Sunday, April 12, 2009


Hanoi doesn't have many grassroots charities, so Blue Dragon is quite often in a position where we have to deal with every problem that comes our way - whether or not it's strictly part of our mission, or we have staff to deal with it.

An issue we have faced over the past few years has been how to help very young children whose families are in messy situations. Children aged as young as 5 or 6 have been turning up at our drop-in centre because their parents have died, or are sick, or are in prison, and they've been left in the care of a widowed elderly grandparent who has to work on the streets in order to survive.

Having preschoolers at the centre takes us away from providing a safe place for street kids; the little guys need a very different type of care and supervision. And our usual goals of leading the kids to greater independence, and encouraging self-motivation, just don't apply!

However, providing care to these children is still a terrific thing to do. Turning them away just isn't an option.

During 2008, we had a husband and wife team volunteering with us through VSO (the English volunteer program). Elaine was a school teacher, with a long history of caring for kids with special needs. She personally put in a huge effort with one little boy named Hai who was coming to our centre every day. Hai was so tiny that he looked much more like a 4 year old than a 6 year old; and he so badly lacked social skills that for the first 6 months of him coming to us, he had virtually no communication at all, with anyone. He wouldn't say a word, and he wouldn't look any of us in the eye.

Thanks in very large part to Elaine's efforts, Hai is a completely different child now. He runs about the centre, chattering and playing with stuffed animals like any normal child. And, also thanks to Elaine, our staff are well trained in working with Hai and know how to get through to other children with similar difficulties.

More recently, a little girl has also been coming to the centre every day: Hong, also just 6 years old. She had a wild gleam in her eyes when she first turned up. Her hair was tangled and her clothes were filthy, and her two main emotions were "disengaged" and "angry". The way she lectured and spanked the stuffed toys gave us a fairly good idea of what her home life was like.

But she, too, has undergone something of a transformation. She now smiles widely when she sees the staff; she wants to be picked up and hugged, and she treats the toys now with child-like concern for their welfare. Just like any little girl of the same age.

Having Hong and Hai at the centre made the place much noisier, and the staff have definitely been kept on their toes. But during this last week, our centre suddenly became much quieter.

Hong and Hai have both improved so much in their social skills that they are ready now for preschool. Until recently, no preschool would accept them. They couldn't interact with other children, and needed too much care and attention to fit in.

Remarkably, though, their first week at preschool has been fine, even though the school year is nearing the end. It's still early days, of course, but some early intervention seems to have had a pretty good result.

This might not be what Blue Dragon was set up for, but helping out these two preschoolers has undoubtedly been the right thing to do.


No comments: