Sunday, December 18, 2005

The long hard slog beyond the fuzzies

(Christmas 2002 - the very early days of Blue Dragon.
Half the kids at the party are now in school or full time jobs)

In our November 2005 Newsletter, Blue Dragon made an appeal for two separate needs.

First, we asked our supporters for $2000 to help Mrs Tat and her sons build a new house in Bac Ninh province. We had some AMAZING responses, and so the house is under construction right now - more on that in the next week or two.

And second, we asked for donations to buy warm winter clothes for the street kids in time for Christmas. And again, we've had a lot of support come through, from all corners of the globe - a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has sent us some money to help out.

Over the last few weeks we've been taking kids out shopping, making sure they get what they need, but there's a real sense of festivity in the air - making the trips feel more like 'Christmas shopping' than about providing for basic needs.

And there's much more Christmas joy to come. Next Sunday, on Christmas Day, our staff and volunteers will spend time with the kids, and of course there will be some gift giving and parties.

Julian Carey, one of our strong supporters who happens to be a mum with a child at the United Nations International School (UNIS), will be coming to our weekly football match (yep, even on Christmas Day!) with a car load of presents that grade 1 and 5 UNIS kids have donated and wrapped.

She did the same last year, and our kids were filled with the most incredible excitement when they got to open the gifts. We'll have some pics to post after the event next Sunday morning - should be a blast.

It will be a fun Christmas, and our kids will be delighted, but I'm not going to pretend that some presents and balloons will change their world. There are some other charities about at the moment that are throwing massive parties for the poor - parties which just happen to also be terrific photo opportunities for their expat staff and directors to be snapped standing beside big donors.

There's something awfully hypocritical about westerners running charities who want to use Christmas parties as the focus of their year. It's easy to feel warm and fuzzy by inviting an impoverished family to join in a Christmas lunch. But what about the rest of the year? And what matters more - the 364 days of regular life, or the one day of Christmas?

When I think about the street kids that Blue Dragon works with, I know that they appreciate the gifts and fun that come with Christmas - they have in the past, and they will again this year. I also know that, in decades to come, it will be the 'long haul' of caring and commitment that they will most value.

Take Quyen, for example. In the two years that he's been a part of the 'Blue Dragon family,' he's had a tough time. Quyen was in hospital for two weeks with a head injury after being hit by a motorbike - my staff and I took turns visiting him so we could sit by his bed and hold his hand through that ordeal. Then we took up his case to make the motorbike driver who hit him cough up the money to cover the hospital bill.

Since then, Quyen has been expelled twice from his school, and on each occasion we've been there to work out a solution. The first time, we had to help him find a new school. The second time, one of the Blue Dragon social workers took him back to the teacher to mediate a peace treaty (and so far, so good). Apart from all that, Quyen comes to our soccer games and social outings, he's enrolled in one of our computer classes, and we're working with him to get a birth certificate, as so far his birth is unregistered - even though he's 16 years old!

Thanks to the UNIS kids, Quyen will be receiving a big Christmas present on the 25th, and he'll be invited to join us in a party after the soccer. He's going to love it all.

But forget the cheesy photo opportunities, thank you very much - the work that I take the most pride in is the daily slog that's mostly behind the scenes. Our kids know this. And so do our friends and supporters.

Julian, the UNIS parent who has organised the Christmas gifts, asked me last week, "What about rabies shots and all the regular innoculations - do the street kids have those already, or do they need to have them?"

Now, rabies shots don't give you the same warm fuzzies and cute photos that come with Christmas parties. Like most of our supporters, Julian knows the truth:

It's the long hard slog that counts.

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