Saturday, September 30, 2006

Twists and turns

The weekend was supposed to go like this:

On Saturday morning, I would fly to the south to meet Van, my staff member, and "Binh", the young guy who finished drug rehab and was released on Friday afternoon. I would discuss and negotiate a plan for "Binh's" return to Hanoi, then the three of us would fly back together on Sunday at lunch, in time for me to attend a meeting at our center with some of the nice folk from the Australian Embassy. All perfectly planned!

It's now Saturday night. What has actually happened is this:

On Friday night, "Binh" decided that he is not yet ready to return to Hanoi; although he had already been released, he requested another month of study in the Center and the Director agreed to re-accept him. So at 10.30pm, Van called me to say there was no need to fly down.

This morning, "Binh" returned to the Center - what a mature and brave thing to do! - and Van prepared to fly back to Hanoi early. Except... Saigon is having a typhoon, or hurricane, or something, and no flights can depart! He's trapped! And I would be, too, if I had gone.

Instead I have spent the day drinking too much coffee, swimming with the kids, and dealing with some twit who wants to blackmail me. More on that another day.

The best laid plans of mice and men...

But who cares. I am stunned at how courageous "Binh" is, and how wise, in choosing to return to a Center that limits his freedoms and makes him wear pink pyjamas 24 hours a day, because he can see that he is not yet ready to come home. He is no longer dependant on drugs.

A special THANKS to those of you who have been supportive and have expressed your concern for "Binh". I have high hopes for this kid.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Excitement, adventure, and really wild things

That heading doesn't build up your hopes, does it?

It has been an exciting week, though.

Last Sunday, a troupe of our girls put on 6 short performances in front of an audience of about 60 Blue Dragon kids, staff and friends. Drama is not commonly taught in Vietnam, so the girls had never done anything like this before... But WOW what a great show they put on. Their skits were on themes of school, home life, abuse, and so on - and all of the ideas and scripts came from the girls themselves. (Our staff member, Hanh, Khanh and Skye deserve a big clap too, though. Well done!)

Some photos below by Adam Hurley.

Anyone wearing pink and yellow together needs to be arrested

A skit about family relationships: Aww, please mum...

Hey! I'm in this picture!

The body language says it all: Get your act together, old man

On Tuesday we had the launch of a small project. This is actually a Disability Forum project, but Blue Dragon will have a role in developing a resource booklet for families of kids with disabilities. The Ambassador for New Zealand, James Kember, attended, as the NZ Embassy is funding the project, which was initially put to the World Bank for funding but failed to attract support. Thanks again, New Zealand!

And this weekend... A very big event. Six months ago I was writing about a 16 year old Blue Dragon boy who went to Saigon for drug rehab. Now he's coming back, and we hope to have him home either on Sunday or Monday. He has done well, he's off the drugs, and we can't wait to see him again.

Monday, September 25, 2006

He's home

It's been a challenging week, but the little guy pictured below is now safely at home with his family.

His name is The (prounounced 'tare'), and he's been sleeping on the streets of Hanoi, after a dispute with his family about computer games that lead to him running away from home for three months!

The's mother has been so stressed and worried that she's been hospitalised. His father has also been unable to sleep - to the point that he had an accident and broke his arm. One of our staff accompanied The home this morning, a two hour bus trip from Hanoi.

He's been through a lot, and had some difficult times... but I feel that he must be counted among the luckier of our kids for having a family that cares for him so very much.

We won't forget you, The...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Yesterday's blog mentioned, in passing, that I have a dog named Wheels... and, fair enough, I have received a few emails asking what the story is!

Wheels is the most gorgeous dog I have ever owned! She's great with the kids and, apart from people with beards and sunglasses, she loves everybody. I'm sure she was delighted at having somebody to play with that time the office was robbed.

But anyway - why "Wheels"? Well... one of our neighbours is a disabled woman named Thanh, who sells chewing gum from her wheelchair around town. But her wheelchair is a special vehicle with three wheels, operated by a lever that is pumped up and down.

When Thanh heard that I wanted a dog, she went out and found a tiny pup, and brought it to me on her wheelchair. Hence the name "Wheels".

These days, when visitors come to Blue Dragon for the first time, I introduce Wheels as the Deputy Director, or the Entertainment Coordinator, which isn't far from the truth. If ever we have a dull day, we can always rely on Wheels to keep things exciting.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Anger, fear and laughter

I'm still in my post-oceanic euphoria. As much as I loved the sailing journey - and I DID love it - it's great great great to be home.

I am still finding myself riding some emotional waves, though. We're dealing with some powerful cases this week, and I think that all of the staff are feeling the heat.

On many occasions, I have mentioned our work in the area of helping kids who have been trafficked for child labour. Apart from reuniting children with their families, the most effective thing we can do is to educate people about the dangers of selling their kids to the traffickers.

Now, I happen to think we have done a pretty good job of this so far. But we were greatly shocked on Monday to learn of a mother who has just sold her 12 year old daughter, in spite of us having rescued her son once from a very serious situation. This mother knows better than anybody that her daughter is now in great danger; but it seems she wanted the money more than she wanted the daughter. This is VERY unlike Vietnamese families, which are normally so strong and caring. Family is everything.

The woman's son, who is now 13, is confused and angry about what his mother has done. In most cases, I would encourage kids to not be angry with their parents... But, well, I happen to think he's right about this. And I think it shows great strength of character for someone so young to be prepared to take a stand on such an important issue. Anger isn't always a negative emotion.

In a completely separate case... On Saturday night we received a call from a good friend who works in Vietnam, named Kees, who had seen a small boy sleeping on the streets and was hoping we could help. Kees knows us well, and also knows a lot of our kids.

We found the boy on Sunday night, wandering about near a massive apartment complex on Hai Ba Trung street. The boy, Hieu, is tiny: he says that he is 15, but if I posted a photo, nobody would believe me. He looks like a 12 year old who is way too small for his age. At best.

Van and I spoke with Hieu for about an hour. He absolutely would not consent to come with us. His clothes were filthy, he clearly hadn't eaten well in weeks, and his huge brown eyes made him look so incredibly vulnerable - but there was no way he would trust us. He finally agreed to walk with us to a cafe, where we all had a drink. Even then, I could see how frightened he was that we would hurt him.

We did our best. We gave him some money and said that, if he came with us and did not like our center, he could leave immediately. We promised that we would not force him to do anything, would not make him call his parents. We suggested that he could stay just one night, and then leave the next morning if that's what he wanted.

Nope. No. Forget it.

So we rode home, unsuccessful. Not a good feeling.

Before we left, though, we promised we would come back the next day. And so, on Monday night we returned, this time with a secret weapon: Vi. I first met Vi about 4 years ago when he was shining shoes on the streets. Today he is a senior barman in a fine restaurant; he speaks fluent English, and has traveled to Singapore, Thailand, and China. (He would have gone to the US for the summer if only they would give him a visa! C'mon, Bush, I KNOW you're reading this.)

We found Hieu, in deep sleep on a stone slab beside the street. It took me so long to wake him that I started to fear something was wrong. But when he did wake, he seemed - well, not pleased, but certainly less hostile than the night before.

Vi, Van and I took him for another drink. We chatted, talked about computer games, joked about, listened to Vi tell his own life story... and finally, FINALLY, Hieu gave us a smile. The impenetrable barrier was breaking down. (Confession: I had to tell him that I am married to my dog, Wheels, and that we love each other very much in order to get this smile out of him. But it was worth it).

Hieu agreed to come back with us. He spent the night sleeping with several other kids at our center, and the whole of today was taken up with reading comic books and sleeping. And laughing. I swear, his smile is the most beautiful sight on earth.

He's still afraid, and there is so much that we don't know about him yet. He is telling us that his parents have died, which might be true... But it's also what 99% of runaway kids tell us when we first meet them.

It's going to take a lot of time to build up some trust before we can find a way to help Hieu. For now, I'm just glad that he's not sleeping on the street tonight.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

All new episodes

I'm back.

For the past month, Skye Maconachie has been blogging about Blue Dragon kids while I have been sailing across the Pacific Ocean.

My good friend, Hugh Adams, bought a 46 foot sail boat in San Fransisco and needed some help to sail it to his home in Fiji. I thought it would be a great experience to travel with him - having never been on a boat before in my life.

So I went. I didn't make it to Fiji, though; we had some delays and so I could only get as far as Hawaii before I had to head back to Vietnam. Hugh is continuing the rest of the way with another sailor, and should arrive in Fiji in about three weeks.

Everybody wants to know, of course, how my trip was. But what can I say? I have delayed writing on the blog since we landed in Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii last week. I am still not sure how to explain the joys and terrors of our journey.

We set out on this...

The clearest thing I can say is this: I feel like a character in a TV show, at the start of a new series.

We arrived on this

A new series always comes after the dramatic season finale; and there are always changes, twists, and new threads as the next series commences.

It's been a long time since I saw much TV, but I still remember the excitement of end of season / start of season action on over-the-top shows like Melrose and X-Files, when you'd be left hanging over the Christmas break to find out how all the crises would resolve, which they invariably would.

So here’s the story, and I’m expecting Aaron Spelling to call any minute now.

The basic plot: Michael and Hugh spend a week in San Fransisco preparing to sail across the ocean. The two finally set out, only to discover that Michael really does get sea sick, after all. Once he has stopped vomiting over the side of the boat, he starts to enjoy the trip – until things start going wrong. The travelers land in Hawaii 18 days later, in a row boat, and Michael returns home to an emotional reunion with Blue Dragon kids and staff.

The action: Out at sea, the sail boat strikes trouble during a storm, when the boom tears away from the mast, leaving the boat without the main sail. Other minor problems compound the drama: water pumps fail; the radar dies; and the engine becomes incapacitated, making it impossible to reach shore. Meanwhile, back at Blue Dragon, a team of doctors investigate the cases of four disabled children, and deliver a mixed bag of verdicts. The Blue Dragon lawyer, Van, once again avoids arrest while fighting for trafficked children in Hue. Everybody in Hanoi gets pink eye, but this appears to be unrelated to everything else that’s going on.

The romance: Back at Blue Dragon, Social Worker Giang announces that she’s getting married! And everybody is invited!

The comedy: For the first time in his life, Michael goes sleep walking. Unfortunately, the hotel manager is not amused at having some guy walking about in his underwear asking which room he is staying in.

The character changes: Two key volunteers, Eric and Noemie, pack their bags and head home, following emotional farewells. Kids and staff alike are devastated. However, at least four new children arrive, all with beautiful hearts and desperate for a helping hand.

The conclusion: Back at home after all the drama and excitement of the 3000km sailing trip, Michael realises that he wants nothing more than to be with the Blue Dragon family. On his first day back, he meets a 13 year old boy named Dat, who cries as he tells of how he and his mother are sleeping on the street because they cannot pay their rent. And so the new season begins…


Friday, September 08, 2006

A Blessed Opinion

We are not medical experts here at Blue Dragon- Education and Wholistic well being are our stengths. However we do know how to handle fevers, small cuts, Betadine and bandaid applications, and RUBELLA ( ask me about that later). But there are a handful of Special cases amongst our kids that are difficult to get a good opinion on and to find the best medical plan for their lives.

This week we have been blessed with Doctor Jan from America who works with PROJECT VIETNAM. James Brennan, a friend of Blue Dragon's was able to organise this consultation for us. She came to visit our centre to give us a third opinion for five of our children. This was a very moving experience for me.

Duc, a little boy with major hormone deficiencies, came with his Mother. Duc has been to see many doctors, and I can't imagine how much it must bare on him having to listen to adults talking about his health, future or lack of. The reality of the situation is that there is no miraculous drug which will make him normal height, strength,etc as he is now 15 and his bones are already starting to fuse.
Seeing Duc and his mothers reaction to all of this information really broke my heart. I can understand his mothers stress, especially in a culture where your only son holds such great importance for your families future. Ducs mother is such a loving woman, and has tried her whole life to help her son. There is hope though!
If we can get him to see a GOOD Specialist at an SOS clinic who can do the proper hormone tests on him to see exactly what his body needs and to work out a medical plan for him. Maybe they could improve his testosterone levels which would help him to develop in a more 'manly' way , which would in turn boost his confidence. If we can increase Duc's confidence and self esteem it will help him to enjoy the life he has been given. He just wants to be like the other kids, to be normal. Bless his little heart. We won't give up, and we have just found out that there is an alternative to the drug which Duc needs,(crucial if he gets sick) which is cheap and readily available in Vietnam. Slowly, Slowly the right path is being shown to us with the help of wonderful people.

I think living in the bubble of our own lives we really forget to put ourselves in other peoples shoes. When I got home last night i thought of the kids who had seen the doctor and how their lives have or haven't changed, what do they worry about, how are they feeling, what strength they need to get through every day? I won't turn this blog into a novel about each individual case, but I just wanted to share with you this experience. Basically, for those whose "medical condition" does not effect their everyday life, ie. they can still play, run, walk, have fun, have friends, study and have energy, they will be able to live a full normal life regardless.

Unfortunately for one of the boys, Thien, 9 years old, who is disabled, the access to professional carers who are experts in education for children with learning disabilities is not available here, hence putting so much extra stress on the mother who is already struggling to survive. BUT if we can find a specialist Optometrist for disabled children, we may be able to get him the RIGHT pair of glasses which would increase his ability to learn by 80%. I couldn't imagine trying to learn how to read and write when I can't even see the paper in front of me clearly, Could you?

And so our work continues, to find the best solutions for these amazing children and their precious carers.

For those of you like me, who are blessed with good health and a strong body, give thanks because there are many people who go home everyday and worry about what their future holds or can't go to school because their face is a funny shape, or can't make new friends because of their Cerebal Palsy even though their are the smartest kid in class. We must give thanks for our blessings, and share them with all.

I hope you all have a beautiful weekend


Friday, September 01, 2006

Trafficked children return to School

Toan recieves a bag of goods for his family

Last weekend Van, our Lawyer and Diep our trainee Social Worker headed off to Hue to help the 16 trafficked children (who were recently returned to their homes in Hue from Ho Chi Minh City) to enrol in school. A total of 24 children were enrolled, including a few siblings of the trafficked kids. Van and Diep provided each child with schoolbags and stationery to study and a bag of supplies for their family - shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and 1kg of OMO.

These kids have been on quite the journey since they were initially trafficked to Ho Chi Minh City. They are only one sixth of the kids who were trafficked from this village, that we are aware of. They now are enjoying their right to education and their right to a childhood. We intend to support these children for the duration of their education and also support their families. The poverty which these families are living in is extreme; most houses are patchworks of wood, plastic, and bamboo scraps, many with only 2 walls and exposed to the elements.

This is the home of 6 people.
One of the daughters is now attending school.

Van also discovered in this area that so many of the children were illiterate and had never been to school before. These children are at high risk of being trafficked as the traffickers bring promises of education..which of course never come true. (One of our kids was working from 7pm - 12pm the following day selling flowers - no time for school at all!)Van was able to interview 45 of these children ( there are many more ) and we are working on finding ways to get these children free education.

Van collecting information and giving gifts

Whilst Van and Diep were in Hue, they met two children and one adult in need of Eye surgery and as our lucky stars were shining, there was a group of Australian Vietnamese Eye Doctors in a nearby district. It was a VIETNAM VISION PROJECT sponsored by Australian Vietnamese Health Professionals NSW and Rotary.

Lanh, 17 years old.
Enjoying good sight after his successful eye operation.

One of the children was able to receive immediate eye surgery and is now enjoying clear bright sight, the other two people have appointments next Tuesday. Van was truly touched when the doctors gave priority to those without identity papers. When a Vietnamese doctor questioned this action the response was "because they have no papers they have always been turned away so many times at other hospitals, not here".

There is so much work to be done in Hue, and I guess for those of you in other parts of the world you could say the same about the countries you are living in. We have to do the best we can where we are, so we intend on doing all in our power to lift the standard of life for these people living in extreme poverty in villages in Hue.

On a lighter note today is our last day before a long weekend. Which we are all looking forward too. As much as I absolutely love life here at Blue Dragon you also need to take some time out for yourself and out of the CITY!!! I am off to the cool mountains of Sapa up on the Chinese border. Have a fantastic weekend!