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).