Saturday, December 31, 2005

A year of change

At the end of 2004, the coming year was looking very uncertain for Blue Dragon.

The Vietnamese government had just issued us with an official licence, granting us permission to run projects for street kids. This was a major step forward, providing our work with greater legitimacy and much greater security.

At the time, we had a very small office, and I was working with just two staff members - Thuy, a law graduate, and Vuong, a former shoe shine boy.

Our programs were small but yielding strong results. A few of the young guys we had helped escape the streets were now in jobs, and we were supporting about 100 rural kids, mostly girls, through the Stay In School sponsorship program.

But some challenges lay ahead.

We planned to turn our informal work with street kids into an official program: only that we lacked two major ingredients - money, and a local government partner (compulsory for foreign charities working in Vietnam). As 2005 commenced, we had no idea how we would find enough money to run the program, or which government partner we could work with to implement our rather left-of-field approach. By March, both issues were sorted out, and the street children's program, "Step Ahead," was launched in May.

But even with all of this, we still faced the challenge of finding acceptance in the local community. Our office was in a very conservative neighbourhood that did not want a street children's center. On one occasion, two of our boys were physically attacked by business people while walking to the office. On several occasions, our building was attacked by thugs, usually at night, and was the target of theft several times.

So we decided that the simplest solution was to leave - and we found a larger building in a less aggressive area. The move also brought us much closer to the homes and communities of the kids in our programs. (The photo below is taken in our new building shortly after we moved in).

Now as 2005 draws to an end, Blue Dragon staff and volunteers are proud of the progress we've made. In the countryside, we are working with close to 250 children, all of whom would have quit school by now if not for the many individual and group sponsors providing financial support.

Here in Hanoi, we have 60 kids on Individual Plans - meaning that we provide comprehensive support for their education, health, accommodation, and social needs. There are at least 100 kids more who come to our football games and drop into the center when they need some help.

More kids have quit the streets to return to school; more teens are in good jobs and earning steady incomes. We have built five houses for desperately poor families, and helped one child escape from the people who trafficked him to Saigon.

Our list of achievements in 2005 is a long one!

But what about 2006?

We do face some immediate challenges. One of our young guys, an orphan, is in hospital with a lung disease; six weeks ago doctors doubted that he could survive. Now we are looking at rehabilitation and recovery over at least the next nine or ten months.

Another of the kids has committed himself to quitting heroin - he's homeless and totally illiterate at age 16, so he's going to need a lot of support.

My last blog told the news of Mrs Tat's sudden death; we are half way through building her new house, and her sons, aged 14 and 17, are now in desperate need of help. This will require a lot of tact and care, as we need to ensure that the children are the sole beneficiaries of their mother's estate, in accordance with her will. They'll also need some significant emotional and material help to get them through the year.

For our street children project, we plan to double the number of kids on individual plans, and we intend to start supporting a center in Hoian, with over 30 street kids who love in a residential setting.

Blue Dragon has no plans to take over the world - building an empire for ourselves is not what we're about. But growth and development in the coming year will mean more children and teenagers off the streets and on the path to a life without poverty.

I look forward to sharing the highs and lows with you as the year unfolds.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow Michael! What an impressive year. You've really done so much and touched so many lives - for the better. May Blue Dragon go from strength to strength!