This blog has been a bit quiet in recent weeks, largely because there's been so much happening.
At the moment, the Blue Dragon kids are starting to go back to school. Last weekend, over 650 children in rural Bac Ninh province received their text books, school bags, and other school gear, all paid for by sponsors from around the world. (See a few photos here).
Among the many happy stories, Blue Dragon staff have been working with some teen girls who escaped sex traffickers in China earlier this year and returned to Vietnam. One of those girls started back at school on Wednesday, and she's so excited to be studying again that she can't contain herself.
Just a few months ago, she never thought she'd ever have a 'normal' day again in her life. None of the students or teachers at her new school have any idea of what she's been through, so she really has managed to blend back in with the crowd and is getting on with her life.
We've had some scary moments, too: one of the kids who frequents our centre went missing for a few days, and the only other children who had information about where he might be are profoundly deaf and hearing impaired. Some of the Blue Dragon staff are quite proficient in Vietnamese Sign Language, and it was fascinating watching them talk to the kids and gather information, sorting out 'imagination' from 'actuality' - not an easy task! Fortunately the boy returned after several nights, rather embarrassed about the stir he'd caused, but completely unharmed. Phew!
Our legal team have been kept on their toes with some cases of kids who have been arrested, or facing court... We seem to have just gone through a month of teenagers going in and out of detention.
We're all very happy to welcome back one boy, T, who was released from reform school last week and has returned to Hanoi with a new vigour. With a little support from our team, we hope that he'll stay on the right track. (He's one of our best soccer players, too, so the timing is great with our 1000th game coming up. T was all smiles when he realised he was home in time for that!)
It's always disheartening for us to see young people (usually boys) we've worked with over a long time getting caught up in crime, and eventually finding themselves in trouble with the police. At times it's like a slow motion car crash - you can see it coming but you can't do anything about it. And the regret that follows is just as inevitable.
A few days ago I received a letter from a young man, "Minh," in prison for drug offenses; Minh was very close to me as a teenager but just couldn't kick his heroin habit and is now serving a 4 year sentence. His letter spoke of 'disappointment and sorrow'; he hardly dares to hope yet for better times ahead.
At Blue Dragon, we see such different worlds every day. There are so many kids, young people, and families who find a way to make it work. With a little bit of help, they do all they can to get out of poverty and better their futures through education or training. But there are also those who just can't seem to make it, or who don't believe that they can ever make it and give up on themselves.
I can't judge them, though; and time after time I am caught surprised by kids 'turning the corner' and making a change when all seemed lost. My job is to keep on trying, and keep on hoping, even when 'disappointment and sorrow' is all that seems to be left.