This is a big week at Blue Dragon. We started with the rescue of 8 children from factories, and on Sunday we'll play our 1000th game of soccer with street kids.
1000 games! That's quite an achievement.
Our football started early in 2003, before we even had formed Blue Dragon Children's Foundation. At the time, there were just a few of us, all volunteers, finding ways to help Hanoi's street kids. Spearheading the movement to help the kids were Chung Pham, Gonzalo Serrano, and myself.
We were teaching English and holding weekly classes in art, maths and yoga, while also providing occasional meals and healthcare. With no money and no space to meet, we could see that we were very limited in the number of street kids we were able to reach out to.
One day, Gonzalo - a Spaniard with a passion for soccer - suggested that we could help a whole lot more kids if we took to the field. That would solve the problem of space, and with football being the unofficial religion of Vietnam we were sure that the kids would be interested.
And so we found a dirt field that we could rent and spent a few days riding around the city on our motorbikes handing out flyers to street kids.
Every kid we spoke to was interested and promised to come. We were off to a huge start! And then, on that first Sunday, we arrived at the field... and just 3 boys turned up.
Regardless, we had a great game and committed to playing again the next week.
Each week, the number of kids coming grew. Within a month, there was a steady core of 15 street kids turning up... and then 30... and then 50. These days, up to 80 kids come along each week to play.
We needed a name for the team, and so Gonzalo suggested we adopt his old team's name: Real Betis. We thus became Real Betis Vietnam, and even received an official letter from the Real Betis Club in Spain allowing us to do so (thankfully!). The picture below featured in the Vietnam News in 2003.
Later, we switched to a blue uniform:
... and today we have an orange / blue uniform, which can be seen on the Blue Dragon United website.
Just a couple of years ago, we decided to change our team name to Blue Dragon United, as the kids didn't have a strong affinity to the Real Betis name any more, and we wanted to relaunch the team to give it a new energy.
Our 1000 games includes tournaments we've joined, such as those at the United Nations school and the Hanoi Youth Football League. Although our kids are much smaller than most of their peers, we've won a few awards over time, and the trophy we won in 2010 has pride of place in the Blue Dragon office.
We've had some special guests turn up at the field...
... and over time, we've watched many kids from football grow up, become young adults, and some have even become Blue Dragon staff.
The soccer is great fun for the kids, but it's also a chance for us to reach out to kids who we otherwise wouldn't know. Some of the kids we meet are worried about coming inside the Blue Dragon centre until they know us well. Nobody's afraid to turn up to a football field, though.
And so this Sunday at 8am we'll be having a very big game, with plenty of food and drinks, a few awards, and a whole lot of fun. I'll post some photos on Monday. Let's just hope for great weather!