Today I write with the deeply sad news that one of the Blue Dragon children has passed away.
Nguyen Van Hai - or "Toby Hai" as we all called him - died on Wednesday night in a fire on his grandmother's boat. His grandmother perished alongside him. The cause of the fire is not yet known.
Hai and his grandmother have been a part of Blue Dragon since 2007. They came to Hanoi to escape their poverty in the countryside, and took up residence on one of the boats moored to the banks of the Red River. For a while they lived on the land - we rented them a house in 2008 - but eventually they drifted back to the river. Sadly, we were in the process of renting them another house when this tragedy occurred.
Hai was about 10 years old, but like so many of the Blue Dragon kids, there was no accurate record of his birth. Nobody even knows where he was born.
He was a lively and very intelligent boy who dealt with his difficult life in an unusually matter-of-fact way for such a little guy. I often thought he was old beyond his age.
One day, in early 2009, I was visiting Hai and his grandmother at their rented house. Hai's grandmother insisted on buying beer for me, and sent Hai off to buy half a dozen bottles of Hanoi Beer. Watching tiny Hai, then only about 8 years old, struggle up the steps laden with beer, which I honestly didn't want, is one of those "only in Vietnam" memories that still brings a smile to my face.
Hai loved football and sports, and his favorite shirt was a second hand sports shirt with the name "Toby" printed on the back, donated to us by an international school here in Hanoi. As long as he could fit into it, he was wearing it; hence the nickname that even the Blue Dragon children know him by.
We'll be holding a memorial ceremony at our centre on Friday to say goodbye to Hai and his grandmother. The staff and children alike are shocked and saddened to have lost someone who we cared for so much.
Postscript: Friday's memorial went well. It was a simple ceremony held in our centre; at one point, someone counted 112 people present, including children, staff, and people from the community. We spoke about Hai and his grandmother; shared our memories of their lives; and everyone was invited to sign a soccer ball which we'll keep at the centre to remember our friend and brother.
Thank you everyone who has expressed their sympathies, both through this blog and through email. Your thoughts are a great comfort to us.