Last week I wrote about the many reunions that we were involved in, or a part of, in central and northern Vietnam.
Today most of my team is back in Hanoi, with the mountains now just memories, and I have had the chance to see photos of some of the trips that the Blue Dragon staff undertook last week. I'd like to share some of the photos of just one of these trips: a journey to reunite a teenager with his family after 2 years of living on the streets.
This trip highlights the challenging work we do, as well as the beautiful results that we can achieve.
About a month ago, our Outreach team came across a 17 year old boy - "Bac" - who had been living on the streets after running away from his home, up in an ethnic minority village near China. He's been doing odd jobs, sometimes on the streets and sometimes on building sites, all while carrying in his heart the terrible burden of missing his family intensely.
Bac's story isn't unique, but it is terribly sad. Living in poverty, dreaming about the big wide world beyond the mountains, one day the buffalo he was tending broke loose, and Bac decided that this would be a good time to start exploring the world!
A lot of kids come to Hanoi dreaming of the bright lights, but all they end up with is muck. Being from an ethnic minority background, and homeless and broke, Bac could find nobody willing to help him or befriend him.
He was in for a tough couple of years.
When he finally did meet Blue Dragon's staff, Bac's initial reaction was to be cautious. He didn't know who we were, and experience had taught him to be wary of smiling strangers. It took a few weeks before he started opening up about himself, and eventually he was ready to accept our offer to take him home.
And just like many of the runaway kids who need our help, Bac was from far, far away. Almost 700km away, it turned out.
Back in June we called out to our supporters around the world to ask for funds for this very work. Helping kids in such lonely and dire situations takes a lot of effort and resources. We don't get quick results; there are no overnight successes in Outreach work.
One substantial need was for us to buy a 4WD. This was a big move for us. There's nothing I despise more than charities which buy expensive new cars for nothing more than to take their CEO to fancy restaurants around town. It happens far more than anyone would believe.
We have had a little car for about 4 years, but it has been struggling to cope with the demands we put on it. Our staff are forever on the road taking kids home to their villages, so after a few near accidents and too many occasions like this we put out a call for help to get a car that would really serve us.
We have only just bought one, a Ford Explorer, and this trip to the mountains was its very first test. But wow, do I feel justified in the decision to buy it...
These shots were taken by one of the staff who accompanied Bac home. I think I can confidently say we have put this car to good use!
However, even the car had its limitations... the last leg of the journey had to be done on foot. Here are some shots of the walk!
It took 2 days to get there - and another 2 days to get back. The staff have returned to Hanoi exhausted, but proud of what they've achieved.
Some other photos they took along the way give an insight into what the area was like. This is not what visitors to Vietnam normally get to see along the well worn tourist roads. The final photo is of Bac's house.
There are some more photos that I would like to post here, but it wouldn't be right to do so. At the time that Bac saw his little sister again, there was an incredible release of emotion. The 2 were overwhelmed as they embraced, and through the images I can almost hear their wails of regret and sorrow.
One of the staff happened to be standing a few feet away with a camera in hand when the sister appeared unexpectedly; this is not the sort of thing we would usually stand about photographing. If I was to describe the moment in music, it would be to Train's Drops of Jupiter: "Did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there?"
Part of me would like to publish these images, because I want people to know how real our work is. A few months ago we asked for money to help street kids - and this agonising embrace as a brother and sister reunite is the result of that. Two years lost, but a new future grasped, and it's thanks to people around the world who dug deep when Blue Dragon asked for help. That's a butterfly effect all of its own.
However, this was a deeply personal moment so I know that I should not put the images up.
Tonight Bac is home, and now when he dreams of his future he can share his dream with his family.
No more life on the streets; his days of exploring the world are done for now.