Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The disappearance

Hanoi is eerily quiet in the post-Tet peace that sets in every year and lasts just a few days...

While all the staff are on holidays, I'm supervising the few kids who are left behind in our shelter, with no family to go home to. They're good kids, and don't need much in the way of supervision, so I have plenty of time to reflect on the past year and all that has happened.

Over the past 12 months, the saddest development on the streets has been the increase in the number of kids who get caught up in gangs and drug dealing. Mostly the gangs steal fruit from markets and re-sell it, then use the money to play games and eat through the next day. But more and more, they are breaking into houses, stealing car parts, and selling heroin. And then there's the fighting, which always involves knives.

There's a group of boys who live on the edges of these gangs; they have one foot on the streets, and one foot in Blue Dragon. Some have lived in our shelter, where I am now staying, then returned to the streets when the lure of fast money and the thrill of the chase became too strong.

Many of those same kids are now in prison or detention centres.

Each time one of our kids is arrested, my feelings are badly torn. I am filled with grief to see them start down the inevitable path of institutionalisation, and with fear for how they must feel in those first days and weeks of incarceration, before they find friends and small comforts in their new world. But I am also relieved, in a guilty kind of way, that the other Blue Dragon kids - those who are tempted to go back to the streets but have chosen not to do so - can see that they have made the right choice. Their envy of the teens with motorbikes and pockets full of cash soon evaporates when they hear of them landing in prison.

But then there are the kids who simply disappear. This does not happen often, but it worries me sick when it does. And it's just recently happened to a 15 year old named Hung.

I won't post a photo, but many volunteers and visitors will know Hung: he has an angelic face, he's shy, but he argues like a lawyer and seems to always be around when there's trouble. As one of our staff recently said: "He's just a typical teenager with a bad attitude."

I like Hung. I've met his family, who care for him but are unable to understand his needs and desires. He's bright, but leads from behind. He shuns the spotlight but ever since I met him 2 years ago I have learned that he knows what's going on and, 9 times out of 10, he's involved.

Hung did manage to come off the streets for a whole year, and he was doing really well but in September things started to go badly for him and he returned to the streets. We tried renting a small room for him, we tried sending him to school and training, but nothing seemed to work. Still, he'd come back to us every day for lunch, and sometimes come to hang out for dinner as well. Whenever he got picked up by the police our staff would go down to the station to sit by his side and talk things through with the officers.

About 2 weeks ago, though, something happened. Some of our kids saw Hung sitting in an internet cafe when a man came in, declaring himself a policeman, and handcuffed Hung. He lead him away, and nobody has seen him since.

Our local police know nothing about this. The district level police stations claim the same. Hung's family knows nothing either. We've been watching for Hung to log on to his chat service, but it's been silent. It's as though he has just disappeared into the winter fog, and no explanation makes any sense.

Maybe he's fine; maybe in coming weeks we'll find out where he is and what has happened. My past experience tells me not to panic. But deep down inside I fear that he's not OK.

Wherever Hung is, I hope that he knows someone is thinking of him.



Anonymous said...

My heart is with Hung and you. - Cat

Anonymous said...

I read about Blue Dragon in Viet Nam News. You do good work.