Saturday, February 20, 2010

Well said!

Considering my blog entry 2 weeks ago (Both are sufficient!), readers may well be thinking that Blue Dragon's English training program is somewhat below par.

Fortunately, there is some evidence to the contrary!

One of our older kids, Chinh, is working part time as an intern at the United Nations International School ( in their Communications Department. Each week, he's contributing articles to the school newsletter, Tin Tuc.

In one recent edition, Chinh wrote a great summary of what Blue Dragon is all about - definitely worth a read!

Check it out here: Tin Tuc Newsletter - Chinh has 2 articles on page 7.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tet time

For the past week, Hanoi has been in holiday mode: it only happens once a year, but when Vietnam goes on holiday, it completely shuts down!

The occasion is Lunar New Year, or Tet; and now that I am coming up to my 8th year living in Vietnam, I finally feel like this is the 'real' new year.

In the weeks leading up to Tet, Hanoi goes absolutely crazy - as opposed to normal, which is just 'mostly crazy' - with everyone on a shopping spree, the purpose of which is to out-shop everyone else. People want to show how successful they are by bringing home bigger-screen TVs, outrageous new motorbikes and cars, and trees or bunches of flowers that are more over-the-top than the neighbour's.

Then, on the afternoon of the last day of the lunar year, Hanoi becomes a ghost town, as everyone heads out to the countryside to see their families.

One constant throughout all of this is major traffic jams. I've come to think of them now as a cultural artefact - 'traditional traffic jams' - on the grounds that every important / exciting / vaguely interesting occasion is a cause for millions of people to take to the streets and form one unending line of stand-still traffic.

Amid all the celebratory traffic jams and shopping are those who are left out: the street kids, and those abandoned by their families long ago. For them, this is a deeply sad time of year. While everybody else is with their relatives back at the ancestral home, the street kids are left to feel disconnected, worthless. In Vietnamese society, your self worth largely depends on who you are related to. Being alone is one of the worst fates a Vietnamese person can suffer.

Most of the Blue Dragon kids do head out of Hanoi for Tet: back to families which are often dysfunctional or otherwise inadequate, but there is at least some sense of belonging. A small number, though, really have nowhere to go, and so they stay back with us through the whole of Tet. At the Hoi An Children's Home, just a few kids were left behind, so the staff took turns to spend a day each at the Home until the holiday is over. Here in Hanoi, 5 of the teens stayed back for the whole time, with a few more kids drifting back to the city early. A group of expats living in Hanoi, known as the Australia-New Zealand Community Group, donated a couple of hundred dollars to us to pay for food and activities during the holiday period, so we had a pretty good time, listened to lots of music, and sometimes went rollerskating - like today!

Apart from the time with the kids, I've also been hanging out with an old friend - Chung, who was one of the original co-founders of Blue Dragon, and now studies in California. Chung only gets back to Vietnam once each year, so we've had plenty of catching up to do... Here's Chung at the rollerskating rink.

The Tet holiday is just about over now; the Blue Dragon centre and residence have already reopened, and Hanoians are starting to return home to the city. We're entering the Year of the Tiger, and my hope is that this year Blue Dragon will succeed in changing more lives than ever before.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Both are sufficient!

Something kinda funny to share today... One of our kids in Hanoi has been learning English, but seems to have used a faulty translation system to write me an email. The sentiment is sweet - and the wording is memorable!

Thanks Michael, and Happy New Year,Close to full happiness. Loc financial package for the round. keep forever. Tighten the additives you. Wished each other the same as Italy, inspired round , Happy new year Peace. Both are sufficient :D!
*Happy* * New* *Year*!!!


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Getting things done

I'm in Hue now, in central Vietnam, and head back to Hanoi in a few hours.

I've been here with Van, our lawyer who works on rescuing trafficked children, but this trip has had a very positive purpose: we've come to celebrate lunar new year (Tet) with the 60 or so kids we have been helping.

This is the first time that I've met some of the children; in November and December we organised some rescue trips, taking kids out of factories in Ho Chi Minh City and bringing them home, but until now I have not met any of the kids. Although I've seen the photos, I was still shocked to see how tiny the children are - I still can't understand how anyone could make them work 18 hours a day in a factory. Here are 3 of the kids... See what I mean??

For this year's Tet party, we took the children to a nature reserve and hot springs centre, so they could spend a few hours playing and making all the noise they wanted. They really had a great time - and they needed it. Coming home from the factories is just the first step in a long process. Most of these children have really difficult lives; one boy, for example, is 13 and only just now learning to read and write. Another boy, aged 14, studies in Grade 1 - alongside his much younger brother. Forget all romantic notions of 'happily ever after'; it's downright embarrassing for kids to go to school in circumstances like that. I have incredible respect for these teenagers.

Here's a group photo of the kids with their Tet gifts...

... and here are the kids on the slides. Beats working in a factory!

Meantime, in Hanoi, our staff have been working with the little guy below (pictured with his mum). The boy has had an eye infection that festered and almost blinded him; a few days in hospital, and some surgery on both eyes, has given him back most of his sight.

So Blue Dragon is entering the Year of the Tiger with some great achievements. We're proud of these kids!


Monday, February 08, 2010

Party for 400!

With Lunar New Year (known as Tet in Vietnam) approaching this coming weekend, there's a real sense of excitement around the countryside. (So much excitement that I haven't been writing in my blog!)

On Sunday our staff traveled north of Hanoi to Bac Ninh province, where Blue Dragon supports about 400 school kids from Grades 5 to 12.

This area is sometimes targeted by child traffickers, who look for kids who have quit school and have nothing to do. Our work very simply involves keeping kids in school - ie preventing them from dropping out - by paying school fees and providing material needs such as uniforms, text books, and stationery.

At Tet, however, the focus is on celebration. We gathered the kids together - 350 in one district, and 50 in another - for an hour of games and singing... followed by giving out gifts and lucky money (li xi) to all the children.

Kids waiting patiently for their Tet gifts...

We also gave bicycles to 4 of the kids who really need their own wheels to get to school. They were so incredibly excited - none of them had ever owned anything so precious before!

This evening I head to central Vietnam to visit the 60 kids who Blue Dragon has rescued from factories and other child trafficking situations. More photos to follow in coming days.