Sunday, February 12, 2006

Postscript: Little Chung returns

SUNDAY is usually the best day of the week for me… We have social activities with our kids outside the center, with plenty of time for a slow breakfast at Café 252. And I try to keep the boring admin work to a minimum!

We start the day with soccer: 8am on two dirt fields near the office. We’ve been playing for three years now, with about 50 kids joining in every week.

The soccer is purely a social event – we’re there for an hour no matter what the season or weather, so any street kids in Hanoi can find us and meet us on their own terms.

Last night I wrote about how we often have kids who ‘disappear’ for a year or more, and we just don’t know where they are or what has happened to them. This morning, one of our guys returned after being away for 18 months.

Friends and vols know him as “Little Chung”. He’s an orphan, who met us back in 2003 and was making good progress for a while, before things started to fall apart for him. We had helped him enrol in school and he wanted to join a handicrafts course, but neither of them worked out well. He started hanging out with a bad crowd and got himself into trouble, so started to drift away from us. And then one day he was picked up off the streets and sent to prison.

He was 13 then, and everybody here was worried about what had become of him. We didn’t know that he’d been arrested, and had no way of knowing. So to see him back at the soccer this morning was a real buzz for us. He’s already back working on the streets, so hopefully he’ll come by on Monday and we can start over again…

OUR OTHER SUNDAY ACTVITITY is a drumming circle at the American Club. But I failed to make it there today – despite inviting others to come and see me there!

One of Hanoi’s few truly fine restaurants, The Vine, was holding a party for its staff and their families. Donald Berger, the amazing guy who founded the restaurant, has hired 6 older teenagers from Blue Dragon; and as most of our kids don’t have families, one of the boys invited me to accompany him.

I had no idea what I was in for – I thought I might stay a few minutes and then head off to drumming. No chance. Apart from being a great meal (and about a truck load of wine), the party was a celebration of the staff’s achievements.

The big event was the announcement of the Employee of the Quarter award. In the last quarter, Nguyen Van Minh won the award; I first met Minh back in 2002 as a shoeshine in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Today, another of Blue Dragon’s young people received the Award – Le Hoai Hai.

Hai is an orphan, and unlike most orphans he doesn’t know anything at all about his background. His earliest memory is of walking the streets in Hanoi, selling chewing gum. He was probably 5 or 6 years old. A local woman named Phuong saw him and took him into her home – now, eleven years later, he’s still there, and has even assumed Phuong’s family name.
Hai’s time at The Vine hasn’t always gone smoothly. He’s quit twice, when the pressure seemed to be too great. One time, a local journalist persuaded him to answer some questions for her by promising Hai guaranteed entry into a sports academy – so he quit his job the next day! But each time this has happened, Tu the Executive Chef has urged him to come back to work and sorted out any problems.

So today’s award is a massive feather in Hai’s cap. Receiving Employee of the Quarter is really something when there’s a staff of 100!

It’s a pity I missed the drumming, but what a treat to see one of the poorest and most vulnerable young people we work with receiving his certificate.

Congratulations, Hai – and welcome back, Little Chung!

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