The terrible death of 10 year old Toby Hai is still very raw for us at Blue Dragon; each day there is a new memory, a new reminder of the little guy we have lost. Photos of Hai at the 2011 Tet Awards, just a few days before he died, are now incredibly precious to us.
As an organisation, I think it's important for us to grieve, and to let this loss deepen our commitment to the children in our care. Toby Hai's sudden departure from our lives must remind us of the need for us to keep on fighting for Vietnam's disenfranchised, empoverished, and homeless children. We must take every opportunity to make their lives better.
And because of that, in these last few days I have been finding that I have to tell myself that I cannot feel guilty for taking care of regular daily tasks... or for feeling good and happy. I'm sure many of my staff are struggling with this same dilemma. Is it really OK to feel normal after an event like this?
In some ways, we don't have much choice. The nature of our work is pretty demanding. The needs of street kids don't take a break for anything, and with Tet (Lunar New Year) looming so close there are countless events and activities demanding my attention.
On Sunday I flew to Hue to join in a Tet celebration with the children we've rescued from trafficking in Ho Chi Minh City factories. Last year's party was at a swimming pool, but this year Hue is cold and wet, so we moved indoors (or at least undercover) to watch a water puppets show and visit a museum.
This was my first chance to meet the 6 kids we got out of factories just a couple of weeks ago, and also to catch up with the 11 youngsters we helped get home last October. It really was very refreshing to spend the day with them. Some of the children had never even been to Hue City before; their only trip out of their village had been the very long bus ride to the south where they were put to work in factories. So the day was a real treat.
I'm heading back to Hanoi tonight, having spent time visiting villages and meeting with a school principal who is re-enrolling some of the trafficked children even though they technically don't qualify to get back into mainstream school at this time of year. It was touching to see the lengths that the local institutions are going to in order to make these children, mostly girls, feel welcome and supported now that they are home.
Some challenges await me back in Hanoi, not the least of which is the continuing need to provide comfort and assurance to the Blue Dragon kids and staff who have been affected by Toby Hai's death.