Saturday, October 25, 2008

The story of Sam

Pagodas - or Buddhist temples - are scattered right throughout Vietnam, and many of them provide a place of refuge for orphans or abandoned children. Some are terrific, and some are... not.

Sam is 10 years old, and he was left in the care of one pagoda by his father, who loves him dearly but couldn't provide a decent home for his son. It wasn't an easy decision, but the pagoda seemed to care for the kids living there and, hey, even the World Bank was giving them funding, so Sam's father figured they must be pretty good.

But Sam didn't think so. Punishment involved being tied to a tree and beaten. Visitors walked in and out of the pagoda all day, admiring the children like in a zoo and interrupting their games and personal times over every weekend. Nobody was in charge of looking after the children, so they ran wild and nobody cared until some arbitrary rule was broken - and then the punishment was public and severe.

So Sam ran away, dreaming of finding his father. He returned to the street where his father worked as a motorbike taxi driver, only to find that he was no longer there... and nobody knew where he was.

Sam's dad had been coming to visit at the pagoda fairly regularly, so Sam knew he must be around. But soon he had to join a gang of runaway children in order to survive. The kids went begging during the days, and at night they played and slept under bridges.

One day about 10 weeks ago, one of Blue Dragon's older teens met Sam and brought him to our drop in centre.

Sam has been living with us since then, while we tried to unravel his story, verify what he claimed, and look for his father. Several of the staff have been involved, and at times it's been more like a police investigation than a standard social work case.

After weeks of searching, we had a breakthrough on Thursday: we found Sam's father. He is quite old and his health is poor, so he has been unable to work for a long time.

He was shocked to learn that his son had been living on the streets. Despite his bad health, he has been going to the pagoda every couple of weeks to see Sam... and the nuns have been telling him that Sam is there, but "he's at school this morning..." or "he must have gone out to play somewhere but he'll be back in a few hours and we'll tell him you came..."

To make it even worse, Sam's father insists that the pagoda staff have his mobile number and could reach him any time. We've repeatedly asked the pagoda if they knew how to contact the father - and they've claimed they don't know where he is or how to call him.

These huge frustrations have only served to increase the joy of the father-son reunion. Sam has finally found his dad; and now his father knows the truth about where his son has been for the past few months.

Sam is still staying in a Blue Dragon home, but just for a few more days while we help sort out a few family problems. We expect that he'll be living with his dad again by the end of the coming week. They'll need some support - both material and social - to make it work, but both want to be together so I can't see why it should fail!

This has definitely been one of our more complex cases. It sure is nice to see things working out for little Sam.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bits and pieces...

Lots has been happening here at Blue Dragon in recent weeks!

One 14 year old boy named Vuong has just started school - for the first time in his life! He came to us several months ago, having run away from his family in the countryside. After we took him back to his mother, it was clear that he would never have the chance to study if he stayed there. Within hours he had run away again and appeared at our centre asking to go to school. How could we say no!?

Linh, a 16 year old girl, has also gone back to school after an absence of 2 years. Our social workers have spent a lot of time working with Linh to get her ready for returning to the classroom; it's fantastic to see this happy outcome.

Some news from one of our original staff team... Tung, who started volunteering at Blue Dragon back in 2003 and later became a senior social worker has just passed an exam to study a Masters Degree at the University of Economics. Congrats, Tung!

BIG NEWS from one of the youngest Blue Dragon kids. Tan, who has cerebral palsy, has just been accepted into Grade 1 in a local primary school. Tan's story is here - and although we've been making good progress with him, it's been hard to find a school that could include him. We now plan to work with the school on preparing their staff and upgrading some facilities so that Tan can fit in with all the other kids.

And on the not-so-bright side, one of the Blue Dragon boys was injured last week in a knife attack in our parking area. Actually it was more of a sword than a knife, and the local police have been GREAT in looking for the attacker. Fingers crossed that they find him before he strikes again - but we've had to put a few extra security precautions in place.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

2 homes needed - urgent!

There's a lot of bad news around lately, but Blue Dragon has some urgent needs to meet that won't cost $700 bn...

Two families in Hue are having a crisis of their own: homelessness. Each family consists of two sons and a mother; and each lost their house in a storm. The first family (below) owns their own land, but are living in a tin shack which will be freezing this winter and has been unbearably hot all summer.

The second family (below) is one that I have written about previously. One of the sons was trafficked to Ho Chi Minh City, but we helped him come home in August. This family is living in a tent on the beach; their living conditions are just extraordinary.

We're estimating that each family needs about $2500 to rebuild their home, connect the electricity, dig a well, and get some basic furniture. I don't to like use the blog in this way too often... but if you can help with even just a part of this, please let me know:
If you want to do this in somebody else's name, Blue Dragon can send your friend or family member a picture of the home that they have helped build... could be a cool Christmas present.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Back where they belong

A tremendous feeling this week:

In the Central province of Hue, in a tiny village by the beach, a group of girls walk home from school.

Just weeks ago, these same girls were working in garment factories in Ho Chi Minh City, 700kms away. Having been bought by traffickers, sold to factories, and rescued by Blue Dragon... finally, finally, they are back where they belong: with their families, in their communities.

I can't help but smile.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008


The Blue Dragon team has put together a quarterly newsletter with some stories about our recent work... Email us if you haven't received it, but want to:

It's a great read - check out our latest reviews:

"This newsletter is all about job creation, under the umbrella of shoring up our economy, and health care reform, and ultimately the tax payers are going to bail out." - Sarah Palin

"My dream, and my hope, for this great nation of ours, is to dream of the hope of the... ah, just read the newsletter already." - Barack Obama

"Since reading the Blue Dragon newsletter, my banking stocks have tripled in value!" - James Fenbroke, Wall Street Analyst

What more do I need to say?