Monday, September 28, 2009

A day in court

People often ask me, "What jobs do the Blue Dragon kids do when they grow up?"

So far we have young adults who have gone on to work in restaurants and hotels... hairdressing... social work... electronics... motorbike repair... and small businesses (particularly shoe-making and mobile phone repair).

One of the challenges for the Blue Dragon staff is to encourage our kids to think more broadly: to find jobs that really interest them and suit their skills. Sadly, most disadvantaged youth in Vietnam think that they should simply find a job that suits their position in society - ie, poorly paid and with few prospects for the future.

So this week, the Education Coordinator, Trang, and one of our Child Rights Advocates, Hong, organised an outing to the Hanoi law court. Eight kids attended, including one who is just starting to study law at uni, and another who has just been released from a reform school!

The chief of the court took the time to show the group around and answer their myriad questions about how the court works and what jobs are available to those interested in the legal system.

Up to now, plenty of Blue Dragon kids have been on the wrong side of the law... But perhaps, in years to come, we'll have a few former Blue Dragon boys and girls sitting over on the other side of the judicial bench...

Outside the court

The whole gang

Inside the court, this is where the judge, prosecutor, and officials sit

The defendants...

... and saying thanks at the end.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Reading material

I've just come across this review of Dragon House. In case you're not sure about what Dragon House is, check out one of my earlier blogs, here.

And... in case you're not on the Blue Dragon mailing list, we have a quarterly newsletter out now, with a special focus on stories of rescue and escape. If you want to read that (and / or be on the mailing list), email the Amazing Amy at:

Another blog update on Monday - promise!


Friday, September 25, 2009

Blogging from Singapore

I have been a bad blogger - billions of things happening but not a moment to sit down and write about them!

- I am in Singapore, where one of the Blue Dragon kids has now officially started a 4 year scholarship at Chatsworth International School. He's all smiles, but exhausted - such a huge step for a boy who was once a trafficked child working on the streets of Saigon!

- Back in Hanoi, our lead Social Worker, Giang, organised a first aid workshop last weekend for parents who live on the Red River. These are desperately poor families living on rafts that are moored to the river bank - and there are myriad health risks that they deal with daily. Hopefully now they have a few new ideas about protecting themselves and each other. (That's the workshop in the photo below).

- And some big news that I'll write more about later - Hanh, one of our girls, has just been accepted into Art School. She's ecstatic. This has always been her dream. I'll put up another blog about this in coming days... it's really the most wonderful news...


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Shirt for sale

Something a little unusual today...

Long time Blue Dragon support Iain Purdie is raffling off this Blue Dragon soccer shirt to raise funds for us.

We plan to use the funds raised to support the 80 or so kids who come along and play every Sunday. The weekly matches are a big part of our outreach to children living in one of the roughest parts of Hanoi.

Go check out Iain's page - Exclusive football shirt raffle - and pass thee word along too your friends!


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Better than shoe shine

A great event took place yesterday: one of the Blue Dragon kids, a former shoe shine boy, opened his very own mobile phone shop here in Hanoi.

Nghia, who turns 18 in a month, has been working toward this for a long time. I first met Nghia 3 years ago in Ho Chi Minh City; his family is from a northern province but he'd made his way south to support his parents by working on the streets.

You can look at my original blog about meeting Nghia here - The Big Secret. Scroll down about half way to the paragraph starting "And here in Saigon".

Since then, Nghia has finished Grade 9 and also studied a few courses in mobile phone repair, including two internships in small mobile phone businesses. His dream all along has been to have a shop of his own; and as he stood yesterday behind his counter with a grin from ear to ear, all his hard work seems to have been worth it.

Nghia is not the first Blue Dragon kid to open a business. I've written about some previously, including in this post. But we don't have a whole lot of former street kids out there with their own businesses just yet; most of our kids are still too young, or have other dreams and ambitions.

For those who have taken this step, though, it can be very empowering to join the ranks of the self employed small business owner. I guess that's what shoe shining is, in its own way: a small business with customers, some investment in capital, and a need to turn a profit each day. The move from the streets to a rented shop is a significant step, though. Nghia's shop is a legitimate business; there's a respectability in what he does now that 'street kids' will never get by shining shoes.

We're really proud of Nghia. His perseverance, study, and determination have all come to something.

(In case you're in Hanoi, Nghia's shop is located at 18 Tran Khat Chan Street in Hanoi).


Sunday, September 13, 2009


I am still in Ho Chi Minh City, planning to return to Hanoi on Monday with Hugh and his daughter Lan. Yesterday we held a simple memorial service for Susan Adams at RMIT University, and there'll be another in Hanoi at the Hilton on Tuesday.

My natural instinct when faced with a tragedy like this is to think of those who are nearest and dearest to me. Because of the nature of my work, that's a whole lot of people. So over these past few days I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about the kids who live in Blue Dragon homes, and the street kids who come to our centre, and even those who have long since moved on from Blue Dragon and are living far from us. The introvert in me enjoys having time alone, but right now I am missing the many many people who give me comfort and encouragement through my own hard times.

Being away from Hanoi, I have missed out on a trip that my staff organised yesterday afternoon. During the week, one of the Blue Dragon social workers told me about a centre for children with HIV about an hour's drive from Hanoi. The centre has about 50 kids, and none of them have ever attended school so over the past year the staff have been working with the community and Department of Education to get the local people to accept 15 children into the school.

Everything seemed fine, until the very first day of school... Parents were out protesting, things got violent... And the kids were sent home with the clear message that they were not welcome.

(This article appeared online today - it's about a different centre in a different part of the country, but the story is eerily similar).

So the Blue Dragon staff decided to go out there on the weekend and spend some time visiting the children at the centre. It was intended as a token gesture - we wanted the children to have a different message. We wanted them to know that there ARE people who care for them.

Five staff went, and 5 kids from our Hanoi residence went along too. The photos below are of teens from Blue Dragon playing with infants at the centre.

We know that we haven't solved any long term problems... maybe this visit hasn't changed anything at all.

But an afternoon of playing together, eating together, and sharing gifts has hopefully given the children some encouragement that will help them deal with their feelings of rejection and abandonment.

I guess we all need some encouragement at times.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Farewell to a hero

Tonight I am writing from Ho Chi Minh City with the terrible news that Susan Adams, a long time friend of Blue Dragon, has passed away.

Susan was a hero to me: she and her husband Hugh were the very first supporters that I had back in 2002 when Blue Dragon Children's Foundation was no more than a vague idea.

In December 2002, one of my students at the University of Economics - Pham Sy Chung, who was working with me on the idea of establishing a charity - excitedly told me about Hugh and Susan. Hugh was also teaching at the uni, and Susan was the IMF Country Representative in Vietnam. "They'll help us, for sure," Chung told me.

I rolled my eyes. Although I'd been thinking about setting up some kind of organisation for only a short time, I was already tired of people promising help but coming up with absolutely nothing. For a moment I wanted to tell Chung "Forget about it - they won't help," but I figured I had nothing much to lose so I agreed to meet them.

We first met at the Hanoi Opera House, where Susan and Hugh had organised a concert to raise funds for a school for blind children. From the very start, they were committed. I remember Susan saying to me: "Tell me how we can help. We love what you're doing, so just tell us what you need."

And that was that. From that day on, both Susan and Hugh have always been available, always ready to get involved, and always there with a shoulder to lean on, or cry on, as required. In 2003, when it looked like I was going to be deported (that's a story for another time) it was Susan who came to my rescue. Without her involvement, Blue Dragon probably would not exist now.

And over the years, she has been an ongoing source of inspiration. Knowing that I am far from my own family and loved ones, she signs off every email with "Love, Mommy."

Susan, the world is in shock tonight. It seems much too soon for you to have left us. Thank you for all you gave. You will not be forgotten.


Saturday, September 05, 2009

Ring, ring

Just to make everyone (but my own)'s life more complex: I have changed my mobile phone number. Email me on bluedragon @ if you need to update your rolodex.

And to make this entry a little more interesting, here's an article for anyone who has ever asked me: "But isn't school free in Vietnam?"

Parents trapped in a web of school fees


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Tam on TV

I wrote last week that Channel 10 in Australia was showing a documentary featuring Tam Tran, who volunteered at Blue Dragon through an AusAid program.

Here's the clip of Tam from the documentary, via YouTube.

No Ordinary Journey

It goes for almost 8 minutes and gives some good insight into the work we do with street kids.