Monday, August 06, 2007

An opening, and a closing

Close to 2 weeks since my last blog! But don't think this means nothing has been happening... It's actually the opposite. Some things just can't be blogged...

We have had some rough times - our staff have had to go out on some very long limbs to ensure the protection of a couple of kids, but all round we seem to be reaching good conclusions. It's hard to say more!

In the midst of it all, I went to a wonderful event last Tuesday night: the opening of a cafe.

By local standards, the cafe was pretty ordinary. Plastic flowers on the wall; a karaoke system loud enough to service a football stadium; and tiny plastic stools around tiny timber tables.

But for me, this was a very special opening night. The cafe owner, Tuyen, is the older brother of one of the teens at Blue Dragon. This boy - I'll call him Van - has had a pretty depressing life. Since his mother died a few years back, the family has fallen apart. Both Tuyen and Van have spent time shining shoes to support their family, and another brother has been in and out of drug rehabilitation over the past 3 years.

The opening of Tuyen's cafe was the first real success that Van's family has experienced in a long time. Tuyen and his wife Trang were so eager to please, and their drinks really were better then average. Their cafe will never make them rich, but it's their own cafe, and it's about a million times better than working as a shoeshine. Their determination and initiative deserve a medal. They won't get one, but the pride on their faces (and on Van's face) more than made up for it.

Also in the past week, the hope of a closing...

Blue Dragon has been helping about 30 families in Hue (Central Viet Nam), although we don't have any staff there, or even an official program. Once or twice a month, we take the train 600kms south to visit the villages and catch up with the families. Most of them have children who were trafficked to Saigon to work on the streets, and many have kids with disabilities or serious health conditions.

One of these is a boy named Ngoc, who at age 13 has a cleft lip. His parents consider their son to be cursed - and they tell him often. He's never been to school, never been taught to read and write, never been encouraged to think or talk or enjoy life.

We've been trying to get a hospital to operate on Ngoc for about 8 months, but every time we're close something goes wrong. Ngoc gets sick, or the hospital is busy - one time he even broke his arm. But we're sick of waiting, so on Saturday night we accompanied him to Hanoi on the overnight sleeper bus.

Ngoc will stay with us while we find a hospital to close up his cleft lip; and just as importantly we will help Ngoc to gain some confidence. Even though we have only a month or two, we should be able to teach him some basic literacy.

Ngoc's life is unimaginable to anyone who has not spent time in his village and seen what it is like. It's nearly impossible to comprehend how someone can be so badly treated by an entire village, including his own parents. I can't explain it myself, except to say that ALL of the children with disabilities in that area are treated the same.

Hopefully I'll soon be writing about a successful cleft lip operation - stay tuned.

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