Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The rally

Over the last couple of weeks, an amazing event has taken place here in Vietnam: a motorbike ride from Hanoi to Hoi An, over 12 days, with about 30 riders on Soviet-era Urals exploring the country in style.

And along the way, they've raised some significant funds to fight against child trafficking. 

This was the second annual ride - known as Rally Indochina - and it was such a huge hit that there'll be a 3rd in 2013. Keep an eye on their website because the places fill up fast!

Here are some shots that the organisers and riders took along the way.

The riders always took time to make friends with local people...

And safety was always the first priority... but you might need to take our word for that.

There were plenty of surprising finds along the way!

Switching pace for a day, the riders took a boat to visit the Blue Dragon centre in Hue.

All up, it was a brilliant ride. The Rally Indochina team deserves a huge THANK YOU for their support, and hats off to the riders who raised so much support to stop trafficking!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

For the first time

There's a line in a U2 song that sometimes reminds me of the kids at Blue Dragon: 

For the first time, I feel loved. 

It might sound corny, but I've seen this over and again with children and teens who come to us, having never before found someone who genuinely cared for them. 

Last week our social workers asked one of the Blue Dragon girls to write about her life, entirely from her own point of view. We do this occasionally as part of our reporting to donors and keeping records of our impact. 

The girl's story is below (translated into English, but otherwise true to the original). I've changed only the names of the people. It's a deeply touching story. 

My name is Van. I am 12 years old. I was born in a very poor family and I didn’t know where I came from until I knew Blue Dragon. My mum left me and my father when I was more than 1 year old. My father didn’t have a job so everyday my father and I worked on the street. I couldn’t go to school because I didn’t have a birth certificate. We rented a small room to live day by day. We had to face hunger, cold and so on. But my life wasn’t only that sad.

When I turned 9 years old, my father died on his way to work. Some strange people took my father to the hospital but he died that day. I now have no relatives. I didn’t know where to go and how to look after myself.

After my father died, I lived with a woman who wanted to be my adopted mother but she never considered me as her child. She called me by a very bad word. She asked a school for disadvantaged children to allow me to study there. But when I studied at grade 2, she didn’t let me go to school anymore. She treated me very badly. I had to work with a parking guy at a lake in Hanoi from 8am to 10pm. I often was beaten by the woman and forced to work very hard and late at night. I wasn’t allowed to go to school and had no idea of how special and real childhood should be. 

Day by day I understood that this was not the life that I wanted, but I had no power to escape.  I was afraid of who would feed me, who would give me a place to stay... So I kept silent and waited for a chance.

One day, I met a staff member from Blue Dragon, his name is Thai. He talked to me in a very soft and warm way. That was the first time in my life a person cared about my feelings and asked me what I wanted. My owner knew about that and she wouldn’t let me meet him again. She also threatened Thai and warned him to not talk to me again. But Thai and Blue Dragon staff still approached me when they could and talked to me.

One day after that, I was beaten very badly by my owner. I ran away and came to Blue Dragon to ask for support. There was a social worker and psychologist who talked to me. Even though I was very sad and frightened about what happened, they made me welcome and relaxed.

I knew that my 'mother' wouldn’t let me go easily like that. She threatened Thai, the worker who tries to protect me. However, Blue Dragon still continued to help and protect me by asking the police and a lawyer to be involved in making sure that I am safe and secure.

Now I don’t have to work on the street for that woman. She treats me better as she knows that someone is checking what she does with me. In addition, Blue Dragon is looking for my brother who I have never met to help me to get out of her control. I go to school in the mornings. Blue Dragon is helping me to make a birth certificate. I also have a chance to be a child and join in many different social activities. I hope I will learn well so I can discover the world, and maybe even study overseas. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Plans and ideas

I started the Year of the Dragon excited about the possibilities for change, growth, and new horizons.

The first months of the year have shown that it's much more complex than that. So far, the Year of the Dragon has been about loss, coping, and challenge.

But there's hope. There's always hope. And now Blue Dragon is getting ready to face a huge new challenge which brings with it some great possibilities.

Over the last 5 years we've grown and grown... We're reaching new street kids every day through Outreach, the community is regularly asking for our involvement with disadvantaged kids, and every month we're rescuing more young people who have been trafficked.

Our little centre by the Red River just isn't big enough any more. We need to move.

However - we don't want to 'just' move. We want to create something new. We're dreaming of new spaces, safe havens, for street kids in Hanoi, with more services for more children.

We have some big ideas and a few plans. In coming weeks I'll be sharing them here.

Maybe, just maybe, the Year of the Dragon will come to something good after all.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The interns

There's even more to Blue Dragon than the work we do with Vietnamese kids.

As we've grown over the years, we have made it our mission to also train up staff, professionals, students, and other organisations, so that our reach can go well beyond the thousands of kids who we meet ourselves.

At most times of the year, we have at least 2 or 3 university interns, particularly from the Social Work colleges and universities.

But this month, we have 3 interns who we are especially proud of... because they are tertiary students who have been in Blue Dragon's programs in the past!

The 3 young women are close to finishing their degrees, and their internship at Blue Dragon is a final step to graduation.

Minh Nghia is spending 6 weeks in our IT department, learning the ropes of running IT classes and managing a small department.

Phuong and Phuong (same spelling, different pronunications!) have joined our accounting team for 8-10 weeks, and are getting their heads around the use of a cash book, entering data into our system, and keeping track of cash in and out.

It's great to see them back at the centre, now young adults brimming with confidence and planning for their careers.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012


On Saturday last week, Blue Dragon led a brief rescue trip to the garment factories of Ho Chi Minh City. Along with a Red Cross delegate and a government official, we located 10 children aged 11-15 from the provinces of Hue and Dien Bien Phu.

We're finding that each new rescue trip is a little more difficult than the last. The traffickers and factory owners (generally they are not the same people) are becoming more evasive and argumentative.

On Saturday, one factory owner, a woman, cried streams of crocodile tears - "Please don't take the children. I am just trying to help them!" Meantime, the girls in her 'care' were terrified and pleaded silently for us to take them. "She would beat us to death if you left us," one of the girls told us.

Nine girls and one boy are out of the factories and back home. A good result, I think.

Following are some photos to give an idea of the typical factory conditions.

While this rescue was taking place in the south, our Outreach team was working with a young boy from the northern mountains.

"Minh" is a tiny 14 year old who, as a child, was sold by his father to another man, who raised him as a son/servant... until he got sick of him and threw him out. Minh took to the streets of Hanoi, surviving day to day until our staff found him and took him in.

Minh lives in our shelter and goes to school, but we've been holding out hope that his father might still have some feelings for him, and interest in his welfare. Sadly, a 3 day round-trip to meet Minh's father was fruitless. It only confirmed that Minh will be living in our care for some years to come.

We're happy for that, but it sure would have been nice for him to have a happy-ever-after reunion with his father.