Tuesday, January 20, 2009

That time of year

Christmas and New Year raced by in a blur, but here in Vietnam the real festive season is only now underway: Tet, or Lunar New Year.

The last few weeks have been incredibly quiet on the email front (my inbox has slowed right down from the usual 30-40 emails I normally get each day) - so I am guessing that most of the world is blissfully in holiday mode. But here, preparations for Tet have been quite consuming - hence my silence in recent weeks!

Blue Dragon is working in 4 locations in Vietnam, so this year we organised 4 parties: 1 each in Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An and Bac Ninh.

The Hanoi Tet Awards Night is our biggest celebration, as we recognise the children's individual achievements. This year, about 230 kids were invited to the night, which was held in the ballroom of the Sofitel Plaza. (No, we didn't win the lottery - the Hotel Manager, Antoine Lhuguenot, offered it to us free of charge! Amazing!) All of the children received a gift and a certificate congratulating them on their most outstanding achievements of the year, be it in schooling, social activities, or behaviour.

Chinh and Uyen gave the opening speeches at Tet Awards...

Food time!

... and of course, everybody wanted their photo taken.

It's hard to put into words, but this is a very special event: an outside observer would never know the incredible hardships that these children have been through over the past year. My blog only contains a fraction of the stories that could be told... but Tet Awards is the night to say farewell to the difficulties of the past, and welcome the new year with dancing, singing, and lots and lots of presents.

Hoi An, in Central Vietnam, celebrates "Tat Nien," which roughly means "end of year." The kids at the Hoi An Children's Home joined in a special Tat Nien party over the weekend, with gifts and singing and loads of food.

Up in Hue, we held our first ever Tet party for the 45 children we support there. These are kids who have previously been trafficked to work in garment factories or to sell flowers on the streets, as I've been writing about in recent posts. We brought all the children in to Hue City for the day (all the kids live far from town) and spent the morning visiting ancient sites. The kids joined in a lunch celebration before going home, but the final farewells were really sad... nobody wanted to say goodbye!

The kids gathered outside the ancient Hue Citadel

Lunch included a quick game with pipe cleaners!

And finally, the 350 children we send to school in Bac Ninh province, north of Hanoi, got together for their annual Tet celebration, complete with gifts and games. Organising games for 350 children is no mean feat, so this year we arranged some hilarious competitions that involved blindfolding pairs of kids and getting them to feed yoghurt to each other... you get the idea. It was a riot.

So what's the point of all this? Isn't this just fun for the sake of fun? Yeah, it is. Blue Dragon has a statement of beliefs that starts off with the words: "All children have the right to be children." This really struck me at the Hue celebration in particular, where I toured the city with children who I had met in factories or on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, but who were now, somehow, younger than when I first met them. They were just - well, children. The pressure of producing garments, or making enough money to prevent the traffickers from beating them, was gone. They could laugh and tease each other, they could fool about and simply be themselves.

What could be more worthwhile than that?