Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Gutter scum

Blue Dragon Children's Foundation is based in a neighbourhood that has a substantial drug problem. The authorities know about it, and they do what they can. We have two teenage boys currently in drug rehab. Seeing drug users shoot up is a part of our everyday life.

I don't judge drug addicts; I do believe that, unless they have a real choice in life, nobody should judge them harshly for doing what they do.

But today I am drawing a line.

Two blocks away from our center there are two ladies in their early thirties who peddle heroin on the streets. To avoid trouble with the police, they have started using a whole new strategy. They are recruiting orphan and homeless children as young as 12 to sell the drugs for them.

Last night, they beat one of their new recruits with a stick, and took a few slashes at his leg and neck with a knife. He's got plenty of deep bruises and cuts to prove it.

I don't care what kind of hardship these women have endured. I don't care what excuse they have for turning to drugs, and drug dealing, as the best choice they have in life.

Anyone who uses children to sell drugs is gutter scum. Trash.

Vietnam has zero tolerance for drugs. And the death penalty for drug trafficking.

We have started working with the police, and their response has been immediate. The dealers are still at work, but not for long. I am looking forward to the full weight of the law coming down on these animals who think that nobody cares about the kids.

More to come - watch this space.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

On the up

Some great developments at Blue Dragon over the past couple of days.

On Monday, two Blue Dragon kids started work at The Vine, one of Hanoi's finest restaurants, as waiters. And then today, four more were accepted as trainee chefs! (That's the 4 cooks-to-be below, celebrating with a fruit shake after their job interviews).
And this afternoon, the young guy below, Manh, was reunited with his father after spending about a month on the run in Hanoi. Manh and his dad spent some time sorting out their differences with the help of our chief psychologist, Khanh, and lef tus resolved to get things right. We wish them well!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Flat out

It's Thursday night, and I have spent the whole week so far studying the ceiling. Not that the ceiling is so interesting, but I managed to pull a muscle in my back - probably while practicing for the Olympic gymnastic team. Or something.

This means, of course, that I have not seen much action at Blue Dragon over the past few days. But I do hear bits and pieces from the kids who walk in to my office to look sympathetic and give me advice on what I'm doing wrong. Thanks guys.

There is something pretty exciting going on, though. Late last year, the Irish Embassy gave us a grant to open a computer lab, staffed with a full time IT guru. And then, early this year, a British company called Springboard4Asia gave us accreditation to train our kids in ICDL - the International Computer Driving Licence.

Normally, street kids are given a very simple choice of training options: motorcycle repair (if you're a boy), and sewing (if you're a girl). There's nothing wrong with either of those vocations, but there IS something wrong with the assumption that, somehow, all people from disadvantaged backgrounds are only capable of them.

In coming days, 8 of our kids - 4 girls and 4 boys - will go to a testing center and sit the exam. If they do well, they will have an internationally recognised certificate attesting to their computer literacy.

I'm really looking forward to the results... Now if only I can get up to go congratulate them...

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Hieu and Thao’s comeback

In December 2005, Blue Dragon was building a house for a family in Bac Ninh province. The younger son, Hieu (then aged 14), was supported through our sponsorship program to attend school. Thao, then aged 16, had quit school at Grade 4 to support his chronically ill mother, Mrs Tat. Their house was in such bad condition that it urgently needed to be rebuilt.

On December 27, just weeks after the new building had been started, Mrs Tat died in her old home.

Thao and Hieu had little choice but to be brave and strong. They did a great job of it, too. In the following days, all sorts of relatives turned up to look at their land and their new house under construction, and to drop very blunt hints that the boys should repay a debt of gratitude by handing over the house, or some land. My staff and I were shocked by the outrageous display of greed, and we sent our lawyer in to make sure that Thao and Hieu didn’t lose any of their inheritance. Even their father, who hadn’t been around for 10 years, put in appearance and started talking about taking over the house.

The house was finally finished, with some help from Aussie school students and some of Thao and Hieu’s own friends. Blue Dragon started supporting the boys with extra money for rice and clothing, and Thao went looking for seasonal jobs. Things were looking bleak. None of us knew how these teenagers could possibly get through.

It’s now about 18 months since Mrs Tat died. And despite all the hardships, things are looking up for her sons.

Hieu has just passed his Grade 9 exams, and will enter Grade 10 in September. For a child in his situation, it’s very rare to carry on at school.

Thao has finally landed on his feet. Thanks to our volunteer mechanic Andrew, Thao has picked up a traineeship as a welder in a foreign-owned company in Hanoi. Up until recently, he’s been going home to the countryside every second weekend to see his little brother – but he hasn’t been going more frequently because the bus trip takes too long, and he gets travel sickness.

But this week, a teacher living in Hanoi named Andrea donated her motorbike to Thao; Andrea is leaving Vietnam soon, and wanted her bike to go to a good cause. Now that he has a bike, Thao can return home every weekend, as the trip will only take about 45 minutes.

You can never tell what will happen next in life. And of course, Thao and Hieu’s story is far from over. But it’s great to see them doing so well now, and making the most of the opportunities that they have.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Let the hols begin

School holidays have kicked off, which means the Blue Dragon center is bursting at the seams with kids trying to escape the steamy summer. (Cry for help - we really need a much bigger building!)
We are running plenty of extra classes and activities, and are planning a trip to a national park for our kids who received certificates of excellence from their schools. The pix below are to show you what life is like in our center.

Monday, June 04, 2007

1000 miles

Today I am writing about a 'street man' from the UK rather than a 'street kid' from Vietnam...

Iain Purdie is a full-time traveller who stopped in Hanoi long enough last year to design our web page and help out in the drop in center for a few months. Somehow, late one night, he found himself announcing that he would walk the last 1000 miles of his world journey, in order to raise money for Blue Dragon.

He already regrets that he comes from a country that uses 'miles' rather than 'kilometers'. But a couple of people have started sponsoring him to do this... which means he cannot back out.

Iain is keeping a blog of events here; check it out and see what he's on about. The photo below was taken last time he was in Hanoi. He stayed at the Hanoi Backpackers Hostel and when the owners knew what he was up to, they kicked in $200. (That's me with one of the owners of the hostel, another Aussie named Michael).

Iain will soon be taking to the streets in an effort to raise money for Blue Dragon's work with street kids. Drop him a line... let him know someone is watching him!