2010 kicked off to a powerful start.
On January 1 last year, I was in Ho Chi Minh City on holiday but a chance encounter with a street kid named Vu sparked off a wonderful series of events which I wrote about in August. On the same day, Blue Dragon's chief lawyer, Van, spent the day teaching government officials in remote communities about preventing child trafficking. This paved the way for a year of great progress in our fight against the trafficking rings which take children as young as 10 from their rural homes to work in garment factories.
2011 has kicked off with some complexities. Nothing that we can't handle, but if this sets the scene for the coming year then we'll have plenty to think about for the next 12 months.
There are 3 big cases underway, all involving some important issues for children.
The first is the case of a runaway teenager named Thuong, which is made that little more complicated by his having an intellectual impairment. Kids with such conditions are much more vulnerable on the streets, while also much more difficult to assist. When Blue Dragon staff meet runaway children, we work fast to find out the whole story - why they've run away, where they're from, and so on - so that we can then start working out what intervention is needed to get the child home or (if necessary) how to sort out a safe, long term solution. Kids with intellectual impairments are less likely to understand the dangers that they face on the streets, and are very likely to have run away from home because of bullying and violence.
Thuong has been around for a couple of weeks now, and our outreach worker Vi has been working closely with him. We've finally had a breakthrough of sorts, and most of January 1 was spent arranging a meeting between Thuong and a relative who happens to live in Hanoi. Some teachers from Thuong's school - which is 4 hours out of Hanoi - also turned up on Saturday, having heard that Thuong was with us, and desperately wanted to meet him, but he refused. He was also quite unhappy about meeting his relative.
This is a very odd turn of events; until now we've reunited 67 runaway children with their families, but never once has school staff turned up in Hanoi to help. Clearly there's more going on here than we know, and Thuong's absolute refusal to see the teachers or return home is also surprising. It looks certain that Thuong will need a great deal of support and counseling before we can hope to see him reunited with his mother.
The second case is one that has been brewing for most of 2010, but an end might finally be in sight.
Early in the year, we came across a very small boy who was living on the streets having moved from family to family around the countryside. Originally from Dalat, Tam had made his way by chance and coincidence to Hanoi, where he lived at a privately run local shelter for some months before returning to the streets. It seems that he's either given up on, or been given up by, just about everyone he's ever met.
The curious thing about Tam's case is how little he knows about his past. Contrary to what most people believe, street children do have families. There are just a few kids I've met over the years who have absolutely no family, or have no way of knowing where their family is. Tam is one of them.
But since we have gotten to know Tam, and he's been living in our shelter, our staff have been putting together the pieces of the puzzle, trying to find out all we can about Tam's life and personal history.
Today, our lawyer Van (who is studying in the US but is back in Vietnam for Christmas) will accompany Tam to Dalat. We believe that we now have enough information to find Tam's family, and we believe that the reunion will be a happy one. Here's to hoping it all works out!
And finally, we're starting the year with a rescue trip to Ho Chi Minh City to find children working in garment factories. That's going to happen some day soon - more info once it's started - but again, there's a twist in this tale.
Although we have conducted many rescue trips in the past, this time we are looking for children from a whole new area, where we aren't so well known yet. This may mean the children will be initially more reluctant to come with us, but we'll have some officials from their home town alongside us so hopefully that won't be much of a problem.
The greater problem will be that the traffickers will be more determined than usual to stop us. Last time we rescued a group of kids, we found that they were working 100 hour weeks to produce garments. With lunar new year now only a month away, the factories are likely to be pushing their 'workers' even harder; and the loss of these unpaid servants will cause the factory owners significant problems. Hey, they might even have to think about employing adults in their place! So some confrontation is likely, but we really need to get these kids out of the factories and back to their homes.
These are the big 3 cases facing us as 2011 commences. All are complex, and to be honest I'm looking forward to the challenge of finding solutions and achieving some great results. But I sure hope that some simpler cases will come our way, too!