Blue Dragon has been working in Vietnam for about 8 years now. We started out as a couple of guys with good intentions but absolutely nothing else, and we've built up an organisation that's now helping about 900 kids around the country.
Some of the very first street kids who we helped work for us now. It's fantastic to see young people from tough backgrounds wanting to give back to others.
Last month, I wrote about our latest rescue trip to Saigon to retrieve rural children who have taken by traffickers. One thing that I didn't mention was that, apart from me and one Blue Dragon staff member, another person who came along was Nghia, a young man who we first met working on the streets of Saigon back in 2006 (click here for the original story - that's Nghia in the photo) and who now has a mobile phone shop in Hanoi. Nghia's job on the trip was to work alongside me in looking after the kids who we took away from the factories until they could start the journey home by train.
While we were in Saigon, we went to visit the Caravelle Hotel, which Nghia has always seen as a symbol of the life he has been denied: luxury, comfort, wealth. Despite the protestations of a security guard (he seemed to know that Nghia used to be a street kid!) we went into the Hotel to have a drink in a restaurant. We'd have had a meal, too, except that there's no way in the world I could afford to eat there! Sitting by the huge glass windows, sipping outrageously overpriced drinks and watching the city buzz by, Nghia came to the realisation that he'd be just as happy sitting on a plastic stool on the side of the street... He wasn't missing out on anything after all! So we had some laughs and got out of there pretty quickly - and the next morning, started meeting trafficked kids as they came out of the factories. Much more satisfying than the airconditioned paradise of a 5 star hotel.
Another of our kids who has featured on this blog in the past has also been helping out. In late 2007, a terrible event took place in Blue Dragon: one of our teens was stabbed repeatedly and left for dead in a case of mistaken identity. The story started here, and it was an awful time, but the boy, named Ngoc, made a full recovery and is now studying accounting at college.
Now that it's summer holidays, and Ngoc has completed his first year of study, he's traveled to Hue with one of our staff named Binh to teach dance and computing to trafficked children - including some of the same children who we brought back home to Hue just last month.
Binh and Ngoc are working in Hue for 3 weeks, living at our Youth Centre in a village on the coast where the electricity is off more frequently than it's on, and where unemployment, illiteracy, and poverty are rife. Through their workshops, they are rewarding the kids who have come back from the factories and are now in school, encouraging them to stay on in the villages and not be tempted by the traffickers who promise excitement and bright lights in the big cities.
Apart from his own awful experience a few years back, Ngoc (pictured above in the white shorts) has had plenty of hardships in life, and we are hoping that the kids will see him as a positive role model to emulate. Yes, life can be difficult, but stick with education, aim high, and things can get better.
As the founder of Blue Dragon, I am particularly proud to see young people like Nghia and Ngoc doing their bit to help others. I could go on with many more stories, too; such as the girls and boys from our street kids' program who volunteer to help children with disabilities go swimming each week. There are many more stories to be told.
I'm sure that around the world many more organisations also involve their 'beneficiaries' in community service like this - if any readers have a story to tell, feel free to say something in the Comments section below!