Friday, June 02, 2006

To Be

This morning I just have to boast of another Blue Dragon miracle.

Our volunteer lawyer, Van, has started a very important branch of work with us: obtaining birth certifates for the kids in our programs.

Why they don't have certificates is a bit unclear. Sometimes, their parents just didn't bother. At other times, their certificates have been lost (eg during floods) or the parents themselves never had birth certificates, and so could not obtain them for their children.

But without a birth certificate, how do you prove that you exist? This is certainly not a problem unique to Vietnam: anyone in Australia will know how difficult it is to prove their own existence when opening a bank account or getting a driver's licence renewed.

What our kids do find is that, the older they grow, the more difficult life becomes. Primary and junior secondary schools are quite flexible, but it becomes more complicated for kids who want to attend school beyond Grade 9, and sit for official exams. Getting an ID card is all but impossible - and without one, you can't get a real job, you can't open a bank account, you can't get a licence to ride a motorbike... You are, officially, nobody.

Today, three of our kids from one family have their certificates in hand. Two girls and one boy have, for the first time in their lives, official evidence that they exist.

This case was very important, as the oldest of the siblings, a girl named Quyen, was running into a lot of trouble with her school. She was being constantly asked for her identification papers, and had been told that she would have to leave school this month if she could not produce them. That would have been the end of Quyen's studies, and the 'lifetime poverty guarantee' that quitting school entails.

We are very proud to have helped this family; their mother is overjoyed. Just a week ago, she was crying into Van's shoulder, feeling powerless and worried that she could not help her daughter with something so simple.

In fact, the Vietnamese laws on birth registration are not complicated at all; if they have any drawback, it is that they are not well known. So the people responsible for issuing the certificates might not be fully aware of their responsibilities. But if this case is anything to go by, there is certainly hope that we can help the several dozen children we know who need to get their certificates urgently.

Another important step in the fight against poverty: Helping street kids to exist, officially.