A few weeks ago, I read a novel by Alan Philps and John Lahutzky: The boy from Baby House Number 10.
It's a terribly sad story about children with disabilities being abandoned and neglected in Russian institutions. Not a feel good story at all, but it is true and ends beautifully for the young man who is the focus of the book.
Throughout the novel, one of the narrators used a phrase several times that really caught my eye. When speaking of a little girl or boy who had given up on life and was either dieing or wasting away, the narrator would comment: "She was not the centre of anybody's universe."
Here at the Blue Dragon centre in Hanoi, I can see many kids who have come to us just so they can be the centre of someone's universe.
The really street-hardened kids usually do this by being loud and aggressive; they've learned over the years to take what they need by force, but once they're with us they gradually calm down. When they see that we care for them and pay attention to their needs even without their wild behaviour, they transform into completely different children.
Others come through our doors with their total lack of confidence written all over their faces. We have one young girl with us now, about 12 years old, who has been handed from family to family, used as a slave, abandoned and neglected. She sits on the carpet of the drop in centre playing card games with the staff so so quietly that nobody could guess the inner turmoil she must experience.
Increasingly we're meeting young teenage boys who have no male carers or role models other than gang members and drug dealers. These boys long to be the centre of someone's universe, and that longing makes them incredibly vulnerable to being exploited.
One of our staff, the young man who does our Outreach Work, always has half a dozen kids around him - teenage boys who have been abandoned or run away from home and want nothing more than a big brother to talk to and hang out with. From my point of view, it's much better that the kids find their "Big Brother" figure among the Blue Dragon staff than among the gangs around the Long Bien bridge.
We all need to be the centre of somebody's universe. For street kids in Vietnam, the most important role that Blue Dragon staff can play is letting the kids be the centre of ours.