I spent yesterday in Yen Phong district of Bac Ninh province, about 40km outside of Hanoi.
There were two important events going on.
First, we had the official start of a building project in a school. Thanks to a private donor from England, we are about to start constructing a library inside the grounds of Yen Trung Secondary School. This will be our second library.
Our role is to fund the construction of the library, but the local community also has some involvement. One local building expert, Mr Quy, has donated his time for free to oversee the construction. The local government is paying for all of the furniture and equipment to go inside the library. And we expect that some families of the students will be helping with some of the work. So - an all-round team effort.
After we had a short ceremony to mark the start of construction, I traveled with our program coordinator, Tuyen, to visit the home of a girl named Thoa who lives with her mother and a little sister. She's just finished Grade 7, and her school results were so good that she was invited to Hanoi to receive an award from the Prime Minister! Chatting with her for just a few minutes was enough to see that this girl has a real spark - not only brilliant academically, but she has a real character... there's just something about her that tells me she's got an amazing future ahead of her. (There she is with her award, outside her new house).
However, when Tuyen first met Thoa last year, the family was living in dreadful conditions. They had taken up residence in one third of a relative's open-fronted barn. Looking at it today, I can't imagine how they survived the freezing winters in there. I don't think they even had electricity.
Today was the "Opening Ceremony" of a new house for Thoa and her family. With a grant from St Elizabeth's University in Slovakia, Blue Dragon has built a new house for the family - and it's a great house if I do say so myself! The shower, toilet and kitchen are all separate facilities, and there's even insulation in the ceiling.
As with the library, though, we called on the community to make a contribution too. The most valuable contribution was the donation of land by a relative - who initially refused to help the family in any way. In fact, when Tuyen was first talking to the community about helping the family, everyone refused. Nobody wanted to help at all. In the end, though, they not only donated the land, but they went further to help with the construction. The final result was one of the best houses we've built yet - and all for about $2000US!
After these ceremonies, Tuyen and I went to visit a primary school that is asking us for help. The deputy principal met us and showed us around - he didn't care one bit that it's summer holidays. He really cares about his kids and he was super keen to know if Blue Dragon might be able to support local kids from poor families to go to school, so they don't have to drop out.
Of course we are going to help with that - how could we not? - but it was the deputy principal's reasoning that really blew me away.
To paraphrase, he was saying: Please help us. If you can just help a little bit, I can then use that to encourage the local community to do their bit, too. Right now there are people around who could help, but they don't want to. If I can show them that you are helping, I can make them change their mind and see that they also have a responsibility to help.
I've never heard it expressed so succinctly before. But how true it is: whether it's building a library, building a home, or supporting kids to go to school, part of our impact is in getting the broader community to step up and start helping out.
We've been doing this for years, but until yesterday I'd never realised it!
(And just on a side note, Blue Dragon funds much of its work in Bac Ninh province through a child sponsorship system. THANK YOU to our wonderful sponsors around the world. If you're not a sponsor but would like to be, email James - email@example.com - or check out our website).