Thursday, September 25, 2008


It's never the end of the story.

Every time Blue Dragon meets with great success, we know that the next day may well be brim full of difficulty and failure. And on those terrible down days, when everything goes wrong, we know that the next day may be the best we've ever had.

So it goes with looking after 800 boys and girls living in extreme poverty.

Of those 800, only about 60 live in Blue Dragon homes - the vast majority live with families or relatives, or in their community. But those 60 living with us certainly face the biggest challenges of all the Blue Dragon kids. These are the children and teens who cannot fall back on their own families, for any number of reasons. Some have no families at all; many are from families torn apart by alcohol or violence or drugs.

And as you can imagine, kids who have grown up in such hardship can't just leave their baggage at the door when they enter Blue Dragon's homes. Making the transition to a stable, caring environment isn't easy at all.

Many of our kids, although living away from families, are strongly affected by what happens back in their own homes. One of our teenagers, "Hieu," is wrestling right now with a powerful dilemma: he's been saving up money with the dream of opening his own business, but last week one of his brothers landed in huge trouble with the law and is facing the choice between paying a massive fine, or going to prison for some years.

The trouble is entirely of his own making and the police have dealt with him very fairly; but now the onus is on Hieu to save the whole family by sacrificing his dream of having his own shop. Hieu is one kid who has moved his way up through determination and hard work; he was a shoeshine boy when I first met and he's spent the last 2 years studying, training, and working part time. I dread the thought that Hieu's dreams are about to take such a blow.

For other kids in our homes, the allure of the streets never seems to fade. While most give up life on the streets and never look back, others are constantly tempted to once again join the gangs, hang out in the night markets, and make some quick money to buy a new mobile phone or bicycle. "Just this one more time," they tell themselves, "and then never again."

Earlier this week a group of kids who have been torn between having a home and tasting the freedom of the streets were sleeping on Long Bien bridge, which crosses the Red River and is home to many young people living rough. One 17 year old boy, "Vu", was sleeping too close to the edge of the bridge; he rolled over in his sleep, and dropped over the side. When the others woke, they saw their friend sprawled on the ground 30 metres below. Vu is in hospital now, with two broken legs and a host of other injuries - but he'll make it through.

For both Vu and Hieu, tomorrow will be a new day with new opportunities and also new challenges. They can fight their circumstances and try to make a change; or they can roll with the waves and accept whatever happens as their "destiny." That choice, at least, is theirs.

But whatever choice they make, their stories will go on. No matter how far they fall, there's always a way back up. It's never, ever, the end of the story.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Linh and a laptop

One of my common grumbles about the work of charities in developing countries is that they set such low standards for the people they help. They assume that poor people, including street kids, aren't capable of anything other than handicrafts and manual labour.

I love proving them wrong.

The street children who Blue Dragon works with are as diverse as any cross-section of any population, anywhere. One of the kids we 've helped now works for the government as a Garbage Collector; another works part time as an admin assistant in a foreign owned company while studying languages in her free time. To each their own.

Over the last few weeks, I've watched as one young man has made the transition to full time study at an IT College. The phrase "like a hand in a glove" comes to mind: he just seems so suited to his course.

Linh was a tiny runaway boy when I first met in 2004. He lived in Thanh Hoa province with his mother and sister, but they were just so poor that everything kept going wrong for them. It became too much for Linh, so he took off for Hanoi and ended up shining shoes to survive. (I wrote more about this in the Roundup blog a few weeks back). One of our volunteers was able to reunite Linh with his family, and over the past few years we have supported both Linh and his younger sister to go to school.

Now that Linh is studying in College, he seems like such a different person. He's a young man now, not a child. As part of being selected into the college's "elite class," he has been given a laptop, which he carries everywhere and keeps in perfect condition. It struck me the other day that Linh was carrying a rough timber box of shoeshine gear when I first saw him; now he's carrying a laptop in a special bag.

I guess I'm so excited about this (excited enough to be writing about Linh in 2 separate blog entries!) because I see Linh as truly reaching his potential. He's taken on this course because he loves IT, not because he's poor and "this is a good job for poor people," a phrase which stirs an instinct within me to bare my teeth and growl. He's doing it because he wants to, and because it's the right 'fit' for him. The laptop definitely suits Linh much better than the shoeshine box did.

I'll add a photo as soon as I remember to take one... And I must say a special thanks to the donor (you know who you are) who has paid the very expensive course fee for Linh...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Another day, another mugging

Every now and then, I write about the Blue Dragon children being attacked or robbed in all kinds of circumstances. This is fairly common, which doesn't make it any less outrageous, and it drives me crazy every time.

On Saturday, one of our teenage boys - let's call him Nam - was riding his bicycle along a main rode in the middle of the day when two motorbikes veered across his path. Nam had spent the morning working at an international school, as a 'runner' for the morning soccer matches, and was on his way to the other side of Hanoi where he has an apprenticeship in a mobile phone repair shop. This is one kid who works hard and doesn't spend his weekends playing games!

The two motorbikes, each carrying three young adults, were cruising the streets looking for someone to rob. When they saw Nam, they hoped to steal at least his bicycle, but were hoping he might also have a phone or some money they could take. (Hey, who needs a job when you can just go around robbing people, right?)

The men on one bike beat Nam up and fled with his bicycle. The guys on the second motorbike realised that they'd been tricked by their own gang - they got nothing! So they then tried to convince Nam that they would take him to find his bicycle... if only he'd get on their motorbike and go with them...

When they worked out that Nam wasn't so stupid, they beat him around some more and left.

All this on a major road in broad daylight.

When Nam was able to ring for help, I called for one of our social workers, Hai, to come to his aid. Hai happens to live nearby and he was happy to go see what he could do. Hai and Nam went and filed a report at the police station; and while the police were very helpful and sympathetic, finding these guys will be like finding a needle in a haystack.

Nam really loved his bicycle, and added to its loss is the humiliation of a public beating and the senselessness of being mugged while on his way from one job to another on a sunny Spring Saturday morning.

He really didn't deserve this... but I think that's a line I have written in dozens of my blogs over the last couple of years. If it wasn't for the fact that Nam is such a good person, like so many of the Blue Dragon kids, I think that this latest incident would really get me down.