Thursday, August 30, 2012

Massive Interventions

A few years ago, my team at Blue Dragon set out to write our mission statements.

This was not just an academic exercise; we wanted to capture the spirit and essence of our work with Vietnam's street kids. We wanted to be sure that, no matter what may change in our organisation in the future, our spirit and philosophy would carry on.

Among the various philosophical statements we came up with, one was just a little controversial:

Massive interventions, not quick fix solutions.

We added to this an explanation:

We tackle the problem of poverty from every angle, rather than focusing on one obvious cause or effect. Our interventions may take years, as we persist until we are successful.

 Some friends who looked over our drafts felt uncomfortable with this. "Massive interventions" just sounded too brutal; it had a whiff of wanting to conquer and dominate.

However, we kept it in the list of statements (I'll put the whole list below) because it summarised our view that to really help someone out of poverty, and really make a lasting change, our work had to be comprehensive, all-encompassing, and lasting.

Over the weekend I caught up with one of the Blue Dragon boys from Hue, named Cuong. He strikes me as a perfect example of the sort of "massive intervention" we had in mind when we wrote that.

He's 16 years old, and when we met him back in 2009 he lived in a tin shack with his family. Cuong had dropped out of school, which was hardly a surprise; it's unbelievably hard to live in a hot tin shack with no electricity and no place to study, then take yourself off to school every morning.

Cuong's old house...

And with his family's only income from fishing - which is poorly paid, dangerous, and seasonal - Cuong could hardly see any hope for a better tomorrow. What's the point of going to school when there's no future anyway?

Cuong's life today is incredibly - massively - different.

In 2011 we built Cuong's family a new brick house, replacing the tin shack with much greater comfort and protection from typhoons... and with electricity.

... and the new one being painted!

We then invited his mother to join an income generating activity we had started in their village. Today, Cuong's mother raises fish in a set of cages in the nearby lagoon. The money she makes has more than doubled the family's income in just one year.

As for his studies, Cuong is now studying in an internationally certified motorbike repair training program. He's about two thirds of the way through his course, and just loves it.

On top of all this is the mentoring he and his family have received over the years; the social activities we organise every week; and the encouragement Cuong gets just from being part of Blue Dragon.

Through these few interventions designed not only for Cuong, but also his family and community, Cuong has reason to hope for the future. His family is not rich, but they are no longer living in poverty, hungry during the off-season for fishing, and vulnerable to child trafficking.

"Massive interventions." I'm glad we kept that phrase, because I've really grown to like it.

1 comment:

Steve Jackson said...

I like "massive interventions" too. One of things I like most about Blue Dragon is that activities, such as building a house, might be written off by some as not sustainable or something that you wouldn't be able to scale up or whatever.

But I like it for the very opposite reason - you can touch it, feel it see, and look at the affect it has. If you're giving money then you know where it's gone. All the empowerment in the world can't be touch, felt or even proved - all your can showcase then is the intention to make improvements. Whether they are successful or not is open to question.