Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Racing toward Tet

Vietnamese New Year - Tet - is looming like a storm cloud. The streets are crazier than usual (yes, it is possible!) as everyone rushes to get ready for The Event of the year.

For Blue Dragon kids, Tet has a particularly pertinent meaning. Will the Year of the Dog bring luck, success, employment, or hope? Will things get better or worse?

The fortunes of the new year begin with the passing of the old. Right now is the time to give and receive gifts such as new clothing, and also to hand out Li Xi - lucky money. A child who does not receive any of these gifts in the coming weeks will start the new lunar year with little reason to hope for happiness or prosperity.

Over the coming week, the staff here at Blue Dragon are preparing two Tet parties: one for the kids in our Hanoi program, and one for the 250 or so girls and boys sponsored in rural areas, through our Stay In School program. Both events should be a lot of fun, but for the moment they are a lot of hard work! I hope to post news and photos of the parties next week.

Since my last post, the center has been in overdrive preparing for Tet and dealing with lots of urgent kids' issues. If I was superstitious I would be wondering of this was related to Friday 13... But it wasn't all bad, of course! Lots of good news too.

-> We have made good progress in dealing with the attacks on some of our kids. During last week, we found where some of the thugs lived and were able to take the police around to visit them. Looks like at least one of the kids who was robbed and beaten will be receiving compensation - and the attacks have definitely stopped for the time being.

-> Another of our boys had a run-in with a standover man, who has made a career out of lending money to homeless children and then making them steal and sell drugs to pay back the loan. Much to his credit, this one kid refused to break the law, but is now in danger for his life. We hope to have this problem sorted out in a day or so.

-> The second Antipodeans team returned from their community service in Bac Ninh on Thursday. The team was made up entirely of Australian school girls, and they spent four days painting a primary school and working on Hieu and Thao's new house (see the January 8 post). The house is coming along really well - all that Aussie labour has made a big difference. This second team dug out a lime pit (man, what a shame I missed that!) and cleaned the used bricks from the old house in order to start building the toilet and kitchen for the new house. The group returned to Hanoi absolutley BUZZING with excitement, but they must have slept for the next 30 or 40 hours!

-> Another Hanoi blogger, ourmaninhanoi.blogspot.com, has added a link to vietnamstreets, so I've been getting some extra traffic and a few offers of support from people around the world. A big THANK YOU to OMIH (aka Steve) and for his readers who have been checking in. Steve works with KOTO, a training restaurant for disadvantaged youth here in Hanoi - another great cause that's good for the kids.

-> Our chief psychologist, Khanh, was approached last week by a school that has a student in need of help. This isn't the first time we've had such a request, but it is one of the more extreme cases. The school has one student (we'll call her Huong) who is doing really well, getting brilliant results in all her classes, and going home after school to work 14 hours or so for her boss, who pays her the miserly sum of $10 a month. $10! The dividing line between employment and slavery in such a case is pretty hard to see. 'Huong' is 16 now, and has been out of school for a few years because of her mother's chronic illness: Huong has to earn the money to pay for the medicine. The boss justifies the ridiculous pay on the grounds that she so kindly lets Huong attend school. And once she knew that Blue Dragon was involved, Huong's boss made moves to make her quit school immediately. But we've reached a compromise - Huong will continue to work until the end of the month, then take a Tet holiday and return to school full time, with Blue Dragon's support, in February. No more slave labour, and one very annoyed boss who might have to pay staff a reasonable amount in future.

-> The hair cuts continue! Vu Doo salon gave the Big Snip to some more of our kids last week, with more to go today and tomorrow. It's such a treat for the children, and beautiful to watch Vu's professional staff treat these street kids to exactly the same level of service as they would any customer. (Thank you, Vu!)

-> Blue Dragon's Permit to Operate has just been renewed, and we are preparing to receive our first official volunteer through VIDA - a new program operated by Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYAD). Both of these events are big deals for us as we grow from a little operation struggling to survive into a sustainable and effective organisation. We're here to stay!

And to finish up... A moment of beauty in a hectic week. One of our guys here is a 16 year old street kid who has been struggling with drugs for a few years, and has had a miserable start to life. Everyone in his family is dead, or in prison, or on their way to prison - nobody has cared for this boy except the dealers on the street who seem in him the opportunity to exploit somebody weaker than themselves.

There is a photo in our 2006 calendar of this boy, and as he was looking over it last week, he turned to one of our social workers to ask what the numbers and symbols on a calendar mean. At age 16, he listened carefully as, for the first time in his life, somebody explained to him what a calendar is.

Such a simple moment, yet somehow so powerful.