Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fish for sale

Wanna buy a fish?

Mrs Be, of Hue province, has 130kg of fish for sale.

For the past 12 months, Mrs Be has been learning to raise fish in the lagoon near her home. She's learned to record data and information; she's battled (successfully) against disease; she's learned to determine when the fish need more food, and when they have too much. She's even learned how to make suitable under-water cages to keep the fish contained.

This has all been part of a program to help families in Mrs Be's community improve their incomes.

Why is this important?

Mrs Be's daughter, Diep, is one of the 94 children we've rescued from trafficking. Her village is a 'hot spot' for child traffickers, who take girls and boys to Ho Chi Minh City to work like slaves in garment factories. Diep was just 13 years old when she was taken to the factories where she worked for 8 months until we took her home.

Mrs Be's fish harvest is worth about $500US - the most money she's ever made in her life! She and the other families will put some of this money back into a community fund to help other poor families; and in coming weeks Mrs Be will use some of her profit to start growing more fish.

Fighting trafficking is not just about rescuing kids from factories. It's also about ensuring the long term safety and livelihood of their family and community. Growing fish isn't a huge part of what we do here at Blue Dragon, but it sure has been important for Mrs Be and her daughter Diep.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Preparing for the big world

As part of Blue Dragon's program for disadvantaged kids in Hanoi, teenagers are invited to take part in occasional workshops on career choice and goal setting.

This afternoon, our psychologist and social workers ran a session for 10 kids from a variety of backgrounds - some were former street kids, some from generally disadvantaged families - to get them thinking about what they want for their futures.

Our psychologist, Lan, leading the workshop.

The 'expectation' tree: what I expect from the future.

Tell me more!

Trying to hit a goal without knowing where to aim...

Overall - a great success!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Every day is a happy day

... or so says the sign that welcomed me to a school in Bac Ninh province today.

More precisely, this says: Every day of going to school is a happy day.

That's not exactly how I remember my school days, but today was a happy day indeed.

I traveled this morning to 3 schools in a rural area about 40 km from Hanoi, where Blue Dragon supports kids to study. We're currently supporting over 500 children in this province, from Grades 5 through to 12, and that number will rise to 600 by January.

The kids in this province are usually living with their family, but without a helping hand they'd have to quit school and would end up working on the streets or be trafficked south. Just last week my staff had to intervene in an 'employment' situation in which one of the girls from Bac Ninh was clearly on the way to being tricked and exploited... that was no hairdressing shop...

Tuyen, our program coordinator, and I went to Yen Phong Secondary School (Grades 6-9) this morning to visit the school's brand new library. A private donor gave us the funds to build this - a neat little building inside the school grounds.

The kids were excited to finally be allowed to look inside, so of course the first thing they did was grab the books off the shelves and get reading!

At our next stop, a primary school a few kilometers down the road, we arrived in time for the kids' morning break... which was announced by some catchy pop music, instead of the normal 'beating of the drum'; and we soon discovered that the music was also a call for all the kids to get out into the playground and dance!

I've never seen anything quite like it. What a way to start your break time!

With the dancing behind us, Tuyen and I headed off to a high school (Grades 10-12), which was possibly the most impressive high school I've seen in rural Vietnam. It was super-well organised; many students approached me to speak in English; and the principal spoke proudly of the links he has forged with the locally-based foreign industries to ensure that his students who don't make it to university can still get a decent job. The school also had some terrific facilities which appear to have been paid for by the principal twisting the arm of local business leaders. Good job, I say!

Underlying all the niceties, though, was a disturbing common theme: the schools are battling a set of growing social problems as their province develops financially. Heroin use, each school said, was on the rise. Those most likely to end up with an addiction are young unemployed adults - especially those who quit school early and so have few job prospects.

Compounding the problem, ironically, is that some major electronic and mobile phone companies have set up and so bought land from the farmers. The compensation was very generous - and resulted in a large number of people suddenly having a lot of money and nothing to do. Their land was gone, so they had nowhere to farm rice; but they also had no idea of what to do with all their new money. Many families chose to knock down their perfectly adequate homes and build new, multi-storey houses... only to find they had little left to support their families into the future.

As a former teacher, I always enjoy visiting schools and getting a feel for how the 'school community' works. Today I was reminded of what an important role schools play in our world. It was truly heart warming to see how these 3 schools each grapples with the social problems of their neighbourhood - one through building a library, one through dance, and one through business partnerships.

It's a great feeling to be a part of that, and to know that we are making a difference.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rising tide

Spare a thought today for the kids and staff of the Hoi An Children's Home who are battling the annual floods that have hit the town.

So far there have been no serious problems - the first flood has been fairly low and is receding already. However, the radio is warning of a much larger flood coming down the river soon.

The kids are all OK - their spirits are higher than the water! - but when the time comes to start cleaning, they're all in for a challenge!

Some pics below to show how it's been so far...

This is the view of the front yard, taken from the steps of the home:

And here's the front view of the Home. All the kids have to move up to the top floor to escape the flood - and all the equipment, files and electrical items must be carried up the stairs.

And finally... here's how the staff get to work, and how the kids get to school:

Saturday, November 06, 2010

A moment of pride

I'm starting to sound a bit like an old drum at the moment - constantly banging on about road accidents in Vietnam. But for the last couple of weeks, they've been a recurring theme at Blue Dragon.

Two older teens who have both lived in Blue Dragon's shelters in the past, and have since been living independently, were involved in a pretty awful crash just over a week ago. The details are still unclear but they were riding around Hoan Kiem Lake at midnight, probably racing, and naturally without helmets.

They crashed hard, the rider slamming into a pole and his pillion being thrown into the front wall of somebody's house.

The pillion - who I'll call Nam - has just been released from hospital after a couple of days in intensive care followed by a week in recovery. The rider is still in intensive care, and doctors are not optimistic about his chances of survival.

My feelings about this are terribly mixed. I'm worried, concerned, angry, and sad all at the same time. What were they doing racing the streets? Why weren't they wearing helmets? The rider was in a very serious accident just last year - did he learn nothing?

And yet, I can't forget that these are young guys running wild in a world that cares little for them. Maybe they feel that they have nothing to lose.

I was visiting Nam in hospital early in the week with 3 of the Blue Dragon kids. Nam's uncle was looking after him (in Vietnam, you need a relative to look after you round the clock in hospital) so we made quite a crowd around Nam's hospital bed.

Like me, Uncle was confused and upset by all this. But unlike me, Uncle believes that lecturing Nam is the best way to go; just keep on telling him what he's doing wrong, and he'll certainly improve! The distant, long suffering look in Nam's eyes told me that Uncle had something of a history of lecturing.

At this point, the 3 kids who were with me decided to speak up. Not in a rude way, either: they couldn't be faulted for their politeness. But they wanted Uncle to understand more about Nam, and to have some empathy with street kids.

The boys knew what they were talking about, too.

One is a 23 year old, studying in Grade 8, who ran away from home at age 16 because he'd never been to school and he wanted to learn to read and write. He had to twice escape from a detention centre to get back to his studies, and he now works part time for another charity.

One is training now to be a mechanic, but he was one of the first of the trafficked children who we helped to escape from Ho Chi Minh City back in 2006.

And the third boy has recently returned to Hanoi after 18 months in a reform school. He has an amazing history of his own - he's lived an absolutely wild life on the streets at times, but is now making an incredible effort to 'buckle down' and do his best. He's living in our shelter and working full time at a local restaurant, while also studying English in the evenings.

So these 3 young guys knew what they were talking about when they spoke up in defence of street kids.

Each took a turn at explaining to Uncle that they, too, have been through periods of running on the wrong side of the law; that they too have spent time on the streets, living from day to day and not thinking about tomorrow. But, they reasoned, they made it through - with a helping hand from people who cared about them. Uncle nodded, understood, and asked them more about their experiences.

Nam listened to all this too - I guess you could say he was a captive audience - and although he said nothing, I know this had an impact on him.

And as for me - what a great moment to stand and listen to these 3 guys sharing their experiences, warts and all, and argue that every kid deserves another chance. I left with tears in my eyes.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

It's a trap!

Well... maybe or maybe not...

But we've recently discovered a book being sold called Blue Dragon Children's Foundation for over $80... and the publishers, known as Alphascript, seem to be well known for taking free articles off the internet and selling them for rather a lot.

Our good friends at Wikipedia explain it here.

Anyway, if you seriously want to part with $80 or $90, go for it! Just beware that the book isn't from us and doesn't benefit our kids in any way! (We'd hate for one of our supporters to buy it thinking that it was our own publication!)