Tonight I am writing from Hue, in Central Vietnam, where Blue Dragon works with children who have been trafficked to work in factories. I'm on a quick trip to visit our staff and kids - soon I head south to Hoi An to catch up with children at the Hoi An Children's Home.
The 2 kids I met with today were both very happy girls! One, named V, is living in a pagoda on the outskirts of Hue. I've known her family for a long time, and we helped one of V's older brothers return home to Hue in 2006 after being trafficked to work on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.
While V's family is in pretty good shape these days, Vi is severely hearing impaired and so is constantly harassed in her village. She's treated as a fool, denied education, and shunned by the other kids. So now she spends most of her time living in a pagoda and returns home every other weekend. She's studying now, and is treated with much more dignity than ever before in her 15 years. And she was positively beaming as she showed me off to all her friends in the pagoda!
It was also very nice to meet another of the girls, T, who has been studying English and basic skills in a training centre. T was overjoyed for 2 big reasons. First, she was able to speak to me in English, for the first time in her life - man, was she proud of that! And second, she's just been accepted into a charitable training program called Streets, which trains disadvantaged youth to prepare them for great jobs in the hospitality industry. There are lots of applicants and not many places, so she really deserves to take some pride in that achievement!
Meantime Blue Dragon's Child Rights Advocate, Van, has been trekking through the northern mountains to catch up with the 23 kids we just recently rescued from slavery in garment factories. A big part of his visit is to keep the families assured that we are still thinking of them and still committed to helping them.
Everyone is doing well, and the kids are really happy to see Van again. He was right there with the police when they raided the factories about a month ago, so all the children feel a very strong attachment to him. On the phone this afternoon, Van told me that many of the families are worried about the coming winter and are short on food supplies, so we'll get them some basic supplies on Tuesday.
It's great to be catching up with the children and their families - I only wish I could spend much more time out here in the provinces, much more often!
... and now a Post Script:
A few hours after writing this I arrived in Hoi An, and went for a stroll through the old town. Lucky for me, I stumbled across an old friend...
Kieu was the very first kid who I helped in Hanoi. I met him back in 2002, before there was any idea of starting a charity. At the time I met him, I thought I would be leaving Hanoi within weeks and would never be back!
Kieu was working like a slave in a hole-in-the-wall noodle outlet in Hanoi's old quarter. I know it's common to see young people hard at work, but this was exceptional. His job included washing the bowls in a basin which was carved into the floor, which meant that he had to reach down below ground level to work. Talk about back breaking!
His conditions were clearly awful and he was always tired. The final straw, though - and this was some months later - was when he was at work covered in chicken pox. Kieu was 13 years old. He should have been home asleep, not working 16 hours per day in a noodle restaurant!
The picture below shows me and Chung, Blue Dragon's co-founder, with Kieu around the corner from where he worked. We convinced his boss to let us take him for a walk to buy some ice cream, so that we could secretly ask his permission to get him out of there.
You might think, given the highly questionable fashion statement I was making that day, that Kieu would have had second thoughts... but he was only too happy to get out of that place.
His boss wasn't quite so happy. But that was not high on my list of concerns.
So... what's Kieu doing in central Vietnam? How is it that I ran into him tonight?
Well, he works at Green Mango - a very classy restaurant in Hoi An. And he doesn't just work there; he's the head chef, with a staff of 10 under him. Not bad for a 22 year old!
If only your old boss could see you now, Kieu.