social Work Coordinator at Blue Dragon
N. T. Ngoc
N. T. Ba
H. Q. Tuan

Community Service Award
presented by Diana Rudolph, President of the Hanoi International Women's Club
B. T. Yen
V. T. Quyen
T. V. Cuong
N. V. Duong

Award for Academic Excellence
presented by Mr Daniel Selvanayagam, Director of World Vision Vietnam
B. T. Yen
L. T. Hieu
N. V. Can
... with an encouragement award to L. V. Cuong

Director's Award
presented by Michael Brosowski, Director of Blue Dragon
T. V. Ngoc
D. V. Chinh
N. T. Trinh

Out of the need for anonymity, I can't publish the kids' full names, but at the same time I want to boast of their extraordinary achievements and characters. Among these kids are a boy who was trafficked from his village but is now coming top of his classes at a private school; a girl who was kidnapped and sold to a brothel but is now looking for a job and getting her life together; a boy who almost died of tuberculosis meningitis but is now slowly regaining his health and learning carpentry; a blind girl who studies at a mainstream school; boys who used to steal in the markets for a living but now want to study and help others.... I could go on for hours. I want to go on for hours. But you get the idea.

It was a great night; and last Sunday in Bac Ninh province was also a great event. Such inspiring kids!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Looking forward

With Christmas and new year behind us, Blue Dragon is now looking forward to the next big date on the calendar: Tet, or Lunar New Year.

The first day of the Year of the Rat will be February 7. We'll be holding our Third Annual Tet Awards Night on January 22nd; this is our hugest event of the year, when all of the kids who we know through our Hanoi program come together to receive gifts and certificates in an awards ceremony that's almost identical to Oscars night in the US.

At this time of year, Vietnamese people are looking for auspicious signs of good things to come. Families go out shopping to show off their success and to start the new year with new possessions. For most Blue Dragon kids, the only new possessions they have come from us, and the donations that people pass on to us.

One happy family this week is that of Ngoc, the 18 year old Chief Editor of Blue Dragon's monthly newsletter, who was stabbed over a month ago by some highly inaccurate hit-men who were out to kill somebody else. Their philosophy of 'near enough is good enough' cost Ngoc a kidney and some long term damage to both lungs. But Ngoc is now back at home, and also back at school! He started classes again last Monday, and I understand he is preparing for half yearly exams in a week or so.

We organised some major renovations to Ngoc's house, to make it cleaner and safer for somebody with lung problems. It's no mansion, but it certainly is much fresher, cleaner and brighter than it ever was before.

Another young guy who will go into the new year with a reason to be hopeful is another boy named Ngoc; this one is 13, and he came to Hanoi originally to have a cleft lip operation. Although he returned home to his village, he asked to come back to Blue Dragon because, despite being a teen, he's never been to school and was completely illiterate. For the past couple of months, Ngoc has been studying basic literacy with volunteers at our centre. This week, he started Grade 1 at a local school. What a terrific turn of events for him.

Two other teens have just gone to Ho Chi Minh City for drug rehabilitation; these are brothers who have been struggling with addictions for some years, and just weeks ago had to bury their father, who died of a heart attack. Their Tet will be spent in a treatment facility, which is nobody's ideal way of spending this time of year... But hopefully it will pave the way for them to have a great year to come.

One other teenager I wrote about at Christmas, a 17 year old named Chau, will be going in to Tet with a very uncertain outlook for the year. Chau is being treated for cancer in Hue Hospital. The doctors are taking great care of him, and his strength has improved tenfold since he was admitted some weeks ago. But I fear that this is because the symptoms of his illness are receding, while the underlying problems might not be changing much at all.

There are some new kids who we are just starting to work with; I'll be writing about them soon. More inspiration and heartbreak to come!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Looking back

Farewell, 2007! Another exciting, crazy, busy year with so many highs and lows.

The year has finished with some ups and downs. Christmas Day was great. We had parties, and games, and even a visit from some special friends – the Australian and New Zealand Ambassadors and their families dropped by, as did a certain Mr Claus!

Just a couple of days later, though, the father of some of our kids died. This family has been through so many difficulties that they really didn’t need yet another blow. Two of the sons are drug addicts, and a third was in rehab in Saigon, so we had to bring him home for the funeral and rites. There are also 2 younger sons, only one of whom is going to school. Even before their father died of a heart attack on Thursday evening, they’ve all been living with their Grandmother, who is one of the most wonderful people I know.

One twist to this tale is that, since the death, the entire family has been hiding out at my house because of their fear of the father’s ghost…

This was the third funeral in the Blue Dragon family for 2007. Here’s hoping we have none in 2008.

Many events of the year were much happier, though. The year kicked off with new kids going back to school after years of working on the streets; and one boy, Hieu, even started school for the first time ever at age 14. Later in the year, we started running private lessons at our centre for 2 kids who have never learned to read and write: Ngoc, a 13 year old who we assisted to have a cleft lip operation; and Hung, who has TB and meningitis in the past couple of years, and who is now about 20 years old, and still recovering slowly.

Blue Dragon supported 3 kids to attend drug rehabilitation in Saigon, and many more runaway kids to be reunited with their families. One little guy went home to his family after 4 years of living on the streets.

Some of our older teen girls started working in great jobs at The Vine restaurant; a teenage orphan from Bac Ninh got a job as a trainee welder in metal fabrication company; two of our kids joined the KOTO program; and a whole lot more completed vocational training courses, completed ICDL computer certificate courses, and one has just completed college.

A big highlight early in the year was taking one of our boys, Quan, and his mother to Australia for facial surgery on a neurofibroma. Quan is continuing to recover, and he’s back in school now, having a good life.

We faced more medical emergencies than we’d like – a girl slipping into a coma in our drop in centre; an epileptic fit on the staircase; Ngoc’s stabbing (he went back to his own home on Monday! Yay!); a runaway boy bashed in the head with a brick; a street kid whose toe was cut off in revenge; as well as countless fevers and measles cases. One boy was so sick that the doctors believed he had TB!

Then in Hoi An our staff at the Children’s Home had to face the biggest flood since – well, since last time they had the biggest flood – and all 30 kids were trapped on the top floor of their building. The clean up was smelly and filthy, but many people pitched in with donations to replace all that was lost. Even our manager there, Nicole, lost most of her personal possessions.

Certainly not the most exciting event, but a big one for our staff and kids, was the move to a new centre in Hanoi. Until now, we’ve had to spread out across 4 buildings in one street: lunches and art in one building; parking and computer lessons in another building, and so on. But throughout July and August we renovated a new building that we have rented, and on September 2nd we moved in. Now the kids are much safer, and we’ve been able to offer more opportunities than before.

On the other side of the world, one of our volunteers, Iain Purdie, finished off his round the world backpacking trip by walking home that last 1000 miles! Iain inspired many people to support our work, and along the way saw Europe in a way few people ever do.

Some of our own kids had the chance to travel – not as far as Iain, but to Singapore and Thailand. If only we could do this for all our kids!

Back home, though, it was our most ‘grassroots’ work that I personally found most inspiring: street kids taking on community service roles; and chronically homeless street kids giving up the exciting world of stealing and dealing to live more stable and safe lives.

I’m not so sure how we fitted all this into only 12 months. No doubt the coming year will be equally as fulfilling.

Big thanks to all our supporters and friends out there in the land of Blog. And a happy new year to all.