Saturday, July 18, 2009

The comeback kids

Social enterprises are the latest craze in the world of development... and for once, it's a 'craze' that seems to be helpful and worthwhile.

The idea of a social enterprise is this: it's a profit making business that also has social, or environmental, goals. In Vietnam, there are several such enterprises that provide training to disadvantaged youth, particularly in the hospitality field. Blue Dragon has ventured this way with one enterprise called VIP Bikes, and many similar business are popping up all over the place.

While I support the idea of a social enterprise, the model has its limits. Recently someone was advising me that Blue Dragon should work more like a social enterprise, with a greater emphasis on training and job placement. The theory sounds good, but in practice it has its drawbacks.

Most of the kids Blue Dragon works with have been damaged by neglect and abuse. Some have been addicted to heroin; many have lived on the streets with nobody other than a gang to protect and care for them. Getting young people from such harsh backgrounds into training and jobs, and keeping them there, is quite a challenge.

So here's the dilemma that we face: if we chose to work with only those kids who are highly motivated, well behaved, and eager to learn, we could have a terrific success rate for all the world to see. But doing so means turning our backs on kids who have lived on the streets for years, run away from abusive families, and find relief in addiction and crime.

A social enterprise simply cannot work with kids from the latter group. How can a training restaurant operate with waiters who are in the habit of violently attacking anyone who criticises them, or with cooks who have never followed rules before in their lives?

But surely kids from such backgrounds also need some kind of program to at least offer them a chance at change.

This is what Blue Dragon does. Any young person who wants some help can come and talk to us, and have the chance to get back to school or find a job. Even those who have failed, again and again.

Over time, we have seen kids succeed when nobody thought they could. We've also seen kids who appeared to be doing really well suddenly fall away, lured by fast money or the excitement of the streets.

During the past week, we had to make the very difficult decision to send away two teenage boys who have been living in our Hanoi residence. Both have been with us for some years, and although they both made good progress in the past, neither has been working or studying for the past few months, despite their many promises and commitments to make a better effort. They've been having a great time in our house, but they haven't been keeping up their end of the bargain - to study, to learn, to prepare to be independent of us.

Friday night was their first night away from Blue Dragon for a very long time. And I think it came as a huge shock to them.

But for each of them, this is not the end. They were both at the rollerskating rink on Saturday afternoon, knowing that they'd see the other kids and me there. As I was leaving, one rolled up to me and asked to see me on Sunday morning. We'll see how that goes.

It hurts terribly to have to send kids away, to tell them that we can't help any more. I'm just hoping it will cause both of them to realise that they, too, have a duty and that they need to be making an effort.

We've seen plenty of young people in the past turnaround when nobody thought it possible. This is the strength of the way Blue Dragon works with street kids. There's always another chance; we just need the kids to make a comeback on their own, and we'll be right there waiting for them.


1 comment:

Lina said...

This is why your work is so important. I'm so thankful for the work you do for these kids. Where would they be without Blue Dragon?