Thursday, February 26, 2009

Go, Oscar, go!

How cool is this...

UNIS school in Hanoi has organised a walkathon on Friday 27th to raise money for the Blue Dragon kids.

One of the keenest walkers, a 4 year old named Oscar, has posted a movie on YouTube to appeal for sponsorship. (Well, OK, I think his mum helped with some of it).

Check it out here!

We'll be cheering for you, Oscar!


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Long time coming

A small but significant milestone this week...

For well over a year, Blue Dragon has wanted to build a house for a particular family in Hue. They've been living in this bamboo hut on stilts above a swamp:

... and in case you're thinking "well, that looks quite sturdy", here's a shot of the floor inside:

The fact that there were 5 children living in a house that was on the verge of collapsing was not the only reason we wanted to help. Their eldest son, Ky, was one of the first children we rescued from child traffickers and reunited with his parents. At the time we took him home, we promised him that his life would be better now; we needed to make good on that promise.

So we appealed for donations and had some promises of support. The Hanoi International Women's Club came good with $1000; Marc Gold from 100 Friends offered another $1000; and three individuals - Eva Bengtsson, Amy Ha and Quyen Trang, donated a few hundred more.

Enough to build the house!

But... there was quite a long delay in securing land for the family. The local government was committed to granting a block of land on which to build the house, but no land was available until early this year.

However - it's done! Finished! Het roi, as they say in Vietnam.

The Red Cross, who helped us with the building, organised an Opening Ceremony for the house... although they wanted to delay it until I could get there, or one of the Blue Dragon staff from Hanoi could attend. Our answer: No more delays! Have the ceremony and let the family move in!

I can't wait to see it for myself. The parents so happy to have a house that won't blow down in a storm... And I'm glad to say that we could finally prove to little Ky that things really are getting better for him and his family.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dragon of the River Banks

A big event last night - the launch of a photography book, Dragon of the River Banks, produced by Blue Dragon Children's Foundation.

Our kids have studying photography over recent months with an English photographer named Darren Zlatareff. The end result is a collection of photos of the Long Bien bridge, a major landmark in Hanoi and also the place where many street kids live and work.

The whole project was sponsored by ArtAction (previously ArtVenture) in Singapore and last night's launch was at Hanoi's Bookworm.

Below are some pics of the launch, but click here to see some samples of the photos taken by the children. They really are impressive...

The Bookworm was packed...

... so the crowd took over the street!

Some of the photographers receiving a copy of the book.

The photographer, Darren, is holding up a book beside one of the kids whose work
is included in the book.

The launch gave the kids a great chance to shine. They were so proud to see people buying the book, and ordering prints of their photography - and people weren't just being charitable. Their photography was exceptional!

Good on ya, Blue Dragon kids...


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Not getting through

It's come to my attention that a lot of emails to my email account have been disappearing into the ether - perhaps for over a month now.

If you've emailed me and I haven't responded, chances are I didn't get your message!

Get me at bluesep @ and apologies if you're wondering why I never write back...


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

All rice

Rice is being delivered!

The families gather at a rice distribution point...

This is Viet, who was trafficked a few years ago to work on the streets of Saigon. He's living with his family now and doing really well at school.

BIG THANKS to those people who respond to my blog last week and came through with the money to make this happen. (Scroll down to "Paradise for some" if you're not sure what I'm talking about!) Thanks to you, these 20 families won't be going hungry...


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

All rise

One heartbreaking part of my work at Blue Dragon is being able to foresee the 'destiny' of individual children, but not being able to do anything about it.

It's heartbreaking, because I can often see where the kids are headed, but nothing I say or do can get them off the path they are on. These are the kids who are constantly on the edge, pushing the boundaries, running risks - and most times, their families are already in prison, or living with addictions. It doesn't take a fortune teller to predict where these kids are likely to end up.

But on some occasions, I have seen kids change track and surprise everyone. On how many occasions? Well, enough to make me keep working here.

This morning I attended the district court along with one of our teenage boys, who has been charged with stealing a badge from a car.

Tu - not his real name, of course - has been a part of Blue Dragon for almost 3 years. His life story is one of the more fascinating: he's lived in Ho Chi Minh City, he spent over a year working in China, and when I first met him he was surviving by collecting scrap on the streets of Hanoi. There's a lot more to his story, and many details I still don't know about.

He was about 14 years old then, and he's about 17 now - but these are just rough guesses as he has no birth certificate. Tu's family never bothered to mark his birth date. After his parents divorced, he was passed around from family member to family member, and often left to fend for himself.

Tu is a quiet kid, and very bright: when he puts his mind to it, he can easily come top of his class. He says little, and even at Blue Dragon many staff and kids find him something of an enigma.

Tu was arrested in November last year, having ripped the badge off a brand new Ford. Apparently these badges can be resold for a lot of money: lots of street kids in Hanoi fund themselves through this badge theft. The owner of the car, although furious at first, has forgiven Tu and shown considerable empathy toward him. The police, too, were quite compassionate when they learnt Tu's story and realised that he has no family they could call on.

In short, Tu is a good kid in a bad situation. And today he went to court.

There was a lot of information for the court to take into consideration: since his arrest, Tu has been working part time in the Blue Dragon kitchen, as well as going to school, and his behaviour has been excellent. The fact that the victim of the crime forgave him also went in his favour.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Tu was handed a suspended sentence. He's not going to prison (which was a potential outcome) but he has a second chance to get things right.

Based on how he's been going over the past few months, there's every indication that Tu will use this second chance. He's hugely relieved to not have a harsher sentence, and he already has plans to keep on studying and working. Tu knows how fortunate he is to have this chance.

I've known Tu for a few years now, and I've always believed that he would make something of himself, although at times I've been a minority in holding that view. Today I see in him a young man on the rise: he's determined to change his circumstances and make something of his life.

And I really, truly, believe that he will do it.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Paradise for some

Hue, in central Vietnam, is a beautiful place. Hue City was once the capital city of Vietnam, and so is a goldmine of history - tombs, citadels, statues, the lot.

Outside the city, Hue's countryside is idyllic, from the mountain jungles to the white sand beaches.

Every time I visit Hue, and go to see the families supported by Blue Dragon, I am struck by the beauty of where they live. Their homes line the beaches, looking out over the ocean: I often think that a plot of land in a similar spot outside Sydney, or California, would have a price tag starting in the millions.

But these families are not 'real estate rich.' They live where they do because nobody else wants to live there, in the face of typhoons, far from basic services like fresh water and electricity. Their homes face the beach not for the view, but because the water is their sole source of livelihood: fish. Fathers and sons spend 2 weeks at a time out on boats hauling fish. The pay is meager and the dangers many.

The reason Blue Dragon works there is that many families make so little money, they must let traffickers take their children to work in factories just to be sure the family has enough to eat.

In the past 10 days, we've received many requests from the families in Hue for some extra food. Right now, the weather is bad, the fish aren't biting, and families are starting to go hungry. We need to get them some rice!

This is just a short term fix - we have 20 families needing rice for 3 months. The total bill will come to 14,000,000 VND - that's about $835 US, or $1,250 AUD. Twenty families will be fed for 3 months!

If you can help, please email me directly -

It's hard to imagine in today's world that anybody needs to go hungry. How can it be?

Thursday: Alison from ACCV has pledged $400AUD to help - that's enough for about 6 families. Big electronic hugs, Alison!
Friday: Steve - a.k.a Our Man has pledged 50 GBP, and I can't find the "pounds" symbol on my keyboard. Thank you Steve.
Friday again: $100AUD from Rachel Welch. Thanks - we're about half way there!
Tuesday: Vo Minh has donated another $300 US.... so the pressure is off now.

Thanks everyone!!


Saturday, February 07, 2009

Now for the gold dragon

Here's a link to a story in this week's Vietnam News (in English) about a young man named Nam, from Hoi An town, who recently opened his own shop. It's called The Gold Dragon Shoe Shop.

It's not just any shoe shop, though. Nam used to be a street kid, and he's donating some of his profits to support the Hoi An Children's Home.

The news article tells the whole story... except for the address! 495 Cua Dai Street, Hoi An.

Get on the phone to your travel agent, book your flight to central Vietnam, and get yourself some shoes made!

Or... just enjoy this great story...


Sunday, February 01, 2009

Ain't no angel

I've been writing a lot during recent months about the work Blue Dragon does in rescuing kids who are forced to work for garment factories in Ho Chi Minh City.

Each time I write, I struggle to capture the feelings involved in this work: the hopelessness and misery of the children, as well as the disbelief and extraordinary relief they show when we tell them they are free to go home.

There's a line from Bruce Springsteen's Philadelphia that's been playing through my head lately (yeah, I'm secretly a bit of a Bruce fan):

Ain't no angel gonna greet me. It's just you and I, my friend.

When we meet trafficked children, whether it's on the streets as beggars, or as prostitutes in brothels, or as bonded labor in factories, this is what the look in their eye says. There's no hope that anyone, even an angel, is going to appear; there's just no hope at all. The kids are lucky if they have someone else their age to befriend them.

I have a video - it's just a few seconds - which I have hesitated to post on the blog, but which I think deserves to be seen. The little guy in the clip has just been told by our staff that we're taking him home. He doesn't believe us, so we ring his mother and give him the phone to let him hear it from her.

He's so shocked and overwhelmed with relief that he can't even talk - the nightmare is over, the unbelievable has happened. And in his silence, you can see a shade of what life must have been like for him up until this moment.