Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Don't forget the parents

A very common mistake made by charities is forgetting that street kids have families, too.

Of the 800 girls and boys Blue Dragon works with, most have a parent. Some have both parents. Just a few have none, but even those kids usually have an aunt, or a grandfather, or an older cousin.

To have a lasting impact on the life of a child, getting their family involved can be very important. Over the years, there have been some striking cases of parents who didn't care at all about the welfare of their own children, but I'm glad to say that they are the minority. The problem we see much more often is that of parents who simply don't know how to care.

This is something that Blue Dragon can help with.

Last weekend, we ran a two day workshop for parents on anger management and positive discipline. 22 parents came and joined in, which is pretty good... especially as most had to forego a couple of days of earning money in order to do that. (Most parents of Blue Dragon kids work in markets, or collect scrap on the streets. They can't apply for holiday leave from these jobs!).

The parents went away with some new ideas for dealing with their kids; and it was so well received that another course is already being planned for April. Hopefully the children will appreciate the results of this course too!

The photo below is of Mr Hao, a local psychologist from the Institute of Psychology,
working with a group of parents.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Open for business

Microfinance has become all the rage in recent years.

Some very well managed programs have sprouted in developing countries and have been so tremendously successful that even private businesses and investors have jumped on the bandwagon to lend money to very poor people. Some investors are turning over a healthy profit from this kind of enterprise.

Blue Dragon has been a bit slower to get involved. We don't have the expertise to run a microfinance program - it's much more than just giving out cash and hoping to get it back later. And there's also the fact that we work with children, rather than adults.

Despite this, we've now helped a few young people to start their own businesses, and the results are fairly good so far.

I've written before about the Gold Dragon Shoe Shop in Hoi An which was started by a former street kid named Nam. Even though Hoi An is struggling with the drop in tourist numbers now, Nam's shop is doing OK and he's continuing to use some of his profits to support the Hoi An Children's Home.

More recently, we've helped two older teens establish mobile phone sales and repair shops. One boy, named Doan, was shining shoes in Hanoi when we first met him. He's had a pretty tough life and has long dreamt of 'making something' of himself. Late last year, he set his mind to opening his own business, and with some backing from Blue Dragon he's done it - and going well.

Another young guy with a business idea was a teenager named Thanh, who lives in the countryside with his three brothers. Their parents died a few years back, leaving them in massive debt and without many choices for the future. With some help from donors around the world, Blue Dragon paid off their debts and Thanh has just opened his own mobile phone stand near a university in Hung Yen province.

For both Doan and Thanh, we have helped out with a small grant, as well as a loan that they need to repay over the coming year. And to make sure they can do it, each boy has to come and meet with our accountant Tra once a month to make sure their record keeping is all in order and everything is under control.

From some very small steps, we've had a huge impact on the lives of these teenagers and their entire families. I don't think we'll ever extend our program to help thousands of kids open their own shops, but it's great to see how effective we can be with just a bit of money and guidance.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Some happy news from Hanoi... a group of school students from Maine dropped by and organised to take some of our kids with disabilities to 10 pin bowling last weekend.

Teenagers from the Blue Dragon center joined in to help out... a terrific afternoon for everyone. I'll let the photos tell the story...

Thursday, March 12, 2009


It's time for the biggest publication of the quarter - the Blue Dragon Newsletter!

If you haven't received a copy, send an email to Amy at This edition features an article on how the global financial crisis is impacting Vietnamese families, as well as stories on the kids at Blue Dragon.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Although I'm in Sydney now, the team back in Vietnam has been taking care of things (as usual!) and it's a great relief to know the kids are in good hands.

A couple of important updates...

- Although we couldn't locate the 4 missing children from Hue last week, we have some new information about which factories they might be in. A local journalist, who has been following this case, and some police will be following up these leads in a day or two. We're really hopeful that this matter will be resolved soon.

- The very first trafficked child we ever rescued, Ngoc, is starting this week as a kitchen hand at Pane e Vino restaurant in Hanoi! Ngoc is still at school, but as his classes are only in the afternoons he's been studying cooking at a vocational training college and now he's ready to start earning some money. We're all really proud to see Ngoc taking these steps to independence.

- There are several Blue Dragon kids about to start in apprenticeships or training courses - ranging from hairdressing courses to mobile telephone repair to English classes at Language Link. At the same time, we're speaking to our older kids who are thinking about university. This August we're expecting to have at least 5 of the Blue Dragon teenagers applying to uni and college.

- And I'm getting ready for a big fundraising dinner in Cabramatta this Saturday night. The Vietnamese Australian community is putting on a special evening to raise support for the victims of trafficking who we have been helping. If you're in Sydney and want to find out more, contact the organiser, Vuong, on It will be a great night...

I plan to post another blog in a day or two - sorry for the recent silences!


Friday, March 06, 2009

From afar...

I'm in Australia now, here to attend some events for Blue Dragon. Strange to be here - everything seems so quiet, and clean, and well organised... I really feel out of place!

Back in Vietnam, our staff are working out how to locate the 4 missing children who I wrote about in the last 2 blogs. We're not going to give up on them. We are getting some information through our networks - we know they're safe, at least, which is something. But they need to be home with their families, not slaving away in factories against their will.

And a quick note: we've created a new webpage for Blue Dragon. Go check it out here - - and let us know what you think. (Oh, and drop us a line if you see any errors! It really is brand spanking new!)


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

It's bad news

This morning I wrote that Blue Dragon staff are looking for kids who seem to have been kidnapped from their families in Hue. We had some potential leads, but they've all fallen through.

We haven't found them.

But this is not the end - we just need to get creative. The traffickers have lied to the families about where the children are, and they've also lied to government officials who contacted them by phone to ask for their address.

Seems to me that the traffickers are digging themselves a deep hole. It's bitterly disappointing that we have not located the 4 kids, but we will. We're not giving up on this.



There's a new and frightening twist to my tales of child trafficking here in Vietnam...

For some years now, Blue Dragon has been rescuing trafficked children and doing our best to disable the trafficking rings. We've had some good success although it's been long, slow work. Our focus has been children from Hue, in central Vietnam, who have been taken to Saigon to work on the streets or in garment factories.

Up until now, the traffickers have simply relied on deceit to get parents to hand their children over. They've promised training, an education, a free flow of money... all lies, but very persuasive. The families they target live in extreme poverty, often in tents or shacks erected on sand.

Things are different now: the families and communities are fully aware of the traffickers, they know about their lies and they refuse to sell their children. The traffickers don't have such an easy job any more.

In response, the traffickers appear to have suddenly started something new: taking the children without anybody's knowledge or permission.

There are 4 families in Hue, all living in terrible conditions, who each lost one child on one day about 2 weeks ago. The parents went out fishing on the sea, and when they returned their child was gone. No explanation. But now there are reports that the 4 children have turned up in Saigon, working in a garment factory...

I hesitate to call this kidnapping, because I don't have all the facts yet. There's not much chance that the children ran away: they wouldn't have the resources to travel 600kms and then find a factory! But maybe they agreed to go with the traffickers - which is still a dubious explanation. They're all under 16, so the traffickers knew that they'd need the parents' consent.

I'm not sure how this story is going to end. Too much doesn't make sense yet. Our lawyer, Van, is in Saigon now looking for the children, and we do have reason to hope he will find them. But Saigon is a large city... And the traffickers are not going to be happy to see him.

I hope to have some news tonight or on Wednesday. Here's hoping it's good news.