Saturday, August 16, 2008

A new home, a new chance

About a year ago, Blue Dragon took over the day to day running of the Hoi An Children's Home, also known as Cahors.

For some years, the Home had been struggling to care for the 30 girls and boys who lived there - the passionate long term director, Mrs Diep, was all but alone there, with no carers or social workers to look after the kids. There was rarely enough food to go around, and on many nights and weekends there was simply no staff at all at the Home.

August marks not only the 12-month anniversary of Blue Dragon's work, but also the new intake of children to fll the places vacated by those older teens who have finished school and are heading off now to university or jobs. School starts in September, so the 'new kids' are starting to arrive and get settled in.

The program manager, an amazing volunteer named Nicole, spent a good chunk of her July traveling around the countryside interviewing families who had applied for their children or relatives to move into the Home. We couldn't accept all of them, but we did make a commitment that any child who wanted to join the Home, but didn't really fit the criteria, still received some form of ongoing support to make sure they'd be OK.

And so the Home filled up to its maximum of 30 children, and everything was set out for the coming year.


We received a call from Robyn Morley, who runs a medical-focused charity called CHIA. Robyn had come across an 8 year old boy named Nam who was in desperate trouble. He's never been to school, his home is no more than a shack, and his family situation is... well, it's appalling. It's the sort of situation that no kid ever, ever, deserves to grow up in.

Robyn and her staff were worried about Nam, and asked if we could accept him into the Home. The short answer was "no": The Home is already full, and Nam is too young anyway. Normally the youngest child at the Home is 10, and even that's in exceptional circumstances only.

However, there really was no other choice for Nam. Either he would live at the Home, or he would have to stay living in a rotten situation. Nobody wanted to refuse him.

So Nicole called together the 30 residents of the Home, as well as the staff, and put the problem to them: Nam needs a place to live. He needs to go to school. He needs someone to look after him. Are we going to help him, or are we going to say 'no'?

This was one of those occasions when we just had to roll the dice and see if our number came up. Everyone in management wanted to say yes, including Nicole and Mrs Diep; I wanted to accept him, and Robyn wanted us to do this. But if the staff and children were unwilling to help, it just wouldn't work. Having nam at the Home would undoubtedly mean more work, extra responsibility - and, ultimately, a stretching of our already limited resources.

But here's the incredible thing: absolutely EVERYONE agreed. If Nam needed us, then what were we even waiting for!? Bring him in!!

Nam moved in within days. The kids at the Home have taken him under their collective wing; everybody wants to help!

There's a long road ahead, though. How will Nam fare at school? Can Nicole and the team help Nam get a birth certificate, and jump through all the legal hoops required to register him as a citizen? Will Nam really be happy living at the Home for the next 10 years? And what then??

The signs are good, though. Nam is smiling from ear to ear, and so far there hasn't been a single problem. This is Nam's new chance. Whatever has happened before, the future is a different place now.

Anything is possible.

Let me help! All the kids want to do their bit for Nam.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another tear-jerker of a story, Michael! And thanks to you and the staff & kids at the Home, it just brightened up my gloomy day a bit better.
The bit where EVERYONE agreed to take Nam in and help him out was expected. I miss that about working with some charities in VN so much. That everyone is so kind, so enthusiastic, so compassionate, sometimes to the point of naivety. A beautiful kind of naivety though. Obviously it helps to be clear-headed and organised. But oftentimes, compassion is all that's needed to make it that much easier.
All the best to Nam!
and Blue Dragon, too.