Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Stuff for schools

Around Vietnam, Blue Dragon is helping about 1000 kids aged from 5 to 21.

Most of these kids are still students - which means we are also working with about 40 schools.

Our goal for the schools is to help them serve their students better, and one way we can do this is by providing the basic equipment that they need. This is especially important as many of the schools we work with are in very poor rural areas, and most of their students live in serious poverty.

This week, I am very happy to say that Blue Dragon is providing equipment to 8 of those schools, all in rural Bac Ninh province. Some schools need computers; some need desks and chairs; and still others need books for their students.

As a former teacher myself, I understand how important it is for schools to have good teaching resources for the benefit of all of their children. It's great to be in a position to help these schools, and I sure hope that we can help many more in 2011.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Day at Blue Dragon

The Blue Dragon kids and staff had a terrific Christmas party yesterday. The full set of pics are here, on Facebook.




Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Christmas!

To all Blue Dragon's friends around the world - a very happy Christmas to you!

Here in Hanoi, we're planning a party in the park for Saturday the 25th. I'll post some photos over the weekend.

Today we were invited to have lunch at the Sofitel Plaza, so about 15 of us ate at the Ming Palace Restaurant - what a treat! (See below to get a glimpse of our feast). It's a bit hard to not sneak home early and have a nap...







Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Well, it's kind of like this...

Apologies for the silence these last few weeks! Anyone who knows me well will know that my lack of blogging can only mean one thing: too much is going on!

Over the last couple of months, we've had some very complicated happenings that read like a season of Prison Break - so it's been easier to say nothing than try to explain.

Here's the sanitised summary: back in October, our shelter was robbed by a masked intruder at night. Whoever was involved was tightlipped about it - for about 6 weeks there was not a murmur on the streets about who had done this, although we had our suspicions.

One of the very few people who knew what had happened finally opened up after a near fatal accident - but in telling us was risking his life and so had to disappear. His sudden compulsion to tell the truth came about when he saw how all his 'friends' abandoned him the moment he was in trouble, while Blue Dragon staff stood by his side and cared for him.

In short, he told us who the 3 burglars were, and how they had planned and carried out their crime.

So we knew who had robbed us, but had only the testimony of someone who was both implicated and on the run.

We passed information on to the police, including the names of the 3 young men who were involved, but nothing happened. And then - still nothing. And then - some more weeks of nothing.

Finally, the ring leader (I'll call him "C") was caught for a separate offense. He was riding a stolen motorbike, racing without a helmet, and carrying weapons. He confessed to robbing us.

And then he was released.

Some more weeks of 'nothing' ensued. During this time, it was quite difficult for me and my staff to see these guys every other day - to pass them on the street and see them wave at us! - but not be able to do anything.

Last week, the other 2 young men were detained, again on separate charges: apart from robbing Blue Dragon, they were leading a crime spree which seems to have involved stealing at least 30 motorbikes. They're now in serious trouble and, apart from one of the guy's mothers ringing us to ask if we'll help to get them released (you really think we'd do that!?) it looks like we won't have to worry about them any more.

The ringleader, C, however, continues to enjoy his freedom. He spends his days at an internet cafe near where our football team plays, and his nights stealing motorbikes. But we continue to hope that someone will eventually catch him.

To top it all off, someone made a half hearted attempt at robbing my house recently, and got away with a rag and a broken carry bag. They then rang me to claim that they were dead, and blame me for that. (Eh?)

Oh well, this is the silly season, I suppose.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Balloons and baked bread

The kids at Blue Dragon's Hanoi centre have had a real treat for the last couple of weeks.

Some amazing Singaporean volunteers have been visiting and teaching basic cooking skills. They even donated an oven, so the kids have been baking away every afternoon and creating all kinds of sweet dishes to share - brownies, bread, and a great assortment of cakes.

While the food bakes, the kids are learning to make balloon shapes. It's just too much fun!

Special thanks to the great people at Wow! who have organised all this.

Pics below...








Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fish for sale

Wanna buy a fish?

Mrs Be, of Hue province, has 130kg of fish for sale.


For the past 12 months, Mrs Be has been learning to raise fish in the lagoon near her home. She's learned to record data and information; she's battled (successfully) against disease; she's learned to determine when the fish need more food, and when they have too much. She's even learned how to make suitable under-water cages to keep the fish contained.

This has all been part of a program to help families in Mrs Be's community improve their incomes.

Why is this important?

Mrs Be's daughter, Diep, is one of the 94 children we've rescued from trafficking. Her village is a 'hot spot' for child traffickers, who take girls and boys to Ho Chi Minh City to work like slaves in garment factories. Diep was just 13 years old when she was taken to the factories where she worked for 8 months until we took her home.


Mrs Be's fish harvest is worth about $500US - the most money she's ever made in her life! She and the other families will put some of this money back into a community fund to help other poor families; and in coming weeks Mrs Be will use some of her profit to start growing more fish.

Fighting trafficking is not just about rescuing kids from factories. It's also about ensuring the long term safety and livelihood of their family and community. Growing fish isn't a huge part of what we do here at Blue Dragon, but it sure has been important for Mrs Be and her daughter Diep.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Preparing for the big world

As part of Blue Dragon's program for disadvantaged kids in Hanoi, teenagers are invited to take part in occasional workshops on career choice and goal setting.

This afternoon, our psychologist and social workers ran a session for 10 kids from a variety of backgrounds - some were former street kids, some from generally disadvantaged families - to get them thinking about what they want for their futures.

Our psychologist, Lan, leading the workshop.


The 'expectation' tree: what I expect from the future.


Tell me more!


Trying to hit a goal without knowing where to aim...


Overall - a great success!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Every day is a happy day

... or so says the sign that welcomed me to a school in Bac Ninh province today.

More precisely, this says: Every day of going to school is a happy day.

That's not exactly how I remember my school days, but today was a happy day indeed.

I traveled this morning to 3 schools in a rural area about 40 km from Hanoi, where Blue Dragon supports kids to study. We're currently supporting over 500 children in this province, from Grades 5 through to 12, and that number will rise to 600 by January.

The kids in this province are usually living with their family, but without a helping hand they'd have to quit school and would end up working on the streets or be trafficked south. Just last week my staff had to intervene in an 'employment' situation in which one of the girls from Bac Ninh was clearly on the way to being tricked and exploited... that was no hairdressing shop...

Tuyen, our program coordinator, and I went to Yen Phong Secondary School (Grades 6-9) this morning to visit the school's brand new library. A private donor gave us the funds to build this - a neat little building inside the school grounds.


The kids were excited to finally be allowed to look inside, so of course the first thing they did was grab the books off the shelves and get reading!


At our next stop, a primary school a few kilometers down the road, we arrived in time for the kids' morning break... which was announced by some catchy pop music, instead of the normal 'beating of the drum'; and we soon discovered that the music was also a call for all the kids to get out into the playground and dance!


I've never seen anything quite like it. What a way to start your break time!

With the dancing behind us, Tuyen and I headed off to a high school (Grades 10-12), which was possibly the most impressive high school I've seen in rural Vietnam. It was super-well organised; many students approached me to speak in English; and the principal spoke proudly of the links he has forged with the locally-based foreign industries to ensure that his students who don't make it to university can still get a decent job. The school also had some terrific facilities which appear to have been paid for by the principal twisting the arm of local business leaders. Good job, I say!

Underlying all the niceties, though, was a disturbing common theme: the schools are battling a set of growing social problems as their province develops financially. Heroin use, each school said, was on the rise. Those most likely to end up with an addiction are young unemployed adults - especially those who quit school early and so have few job prospects.

Compounding the problem, ironically, is that some major electronic and mobile phone companies have set up and so bought land from the farmers. The compensation was very generous - and resulted in a large number of people suddenly having a lot of money and nothing to do. Their land was gone, so they had nowhere to farm rice; but they also had no idea of what to do with all their new money. Many families chose to knock down their perfectly adequate homes and build new, multi-storey houses... only to find they had little left to support their families into the future.

As a former teacher, I always enjoy visiting schools and getting a feel for how the 'school community' works. Today I was reminded of what an important role schools play in our world. It was truly heart warming to see how these 3 schools each grapples with the social problems of their neighbourhood - one through building a library, one through dance, and one through business partnerships.

It's a great feeling to be a part of that, and to know that we are making a difference.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rising tide

Spare a thought today for the kids and staff of the Hoi An Children's Home who are battling the annual floods that have hit the town.

So far there have been no serious problems - the first flood has been fairly low and is receding already. However, the radio is warning of a much larger flood coming down the river soon.

The kids are all OK - their spirits are higher than the water! - but when the time comes to start cleaning, they're all in for a challenge!

Some pics below to show how it's been so far...

This is the view of the front yard, taken from the steps of the home:





And here's the front view of the Home. All the kids have to move up to the top floor to escape the flood - and all the equipment, files and electrical items must be carried up the stairs.



And finally... here's how the staff get to work, and how the kids get to school:

Saturday, November 06, 2010

A moment of pride

I'm starting to sound a bit like an old drum at the moment - constantly banging on about road accidents in Vietnam. But for the last couple of weeks, they've been a recurring theme at Blue Dragon.

Two older teens who have both lived in Blue Dragon's shelters in the past, and have since been living independently, were involved in a pretty awful crash just over a week ago. The details are still unclear but they were riding around Hoan Kiem Lake at midnight, probably racing, and naturally without helmets.

They crashed hard, the rider slamming into a pole and his pillion being thrown into the front wall of somebody's house.

The pillion - who I'll call Nam - has just been released from hospital after a couple of days in intensive care followed by a week in recovery. The rider is still in intensive care, and doctors are not optimistic about his chances of survival.

My feelings about this are terribly mixed. I'm worried, concerned, angry, and sad all at the same time. What were they doing racing the streets? Why weren't they wearing helmets? The rider was in a very serious accident just last year - did he learn nothing?

And yet, I can't forget that these are young guys running wild in a world that cares little for them. Maybe they feel that they have nothing to lose.

I was visiting Nam in hospital early in the week with 3 of the Blue Dragon kids. Nam's uncle was looking after him (in Vietnam, you need a relative to look after you round the clock in hospital) so we made quite a crowd around Nam's hospital bed.

Like me, Uncle was confused and upset by all this. But unlike me, Uncle believes that lecturing Nam is the best way to go; just keep on telling him what he's doing wrong, and he'll certainly improve! The distant, long suffering look in Nam's eyes told me that Uncle had something of a history of lecturing.

At this point, the 3 kids who were with me decided to speak up. Not in a rude way, either: they couldn't be faulted for their politeness. But they wanted Uncle to understand more about Nam, and to have some empathy with street kids.

The boys knew what they were talking about, too.

One is a 23 year old, studying in Grade 8, who ran away from home at age 16 because he'd never been to school and he wanted to learn to read and write. He had to twice escape from a detention centre to get back to his studies, and he now works part time for another charity.

One is training now to be a mechanic, but he was one of the first of the trafficked children who we helped to escape from Ho Chi Minh City back in 2006.

And the third boy has recently returned to Hanoi after 18 months in a reform school. He has an amazing history of his own - he's lived an absolutely wild life on the streets at times, but is now making an incredible effort to 'buckle down' and do his best. He's living in our shelter and working full time at a local restaurant, while also studying English in the evenings.

So these 3 young guys knew what they were talking about when they spoke up in defence of street kids.

Each took a turn at explaining to Uncle that they, too, have been through periods of running on the wrong side of the law; that they too have spent time on the streets, living from day to day and not thinking about tomorrow. But, they reasoned, they made it through - with a helping hand from people who cared about them. Uncle nodded, understood, and asked them more about their experiences.

Nam listened to all this too - I guess you could say he was a captive audience - and although he said nothing, I know this had an impact on him.

And as for me - what a great moment to stand and listen to these 3 guys sharing their experiences, warts and all, and argue that every kid deserves another chance. I left with tears in my eyes.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

It's a trap!


Well... maybe or maybe not...

But we've recently discovered a book being sold called Blue Dragon Children's Foundation for over $80... and the publishers, known as Alphascript, seem to be well known for taking free articles off the internet and selling them for rather a lot.

Our good friends at Wikipedia explain it here.

Anyway, if you seriously want to part with $80 or $90, go for it! Just beware that the book isn't from us and doesn't benefit our kids in any way! (We'd hate for one of our supporters to buy it thinking that it was our own publication!)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The price of gold

Spot the difference:

The Super Rich Are Buying Gold

vs.

Runaway prompts police probe into gold mine slavery

Yes, "gold mine slavery". I've written about this once before, just over a year ago - the link is here - and it's clearly still a common and widespread practice here in Vietnam.

That article is worth reading. The photo below, taken from Thanh Nien News, is of a 15 year old boy who fled a brutal gold mine and spent a month lost in the mountains.


In another news item, billionaire George Soros suggests that the surge in gold prices won't last because gold "is costly to dig up."

Not in Vietnam, Mr Soros.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

That time already?

Blue Dragon has launched its annual Christmas campaign!

This year we're trying something new. I haven't seen other charities doing anything like this, so we thought we'd take a different approach.



On our website, there are 13 photos to choose from. You can receive any of the photos by giving a donation to our Christmas campaign. Some photos are taken by the kids, and some by professional photographers who have donated their images to us.


And here's the deal: You get to choose how much you will donate for each of the photos. There are set amounts to choose from, corresponding to specific needs of our kids.

For example: a $10 donation will buy a set of text books for a school kid.

$25 will buy a huge bag of gifts for a child at Lunar New year.

$100 will provide medical care for a very sick child.

... and so on.

There are more details on the web site, of course - click here to see. Donations of under $50 will get you a 12cm x 15cm photo, slotted into a blank card - so it can be used as a Christmas card for friends and family. A donation of over $50 will get you a 20cm x 30cm print, which can be framed and hung.


We've kicked off the campaign early so we have plenty of time for postage. The website does have all the details, but email James - james@bdcf.org - with any questions.



Special thanks to the photographers who have let us use their images!

Particularly as this is something so new, we're happy to hear some feedback from you on what you think of the concept...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wrap up

I'm back in Hanoi now, and the 11 kids plus 2 staff have just arrived in Hue on the train. On Wednesday morning, their local People's Committees - roughly equivalent to village councils - will have an official 'welcome back' party, and each of the kids' families will receive gifts.

Blue Dragon's 2 staff in Hue will then start their job of finding out more about each of the children and working out what needs to be done to keep them safely at home.

Three of the 11 are from a commune we've never worked in before; rescuing them from the factories was the first step in us ending trafficking in an area called Vinh Hung. With a population of over 7800, government estimates are that there are 50 children working in southern factories at any given time. I'm hoping we can verify that figure - collecting data and gathering accurate statistics are among the myriad challenges we face in this work.

Two other great challenges stand out at the moment.

First, the issue of collecting evidence of conditions in the factories. I have posted some images and video clips in the past to give an indication of what it's like for the kids, but it seems that this latest trip has yielded nothing in the way of 'visual evidence'. There's still a chance there are some photos that haven't been handed over to me yet, but so far what we have is really uninformative.

It's very difficult to capture such evidence. Naturally, the factory owner and his family and colleagues will do everything they can to prevent us from taking video and photos. Sometimes they do this by surrounding the staff, which can be rather intimidating. Unless you have considerable experience, it's not easy to take photos while you are feeling physically threatened.

But the conditions that the kids live and work in are dreadful. Here's a typical example:

The 2 boys pictured below are aged 14 (yellow shirt) and 15 (red shirt). They are among the 11 who have just returned home. The woman beside them is a Blue Dragon staff member; the man in the middle is Mr Sa, an official from Hue; the man in blue is the factory owner; and the man on the end is a Red Cross worker.


For these boys, the working day in the factory started at 6am. They sat on the concrete floor cutting out cloth until 12pm, at which time they had a 2 hour break for lunch and a nap. From 2pm to 6pm - back to work, then an hour for dinner. Finally, they worked from 7pm to midnight.

Sunday was their "day of rest:" they worked as normal, but finished at 6pm instead of midnight.

They were paid, sort of... at Lunar New Year, the factory owner will (or says he will) send money to their parents, as originally agreed. It will come to about $200 in total, if they are lucky.

So they've been working 100 hours per week, and their families will receive the equivalent of less than $20 per month.

You see why I worry about how we can collect better evidence about this?

The second challenge we face is one that starts now: how to best help the kids once they get back to their villages.

All of the 11 are aged 13-15, and each has been out of school for too long. Very few are likely to want to, or be able to, return to school. They each have the idea of "hoc nghe", or vocational training, but none is old enough to study a trade. And who's to say they are suited to vocational training anyway?

Back in their villages, the kids are likely to be bored. If they do return to school, they'll be in classes with much younger students - and not only much younger, but vastly less 'worldly wise.' The kids might have trouble fitting in.

Ideally, I can imagine creating an informal school that might be seen as 'pre-vocational training,' without necessarily leading on to vocational training. But some hands on, child-appropriate learning of a range of disciplines to give the 'returnees' a taste of several different fields of study and employment - IT, mechanics, beauty, hospitality, languages. Sadly, that's just a dream for now.

Without diminishing our joy at having 11 kids out of the factories and back with their families, I acknowledge that there continue to be some grave challenges ahead.

This work really is for the long term, and not something we can finish off neatly with a single trip to the south.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Eleven, and done

We're finished!

In complete contradiction to my blog this morning, we've had the smoothest and quickest rescue trip yet.

Six boys and 5 girls, aged 13 to 15. Lots of tears were shed - tears of relief.

Homeward bound we go!

Making waves

A quick update from Saigon...

We've had terrific progress this morning - we already have 7 kids out of factories, and it's only midday here in Vietnam. The team is working like a steamroller, going from factory to factory. The traffickers have been taken by surprise.

Hoping to post a photo tonight...

It's on!

This morning I am blogging from Saigon, where a team from Blue Dragon and Hue government officials have come to look for kids trafficked into garment factories.

We have a window of 30 hours. Even by now, word will be out that we're in town, and traffickers will be starting to hide the kids away so that we can't find them.

For a few reasons, this is a logistically difficult rescue trip, so we're not expecting to take home a great many kids. However, getting just one child out of slavery is worthwhile, so we know our time and resources won't be wasted.

I'll post another update within the next 12 hours - but be aware that I don't have constant access to internet for the next day or so. Apologies in advance if I'm slow to respond to messages.

Hoping to have good news VERY soon...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A day out

Last week, I received a text message in Vietnamese which said, roughly translated: "Michael oi, do you have free time? I want to spend a day with you before I go away."

The message was from a 16 year old whom I'll call Han. He used to live at the Blue Dragon shelter; at age 14, he'd never been to school before so he lived with us for over a year while he studied and learned basic literacy. But then he moved out to live with his mother again, and sadly he didn't seem interested in either continuing to study or finding a job.

Like teenagers anywhere, having nothing to do inevitably meant that he ended up getting in to trouble - and lots of it.

In January this year, a few months before his 16th birthday, Han was out with a group of friends looking to make some fast money. They robbed a young man on the street, injuring him quite badly, and made off with his cash.

Brash and brazen, but not well planned. They were caught pretty soon afterwards and before long found themselves in court.

Blue Dragon employs 2 Child Rights Advocates - supporting and defending kids in trouble with the law is a major part of what we do. But Han told us nothing of this; it was only after the court case that we found out he'd been in trouble.

The court verdict: 3 years in an adult prison.

I have no doubt that Han deserves a strong punishment. He used a knife in the robbery. He attacked someone on the street. He has no excuse for any of that.

However, the severity of the sentence seemed shocking.

Han and the co-defendants indicated that they would appeal, and so they were not sent immediately to prison; in an act of leniency, the court allowed them to go out on bail until the appeal was heard.

At this point one of our lawyers, a young woman named Hong, became involved, but we held out little hope. Some research and meetings with court officials indicated that the most likely outcome of an appeal would be a 6 month reduction. We were told that Han could try offering compensation to the victim, but the suggested amount was well over what most staff at Blue Dragon earn in a year. Han doesn't have that kind of money, and nor did we think it was morally right for us to pay it on his behalf; it would be like we were helping him avoid punishment. That's not why donors give us money!

So when the court case finally came around, we were expecting the very worst. A sentence to an adult prison for a 16 year boy who looks quite young for his age would be disastrous.

But the result of the appeal: 2 years in reform school!

Now, I have to admit that I'm usually sad to see the kids go to reform school. In Han's case, though, I'm thrilled! Reform school is a much more suitable punishment; it's not going to be an easy ride, but it's more appropriate to his age and he'll still be deprived his freedoms for long enough to think seriously about what he's done.

And then the icing on the cake: Hong asked the court to delay sending Han to reform school in order to allow him to attend his brother's wedding a couple of weeks later. They agreed!

I don't think I should say that there's a happy ending to this story; I will only be able to say that in a couple of years if Han comes out of reform school and has had a genuine change of heart. Here's to hoping.

For now, it was nice to spend some time riding about Hanoi with Han, drinking coffee by the Opera House and visiting another young man, a former gang leader who is opening his own business.

The police will be coming soon to detain Han - he doesn't know when, but the brother's wedding is over so it won't be long now. And in 2 years, or less with good behaviour, he'll be back with a chance to make something of his life.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A 17th, a first

Monday night was one of those occasions that remind me of how special our work here at Blue Dragon really is.

Hung (pictured - in the red shirt) invited a few of us to celebrate his 17th birthday with him. Alongside Hung in the photo below are Giang, our Social Work coordinator; Vi, a volunteer who has been teaching Hung; and yours truly.


Being asked to join in this party was special for a few reasons.

Above all: this was Hung's first ever birthday party. He's never celebrated his 'special day' before; never had a cake and people singing "Happy birthday" for him.

Personally, I find some sorrow in that. I feel a bit guilty. I've known Hung for about 4 years - and I've never known his birthday.

But I've come to realise that Hung has never before told us about his birthday; he's never wanted us to celebrate with him. It's been his own secret, and only now does he want to share his birthday with others.

Hung's birthday was also special because of where he's come from.

All of the Blue Dragon kids have a powerful story; there's always pain and sadness. That's why they're with us. On a public forum such as this blog, though, I cannot always go into the details. For Hung, suffice to say that he's had a rocky ride, and it's just in the past few months that he's really started getting his life together.

He's working in one of Hanoi's best restaurants... he's living in our shelter again... he's studying at the centre after work... and I've never seen him with a more positive outlook on life.

After dinner (pizza!) as we headed out into the autumn night, Hung couldn't stop thanking us for taking him out to dinner. And yet, each of us felt that we should be thanking Hung for letting us join in his special day.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Grandma

The past was marked by a very sad event: the death of one of the Blue Dragon grandmothers, Ba Thi.

Many of the kids at our centre live with grandparents; typically, the older generation is looking after grandkids who have been abandoned by their own parents, and sadly this is often because of drugs. The grandparents who are in this situation, raising infants, children and teens, strike me as being true heroes: sacrificing everything to help the kids.

Ba Thi was one of those heroes. Aged 72, she was caring for 3 grandchildren, aged 2 to 12, and supported this makeshift family by selling tea at Hanoi's famous Hoan Kiem Lake. Earlier this year, as I watched the Lunar New Year fireworks at the lake, Ba Thi spotted me there and plied me with green mango and sweets, asking nothing in return.

Blue Dragon's main involvement with Ba Thi has been to support her eldest grandson, Hiep. He's a very serious little boy, too old and wise for his age and tiny demeanour - he's already seen way too much of this world. When he was a bit smaller, his grandmother would ride her bicycle to Blue Dragon in the mornings with Hiep dangling on the back, then she'd ride back in the afternoon to pick him up. She always had a smile and wanted to chat. Just from seeing her, you'd never know the hardship that she lived in.

On Tuesday, Ba Thi was riding her bicycle over Long Bien bridge with her 2 year old grandchild on the back when a passing motorbike hit her from behind. She was thrown onto the road and hit her head, knocking her immediately into unconsciousness. The young man on the motorbike called for help and made sure Ba Thi was rushed to hospital - but after a day or so in a coma, she passed away. The grandchild, fortunately, was uninjured.

Thursday's funeral was a strange event: the whole thing was run by the father of the motorbike rider and Blue Dragon's newest and youngest staff member. I figured that half of the mourners were either high or drunk, and most stood around in clusters angrily damning the young man who had hit Ba Thi. None of them seemed to be paying any attention to little Hiep or his brothers, who comforted each other and looked just like sad little men, all alone.

It was pretty clear that the one person who truly loved and cared for Hiep has now died. And Hiep is well aware of that.

(Incidentally, the man who caused the accident is in police custody, and I can't help but feel terrible pity for him. He's only 21 himself, and as far as I can tell he wasn't doing anything particularly dangerous or malevolent).

For now, Hiep is staying at the Blue Dragon shelter. We're not sure yet if a family member will want him to live with them, or if his move to our Home will be permanent.

He's more than welcome to stay with us - he's a terrific little guy, and would fit in well. But I'd like to think that some family members will want to put up a fight to look after him themselves.

(I have changed the names in this story to protect Hiep's identity. This article, in Vietnamese, also reports on the incident but has maintained anonymity. The child pictured was with Ba Thi at the time of the accident).

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Heading back

After 2 weeks away from Vietnam, I'm finally en route home!

It's been an exciting 2 weeks - for various reasons. The time in New Zealand and Melbourne has been great, with some terrific offers of support and some great time spent with friends. The 3 boys are seetled into their courses at NTEC and loving Auckland!

There's also been some excitement back in Hanoi - but the sort of excitement related to break-ins, gangs, and an attempted stabbing. Not quite the excitement we like, but unfortunately that's the nature of our work! The Blue Dragon staff have been amazing in how well they have dealt with everything, and I'm looking forward to getting back to the centre on Monday to support them.

I've said it before, but a HUGE thanks is due to Jetstar for covering all the flights on this trip...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Festivals and football

It's the mid Autumn festival in Vietnam - time for moon cakes, parties, and dancing dragons! Here are some pics of the kids at the Hoi An Children's Home...




... and in Hanoi, our football team has once again joined the Hanoi Youth Football League. One of our 2 teams won their age group in the last tournament; we're hoping to do well again this time!

In the first week, our teams came second in their games (yes, yes, I know what 'second' means in soccer...) but they had a terrific time!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A week on the north island

For the past week I have been on New Zealand's north island; mostly in Auckland, where our three boys have started their courses at NTEC and are off to a flying start.

The oldest boy, Chinh, has started a diploma of business management; the two younger boys, Son and Khanh, are studying English and in a few months time will join some hospitality courses. They're on a real high now: the teachers are amazing, the students are friendly, and they are learning LOTS.

Our biggest challenge now is to secure sponsorship for their homestays and living expenses, which has turned out to be rather difficult. I'm leaving Auckland on Monday, but will have to keep working on this as it's rather urgent!

While here in New Zealand, I traveled to Wellington for launch of the Blue Dragon Children's Trust (New Zealand). The event was hosted by Wellington College, and we had a terrific turnout for the start of what should be a pretty dynamic and exciting organisation.

I caught up with some great friends there and spoke at the Harbour City Rotary Club before heading to Taupo, where Chinh studied English last year. I was only there for about 24 hours, but spent time with his former homestay family, who have remained in close contact with Chinh, and was able to thank the school where Chinh studied. Incidentally, while I was in Taupo we had the news that Chinh's IELTS test results had come through: he scored a 6!

Visiting New Zealand has been fantastic, and I am already planning to get back here next March. But for now, it's just about time to pack my bags...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hello New Zealand!

The Blue Dragon boys have made it to Auckland, ready to start their scholarships on Monday!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Time for the Tales

The latest Blue Dragon newsletter, Dragon Tales, has just been emailed out - another great read!

If you're not on the mailing list, drop my staff a note and they'll be happy to send you the quarterly newsletter: info@bdcf.org.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bits and pieces from Hanoi

As usual, my lack of regular blogging doesn't mean that nothing is happening... In fact it's quite the opposite. There's so much going on that I am not sure where to start!

Most of our kids are back at school now, with the summer holidays behind us. People sometimes mistakenly think that Blue Dragon is, or has, a school; we do have classes at our centre, but our goal is to get the kids into local schools or training programs. There are at least a dozen different schools around Hanoi which our kids attend, each according to need.

Back in March, I wrote about a girl named Bi who had suffered a brain injury and was struggling to regain her speech and senses. Although not fully recovered - my staff say "about 80%" - Bi is now often at the Blue Dragon centre, playing games or studying private lessons with our teacher. She's able to communicate quite well, and although she often looks to be in a world of her own the visible recovery she has made is quite remarkable.

If you're a follower of Blue Dragon on Facebook, you may have seen the notice about Cath DeVrye's latest book, Paper Clips Don't Grown On Trees. Cath once volunteered with us, and has been a terrific supporter ever since. Check out her book here - each purchase helps Blue Dragon Children's Foundation!

Three of our older kids (18-21) are heading off to Auckland next week for 6-12 months of study at the National Technology Institute. Together with our student at Chatsworth International School in Singapore, that makes 4 of our kids on international scholarships. These scholarships, although free, do come at a cost - Blue Dragon still needs to support living allowances, and even the process of applying for a visa for former street kids is rather complex and time-consuming - but these are amazing opportunities that are just too good to turn down.

Our drop-in centre has a steady flow of new faces these days; our staff have become great at finding runaway children, bringing them to the centre to care for them, and help them reunite with their families. As I write this, one of our staff is in the countryside with a 14 year old named Long who has been living on the streets for less than a month. Long has been really worried about going home, but the text message from my staff about 20 minutes ago said: We are back at Long's house now... Everything is fine and Long is very happy."

And speaking of the drop-in centre, here's what the kids were up to this afternoon...


Waiting...



Jumping...


... and over!



I don't think this ended well.