The calendar on my wall is still open to October. My mind is still switched on to August. Everything else tells me December is about to end.
This has been another fast moving year at Blue Dragon.
2012 will be the Year of the Dragon. Symbolically, this is exciting for us: this is our year. And we do have a few big announcements coming, but I fear saying anything too soon. So instead I'll make the prediction that this will be a huge year for Blue Dragon in Vietnam. Huge, I tells ya.
Having said that, 2011 has been a big year too.
We started on a terrible note, with the sudden death of one of our kids: a 10 year old boy named Toby Hai. At our coming Annual Tet Awards ceremony, we'll be marking a year since Toby Hai left us, but he certainly remains in our thoughts. From that awful low, things could only improve.
2011 was the year that 3 Blue Dragon teens headed to New Zealand to study; 2 of the boys studied English over 6 months, while the third joined a Business Diploma course, and did so well that the college offered him a second year of study.
Our fight against human trafficking landed some powerful punches this year. We reached the milestone of having rescued 100 kids early in the year, and since then have rescued a further 42. This included our biggest ever rescue: 23 children and youth from ethnic minority villages in the mountains. Although I don't get too hung up on the numbers, these figures are significant. Each young person we get out of a factory or a brothel is a life changed, and another blow to the filthy industry feeding off their vulnerability.
In Hue, a province of central Vietnam, we have set our sights on ending the trafficking of children to garment factories altogether. And in doing so, we want to ensure that the factories don't just start getting kids from other areas; and also that the kids from Hue don't end up getting trafficked to other industries. We plan to do this properly.
Of the kids we've rescued so far, a growing number include teenage Vietnamese girls we've rescued out of brothels in China. Earlier this month we brought back 4 more girls and young women who were tricked and kidnapped, to be sold to brothels. Whereas with the garment factory trafficking we believe we can put a permanent end to the trade, we are still just starting to get involved in this cross-border crime. All we know is that we've had some good success so far; not only in getting girls back, but in cooperating with both the Vietnamese and Chinese police, and then in helping the girls to resettle in Vietnam.
So we face the question now: What does this mean for Blue Dragon? Should we get more involved in this issue? When so many other agencies have anti-trafficking programs, is there a need for us to have one too? This is a question we need to wrestle with in coming weeks and months.
We've also been really pleased with the development of our Outreach work to street kids. Late in 2010 we were talking to a big funding agency from Singapore, which cooperates with a Hong Kong foundation, about securing funding to expand our services to reach runaway kids and others living on the streets. We went through the bizarre experience of being asked to submit proposals and conduct a survey and then finally be told that they wouldn't help because I am not famous enough - or as the woman put it, "Nobody knows who you are." (I couldn't help but wonder what she thought when CNN named me as one of their Heroes of 2011).
So instead we asked our supporters around the world to help, through a major appeal in June. Our donors dug deep and ended up giving 3 times the amount that the "major foundation" was ever prepared to consider. The result is that our Outreach work has grown from a single staff member to 3, and we're close to doubling the number of kids we meet every week. Many of the stories of these kids are incredibly moving; these are the children who nobody else is looking out for, but they're good kids and deserve a chance.
Personally, I am proud of each and every child we reach on the streets, and I am equally proud that our friends around the world have made this possible. Thank you.
Another part of our Outreach work is our soccer team, Blue Dragon United. Originally the soccer was a way to reach street kids, but as things have developed over the years the team has been embraced by youth living in a slum area close to Hanoi's Red River. Rather than street kids, the majority of the 50-60 kids who turn up each week are living in an area riddle with heroin, crime, and gangs. These, too, are a group of kids who need a helping hand. A highlight of the year was definitely our 1000th game of soccer... that's a lot of football!
The year is ending well, with news of a wedding and quite a few reunions between Blue Dragon and kids we've helped in years past. In fact, 3 of the 4 stories I wrote in November were of catching up with 'old friends'. Christmas has been great, and now for a long weekend.
Come Tuesday, it's 2012 but not quite a new year. That doesn't come until January 23, when the Lunar New Year (Tet) is celebrated throughout Vietnam. As always, the end of a year is a good time for reflection... on successes and failures, achievements and regrets, and on the road we've traveled as well as the path ahead.
It's been a good year for Blue Dragon because we've created real, lasting change for so many kids. We have over 1300 girls and boys in our care now.
But the great news is that we can hope for an even better year to come.