Over the last couple of weeks, I have been writing a lot about the good things that our kids have done - and there's much more that I could say!
But Blue Dragon is not an organisation that only helps the kids who are well behaved. There are some charities here in Hanoi that work that way. If a kid stuffs up, she or he gets kicked out. There's one group I can think of that boasts a 100% success rate for its 'graduates'; but they only achieve that by kicking out any kids who are difficult to help.
Our kids, by contrast, are a mixed bunch. Some of our children really are the angels that I make them out to be, while others spend much of their time on the wrong side of the law.
This morning, one of our boys here in Hanoi was in court on a charge of aggravated robbery. He's 15 years old now, but was 14 when he and a group of 5 others attacked and robbed another 14 year old on the street. Our boy - let's call him "Nam" - received a suspended sentence for his role in the crime, in part because his father recently died, and in part because he is with Blue Dragon and our lawyers could testify that he's been trying really hard lately to get his life back on track. The other teens involved in the robbery were sent to prison - one of the boys got 3 years.
There's one other Blue Dragon kid in detention at the moment, awaiting trial for burning down his school. One boy is in prison on a serious drug charge. Two more were picked up by police for sleeping on the streets and are now in a "social protection" centre, while 3 more are in reform school. Another three are in drug rehab.
So what does all this mean? Are we doing a bad job? Should we really be helping kids who are getting into trouble and disobeying the law?
Are we making the problem worse by supporting them?
These are tough questions, and we do face them from time to time. The police aren't very happy when they arrest a young person on the street who says "I'm from Blue Dragon." It does make them wonder what on earth we are doing.
But it would be simplistic to say that the problems would disappear if we withdrew our support from kids who are getting in to trouble. With young Nam who was in court this morning, we know for sure that he would have been involved in that crime whether or not he was coming to Blue Dragon. The difference is that, by having an association, we are able to influence and guide him down a better path.
There are also plenty of kids in our programs who used to lead lives of crime, but now have jobs or attend school and live in stable homes. We could never have predicted which kids would choose to change, and which would not. Of those who have made a change, none made it very quickly. They all took time, patience, and (in many cases) a whole lot of 'second chances'.
Now that Nam's court case is over, he too has another chance to make some good choices. Our job will continue to be to offer support, some role models, and guidance. Whether or not we 'succeed' is almost beside the point. We've got to try.
Who's going to believe in these kids if we don't?