Saturday, March 31, 2007

Back to Nam

The last couple of weeks have gone by in an incredible blur.

Early in March, I headed to Australia to see my family, attend a fundraising dinner, and spend time with young Quan, who went to Brisbane for surgery on his face. It was an extremely busy three weeks, but all with good results.
Quan is out of hospital already and relaxing in the home of his host family. His mother has been very stressed, but she can now see the outcome: the neuro-fibroma is gone, and soon the swelling and pain will be gone too. Quan should return to Vietnam in about 10 more days.

The fundraising dinner, organised by the Vietnamese community in Sydney, was spectacular - over 700 people attended, including my niece and nephews! (Aren't I a proud uncle?) The money we raised will be used to support more children in central and southern Vietnam.
While I was in Australia, our kids in Hanoi were hit by a chicken pox epidemic, which also laid up some of the staff. Ouch. Our center has also been affected by the rolling blackouts that are hitting the whole city... although the electricity has been fine since I got back. Fingers crossed that the problems get sorted out.
Our next big challenge is to find a new center in Hanoi where we can all fit in. Our current building is way too small for the number of kids who visit us each day, and we never seem to have enough classrooms. The search for a new home has already begun, but I imagine it will take a while. I look forward to the day I announce our big move.
A few other interesting things have been going on... I will get back to regular blogging now, and write more in coming days.

Friday, March 16, 2007

On another street

Many of Blue Dragon's friends and supporters around the world know - or at least know about - a 15 year old boy named Quan, who has a benign but very large tumour growing on one side of his face. Just recently, I wrote about Quan here.

Quan is in Brisbane now; only a 10 hour flight, but a world away from his home in Hanoi. His mother, Trang, has come as well, and they are preparing for surgery this Saturday at Brisbane's Martyr Hospital. If all goes well, the tumour will be removed and Quan can get back to a normal life.

It's truly amazing how many people around the world have pitched in to help Quan. Some friends from Catholic Relief Services in America have donated money; Operation Smile in Australia has organised the doctor and the use of the hospital; and an Australian-Vietnamese family has provided free board and lodging for Quan and Trang for 6 weeks.

Over the last few days, some Vietnamese newspapers in Australia have written about Quan's journey and treatment. Since then, he has been approached by complete strangers, Australians of Vietnamese descent or origin, who want to help. I heard one story today of a man who saw Quan in a shop and tried to give him $20; he cared so much that his first instinct was to give. I know that Quan tried to refuse the money, but I am not sure who got their way!

A Blue Dragon volunteer, Skye, who has finished her volunteering assignment with us, is accompanying Quan and Trang on their trip. Even though she's exhausted after 12 months of intense work at the Blue Dragon centre, Skye is hanging in there for a couple more weeks to ensire that Quan and his mother are well taken care of.

What do Quan and Trang make of all this? I can't imagine. Such an outpouring of concern and compassion must be overwhelming, at the very least. Sadly, they are more used to discrimination and rejection than to random acts of kindness.

The above pic is of Quan and Skye, taken by a great friend, Alison Vidotto.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Get out of here, Spielberg

... Because the Blue Dragon kids are taking over!

Late last year, the Irish Embassy in Vietnam donated funds for us to start up an IT center. Among other subjects, our kids have been learning to make movies.

Here's their very first movie!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

It's HUGE, I tell ya

A couple of months ago, some great volunteers, Kai and Nate, created a short film about the work of Blue Dragon Children's Foundation.

At long last... here's the link. It's about 5 minutes, and features Chinh (a former shoeshine boy), Phuong (a female social worker) and me (Brad Pitt wannabe).

Take a look - but look at Nate and Kai's other films, too. They are two highly talented guys...

Friday, March 09, 2007

One at a time

One of my usual boasts is that Blue Dragon's work in Vietnam is unique. Our trademark approch, which differs from everybody else's in the country, is that we do case work: we develop IAPs (Individual Assistance Plans) for each of the kids in our program.

This is very effective, but the downside is that our programs are relatively more expensive than other charities in Vietnam. And with very limited funding, we always face the issue of whether we should reduce the level of support we give each child by moving to a more standard, 'one size fits all', approach.

In short, though, it's not going to happen. The kids we deal with have very different needs. Two cases that we've been working on lately highlight this.

The first is the case of a 13 year old boy who was born in prison, where he spent the first five years of life. He's never been to school, and seemed to be illiterate. He is unable to write anything, even numbers, and he's the first child I've ever met who cannot write his name.

But - and this is a big 'but' - he chats online.

My own training is as an English teacher, and I've sure never come across anything like this before. When you put this boy in front of a computer, he can type away for hours. There's nothing he can't do. It's just that he's never been taught to read and write on paper.

The second case is of a 16 year old runaway boy who we met last week. He was brought to us by another street kid, who saw him sleeping on the street and invited him to our center. It turned out that the boy had run away some time ago - I'm not sure exactly how long, as you'll soon understand - and had just come out of a detention center, so had no money or resources at all.

After getting to know the boy, Blue Dragon staff convinced him to make contact with his family, and he subsequently decided to go home. All pretty usual stuff. One of the staff members joined him for the 4 hour trip home to make sure the reunion went well.

And it did... but (here we go again) there was one obstacle to get through. The mother did not recognise her own son. She was so uncertain that the boy standing on her doorstep was really her son that she demanded to see some identification or proof. Once she was convinced, the tears started to flow - from both mother and son. And my staff helped sort out a few of the problems that had led the young guy to running away in the first place.

One size fits all? I just can't see how it would work. I'd rather spend some more and make sure we get results.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Ready to fly

A big day is approaching fast...

One of our young guys, named Quan, is flying to Australia mid next week with his mother.

Quan has a growth on his face that is totally harmless, health-wise, but has left him with a terrible disfigurement that is embarrassing and has already been a hindrance to him being accepted into schools.

Within coming weeks, doctors at Martyr Hospital in Brisbane will remove the growth and restore Quan's face to the way it should be.

This is hugely exciting for Quan and his family; a chance for life to get back to normal!

The photo below is of Quan and his mother with the Australian Ambassador to Vietnam, Bill Tweddell, and his wife Chris. (Oh yeah, I'm in there too, along with Blue Dragon Social Worker Phuong, and volunteer Skye).

We had afternoon tea at the Ambassador's residence as a way of marking this great step forward in Quan's life. He and his mother were treated like royalty, and left the residence with extra confidence for the journey that lies ahead.

Soon they'll be flying, for the first time in their lives, and spending the next 6 weeks in Brisbane. Skye will accompany them on the flight, and I'll meet them in Brisbane shortly after the operation.

And when we all get back: another afternoon tea with the Ambassador's family. Can't wait to blog about that one...