Over the coming month I will be writing from time to time about some of the common myths relating to street children, starting with the myth that street kids have no families. I'm hoping to help people gain a greater understanding of who street kids are, and why Blue Dragon does what it does! All feedback and comments are welcome.
I've heard this one many times - and I used to subscribe to this belief too. Surely children living and working on the streets must all be orphans, with no family and nobody to care for them?
Quite often when we meet street children for the first time, they'll tell Blue Dragon staff the same story: "I have no family." The most common story we hear is "My parents have died and my aunts and uncles kicked me out."
But in the past 8 years of working with street kids in Hanoi, there have been just a handful of cases in which this was true. Nearly everyone has family - whether it's parents, siblings, grandparents, or aunts and uncles.
So why do the kids tell us otherwise?
This is simply a defense mechanism. When we first meet street kids, they have no idea who we are, or if they can trust us. So they have a ready-made story that they've been telling everyone who asks them who they are. It's actually quite a sensible thing for them to do.
(In the same way, the kids very often tell us false names - another defense strategy. Some of the kids who have given us false names are with us for such a long time before we find out the truth that we keep on using the 'nickname' even when we know the real name).
The kids do have families, so as a charity aiming to help kids get their lives back on track, one of our biggest challenges is to see if we can 'heal the rift' between the child and their family, if indeed there is one.
It's Tet now, and the streets of Hanoi are suddenly quiet. Just about everyone has left the city to visit their homeland.
Normally, Blue Dragon would have at least half a dozen kids who have nowhere to go - because they are unable, or unwilling, to spend this important time with their families.
This year, however, we have none. All of the kids, including those who stayed with us over Tet last year, have gone home.
This is not exactly a story that will make it into the newspapers, but it's an incredible development for the kids. There are children who had no family to go to last year, but who do this year.
How has that happened?
To be frank - lots of hard work.
At times, our staff have had to do 'detective work' to trace family members who have moved or disappeared, and that can take months, or even years. Recently I wrote this entry about us finding the family of a boy named Tam who hasn't been home for 5 years; it wasn't a happy ending, but the boy does now know where his family is, and in fact is with them right now.
It's taken us close to a year to reach that conclusion.
With just a few rare exceptions, street kids do have families. For Blue Dragon - or any organisation - to effectively help the children, we have to do more than help the individual child; we have to find out how to help the whole family.