Sunday, June 29, 2008

Surgery for 2

A couple of Blue Dragon boys have spent the weekend in hospital...

Many people are familiar with the story of Quan, a terrific kid who has had to live with a neurofibroma growing on his face. Quan's father is a xe om (motorbike taxi rider) and his mother sells fruit in a market - so this is a fairly poor family who could never afford the complicated surgery to restore their son's face to normal.

In March last year, with the fantastic help of Operation Smile Australia, we took Quan from Hanoi to Brisbane, where he underwent some very complicated surgery that removed almost all of the cancerous cells that made his face swell and grow.

Quan has been fine since then, but last week he started to experience pain in one of his legs, where he also has a (much smaller) cancerous growth. This one, too, is benign, but it's never caused pain before. Quan's mother took him to a local hospital, which carried out a series of tests, and booked Quan in for surgery on Monday June 30.

This operation should be fine - but let's keep those fingers crossed to be sure.

And anyone who read our June newsletter will know about 14 year old Tung from Bac Ninh province. Tung was severely burned in a fire at age 2, leaving much of his body significantly scarred. Both of his hands needed extensive surgery, but Tung's family has never had the money to get the operations done. Their local Women's Union raised money from the community to pay for one hand to be 'fixed', although one of his fingers has curled up again. So Tung has needed operations on 6 fingers, but just hasn't been able to find the way...

Until now! We wrote about this in our newsletter, and instantly had several people respond with pledges or offers to help. We called Tung's parents, and the next day Tung and his father turned up at our office so that they could go see a doctor with Giang, one of our social workers.

The doctor was very positive; if the family agreed, Tung could check in to a room right away and start surgery in the morning! (Those of us from western countries with 6-month waits to get ANYTHING done in a hospital are wondering how it could be so quick!!)

But Tung and his father had to think about what this means: 3 weeks of operations... pain... more trips to the city in coming months...

For Tung, this was a very easy decision. He wanted to check in immediately. He wants his hands to look like everybody else's, and his fingers to work properly!

After some quick discussions among the family, it was agreed, and Tung went back to the hospital. He's now had one finger repaired, and so far so good.

I've spent a lot of time in hospitals in the past 8 years, and fortunately none of it has been for me. I truly admire people who can stay positive through their pain; and when it comes to kids, I am astounded by their resilience and determination.

Both Quan and Tung have also been in hospitals a lot - too much - but unlike me, they've been there because of their own suffering. Let's hope for a happy ending for these kids.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


After an 18 month sabbatical from writing quarterly newsletters... they're back!

Blue Dragon has a new, exciting, dynamic newsletter! It's more popular than The Da Vinci Code... more insightful than Pride and Prejudice... and more coherent than anything by James Joyce.

Drop me an email if you'd like to be on the mailing list. (And I'm really, really sorry to all those Joyce fans. I know you're lovely people).

Thursday, June 19, 2008


With the summer holidays in full swing, Blue Dragon has been organising special trips for kids who need or deserve a break.

Each year we have a celebration for the kids who receive special awards for their efforts and results at school. This year, about 30 kids travelled to Cat Ba Island, where they played and toured for two days as a reward for their great work. Some of the children who went on the trip were teens who had never been to school before this year; their success was particularly noteworthy.

We received great support from Intrepid Indochina for organising and sponsoring this trip, as they did last year.

We also organised a trip to Halong Bay for 20 children with disabilities, none of whom had ever seen the beach before, and most of whom have never been outside Hanoi. Many had a parent accompany them, but for those without a carer Blue Dragon sent along some teens from our drop in centre who volunteered to help out.

This trip was fully sponsored by Buffalo Tours.

Although our main work is helping kids with day to day issues, special trips like these are still a valuable and worthwhile part of what Blue Dragon does. If nothing else, these girls and boys will have happy memories to last a life time!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Last words

Since I wrote last week, we've received lots of messages from people around the world who have been following Chau's story and wanted to express their feelings about his death. Thanks to one and all.

Chau's funeral took place on Sunday, so the family is still in the early stages of mourning. Their entire community, which is very poor, pitched in to help, as the family is now left with significant debts from the hospital treatment and funeral.

Although we couldn't save Chau, it's time for us now to turn our attention back to the kids we can keep from exploitation, as well as those who are far from home and need help to get back. While it sounds cliched, I think it's fair to say that our work is never ending.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Farewell, Chau

Today I have only sad news: 17 year old Chau from Hue has passed away.

Chau died at home on Thursday at about 10.15pm. He has suffered from cancer for over a year, and now his pain is finally over.

I have written about Chau previously - here's my last blog that mentioned him.

One of our staff will travel south to Hue on Saturday to attend the funeral. This will be a very difficult trip; although we have comforted many children in our care after they lost relatives, we have never had to attend the funeral of one of the kids in our programs.

There is no surprise that Chau has died - it's only been a question of time. But that doesn't reduce the grief for anyone, or lessen the sense of injustice about what he went through.

Long will you be remembered, Chau.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

And now for a news flash-

Here's an article in the local papers about kids being trafficked to work in garment factories. I've written about this issue before; it's great to see increased awareness.

Apologies for not writing much - it's not that nothing has been happening, but that too much has been happening! Stay tuned for an update over the weekend.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Another birthday blog

This is the third time I've written about birthdays in the last couple of weeks... but too many celebrations can't be enough!

Back in March, I wrote about a boy named Phuong who I met on the streets of Hanoi: see the original post here. He had run away from home some months before and was living and working in the Old Quarter. He was a very bright kid, and his parents were most thankful when our lawyer Van took him home. Tuesday this week was Phuong's 14th birthday, so Van made the journey to Phuong's home (a few hours' drive out of the city) to catch up.

Phuong will return to school in September - he ran away from home during Grade 8, so has to repeat the whole year. But he's happy about this, and all his neighbours and friends are still excited to have him back.

Phuong's family threw a party to celebrate his birthday (and the fact that Van was coming). It was a very nice confirmation that the little guy is much loved and wanted by his family and community.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Big Room turns 5

Today was a very special anniversary for Blue Dragon: the Big Room turned 5 years old!

The Big Room is the first residential home that we started, back in 2003. Blue Dragon wasn't even officially a recognised organisation then. We had no money, no staff, and no legal status, but we did have a group of kids who wanted to get off the streets and go back to school. So we took the plunge and rented a house.

The home started off with 6 teenage boys, all kids who I had met on the streets shining shoes. We employed one of their mothers to supervise and care for them, and also recruited a team of volunteers to teach English and run educational activities. Our budget for the first year was a whopping $5000! This was donated to us by some expatriate women who hardly knew us, but believed that we were trying to do the right thing. (Thanks, Chantelle and Danielle!)

Five years on... the kids aren't kids any more! There has been a lot of movement in and out of the house, as some kids have moved out and others have moved in. All residents now are 18 or over, and have good jobs - some in fine restaurants, and one even works at Blue Dragon. The Big Room gives them a much better home than they could otherwise have, while allowing them to save money so that they can move out eventually and have homes of their own.

Of course, over the years there have been many dramas and comedies at the Big Room. A broken arm... frightening visits from the police... and the now-infamous "beer on a string" incident (but you had to be there to understand it). In 2004, the German Embassy paid for an upgrade for the building, although in 2006 a project in a neighbouring school funded by Plan International completely blocked all natural light from entering the house. Grrr.... But anyway, over the years we've watched the kids become young adults and take their place in society.

Today's celebration was a chance to acknowledge the exceptional successes of a small group of street kids who took their destinies into their own hands. We're proud of ya, guys!

Moving in: June 2, 2003

Past and present residents - plus a few friends - celebrate the 5th anniversary

... and how could we have a party without a cake!?