Monday, March 31, 2008


Today I have some very sad news to report: the cancer hospital in Hanoi has given a very bleak prognosis for Chau. They believe that he does have cancer, that it has spread to his liver and kidneys, and that treatment will not be of much benefit.

There is still hope that they are wrong; and we are still exploring all avenues. But soon we may have to turn our attention to simply making Chau and his family comfortable and dealing with the pain to come.

I'll post more when I know more.

Friday, March 28, 2008


When you walk in the front door of the Blue Dragon drop in centre, one of the first things you see is the art room. There's always some art or craft activity going on, whether it's making jewelry for the kids to sell, or painting, or making puppets.

One of the ironies of Vietnam is that, while there are so many talented artists and artisans around the country, there are few avenues for children to develop their artistic interests. Kids normally don't do art in school - many of our kids are unfamiliar with using scissors when they first come to us.

So we give the kids as wide a range of artistic opportunities as we possibly can. Over the last 2 years, the range of arts and crafts that the children have been exposed to is mind boggling! And there's no doubt that these opportunities have helped many of the children, girls and boys alike, to become more expressive and to find inner qualities that they otherwise were unaware of.

Earlier this year, a woman named Jacqui from Gladstone in Queensland organised a fundraising party, thematically centered around art and dragons, and has come to volunteer with us for a few weeks. The money that she raised has been mostly used to provide art equipment for projects she's been working on with the kids, but she's also helped out with equipment and funds for other areas of our work.

The kids have had an amazing time getting involved in art projects big and small. Here are just a few of Jacqui's pics to show what she's been up to with the Blue Dragon children!

Kids and staff together in the art room

I made this!

The mural: One of the major projects, made of tiles

Planning and making

... and it's not all art. Jacqui (in the middle) is also
helping us to provide support for families.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Just before Christmas last year, I blogged about a 17 year old boy named Chau - check the original post here. Chau is from Hue, in central Vietnam, and at age 15 he went to work in a garment factory in Ho Chi Minh City. When he became sick late last year, the boss fired him and sent him home, which is when one of our staff stumbled upon him in his village.

Chau was seriously ill when we met him; his throat was swollen, he could hardly move, and he was in terrible pain. The Hue Hospital diagnosed cancer, and started radiotherapy, but there has always been some doubt about Chau's condition. Another doctor has been worried that Chau might have an infection whose symptoms are very similar to those of cancer; in which case radiotherapy is a very bad idea.

So today Chau is travelling to Hanoi with his father to visit the Oncology Hospital - known as the K Hospital - in Hanoi. The doctors there have agreed to test Chau and try their best to determine the cause of his illness.

We're going in to this knowing that cancer cases - if that's what this is - can be very difficult and costly. We really don't know where this path will lead us, but we have to go down it anyway. How could we fail to help Chau?

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Oreo Kid

It's been a few months since Blue Dragon has met runaways in Hanoi - perhaps because of the extremely cold winter, the kids have preferred to stay at home! But now that the weather is warming up, we've come across three in a week. Two have been 'repeat runaways' - we've worked with them before - but one was new to us. Well, sort of.

In fact, some of our staff and vols had come across the little guy before. His name is Phuong, and despite his size he's 14 years old. (He's the tallest boy in the photo below). Just by chance, I ran into him on the street in the Old Quarter of Hanoi on Sunday; we'd met each other before (though neither of us is exactly clear when or why) so I took him back to the Centre to meet the social workers. Andrew, one of our Australian vols, had seen Phuong on the streets some months before, and it was an interesting story.

Andrew had told me about the encounter the day after they met, but then he didn't see Phuong again so couldn't bring him in to Blue Dragon. Phuong was shining shoes for backpackers, but his service was so good that he not only polished and cleaned; he also gave a bonus Oreo biscuit to his customers, delivered on a napkin. Service like that is unheard of!
Despite his entrepeneurial flair, Phuong has been doing it rough - real rough. So on Tuesday, our lawyer Van took him home to his family. Phuong is from a remote ethnic minority village; Van and the driver left at one thirty in the afternoon and got back to Hanoi 11 hours later.
The village was thrilled to see Phuong back. Neighbours flocked to see him; they couldn't believe their eyes. He'd been gone for over 6 months; he ran away after a dispute with his teacher at school. But all the villagers recognised that he's the brightest kid in their area; and there's no doubt, this kid has something very special about him.
Phuong is happily back with his parents now, and hopefully he'll feel comfortable to stay there. His family isn't too poor, but we do plan to keep sending him some books and games that will help keep him intellectually stimulated. This is one little boy with a bright future, but he needs to get back to school!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Habit

Over the past week, we've been confronted by a problem that we haven't had to deal with very seriously until now. And, just to keep us on our toes, we had to deal with two totally separate cases of the same problem in the same week.


Vietnam has some really strict laws on gambling. It's essentially illegal (apart from the government run daily lotteries), but also quite widespread. The cases that make the media are usually mind-blowing (like this one... and this one... and this one...)

Gambling is the same in any country or culture. It's an addiction that ruins lives. In this respect, Australia and Vietnam are no different.

The cases we've been dealing with have involved the older brothers of two of our kids. In unrelated incidents, one lost his savings on gambling so followed a friend to the market to rob shoppers; and the other gambled the taxi he leases... and lost.

Both of these young men have wives, infant children, and debts. Both are from families that have been devastated by the death of a parent in recent years. And both have younger brothers in Blue Dragon's program who were utterly torn apart by their arrest and imprisonment.

One case has had a reasonably happy ending - the police agreed to put an end to the case and record the crime without sentencing the man to prison. But in the taxi case, the young man is likely to spend several years in prison. The taxi owner is not impressed (and it's not the first time this has happened).

Although these older brothers haven't been able to support their younger brothers financially, there's a strong sense of reliance and interdependence. Vietnamese families are very close; to lose an older brother to prison is not dissimilar to losing one through death. Added to that, there's the added sense of shame which is very powerful.

This is one of those situations that Blue Dragon can't help much with. The law has to run its course; the young men have done something wrong, and it's reasonable that they be punished. But what loss and hurt their addictions have caused for their families.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

That other football

Being an Australian, I have major terminological problems when it comes to football.

I grew up with football as the game in which you run with the ball in your hands - rugby - as opposed to the kind of football in which you kick the ball - soccer.

Blue Dragon has a football (meaning soccer) team, called Real Betis Vietnam. We meet every Sunday morning and between 40 and 60 kids come to play an hour on dirt fields. It's great fun, and serves as a powerful outreach to the local community and to street kids.

But now we're starting to get into the other football (meaning rugby). Some local expats and the United Nations International School (UNIS) have started coaching and basic games for Vietnamese youth, as a way of introducing the Australian sport into Vietnam. The theory, of course, is that a game in which opponents stamp each other into the ground will be good for international relations.

So Blue Dragon kids have been heading up to UNIS on Saturday afternoons to learn to play - and they're having stacks of fun! Some photos to prove it...

Learning to drop kick

Girls can play too!

Some of you will recognise Quan, in the Blue shirt.
He was in Australia for surgery this time last year;
this is the first sport he has played since then.

OK, this isn't relevant.
Just a break for readers who aren't into sports.

Go, Thuy!