Sunday, June 28, 2009

A farewell, and a new beginning

The kids and staff at Blue Dragon's Hanoi drop-in centre have farewelled a much-loved volunteer, Kathryn Freeman, who has been with us for the past 12 months coordinating our street children program.

Kathryn originally came to us as an Australian Business Volunteer for about 6 weeks, but then applied to return for a year-long stint as an Australian Youth Ambassador. She's been simply amazing, helping us to improve our work significantly. We'll miss you, Kathryn - stay in touch!

Our work in central Vietnam, rescuing children who have been trafficked to Ho Chi Minh City, has been running very well with the help of another volunteer, Skye Maconachie, whose drama program with 'returned children' is being documented in this blog.

A sudden turn of events late last week could signal some challenging weeks ahead, though. A family contacted our staff to say that their 14 year old son is being abused in a garment factory, working as an unpaid slave, and the boss won't let him go home without a payment of 13 million dong - that's about $760 US. The family would be lucky to earn that amount in 2 years.

As we investigated the case, the factory owner stood firm for a while but then let the boy go. He wasn't paid anything at all for his months of labour, and he was warned not to tell anyone about his experiences. But now that the boy is home, he has told us that the factory has many children... all from a village we have never been to before.

We're yet to gather all the facts, but there's some urgency to this as the boss appears to be fairly brutal. I am hoping we can gather enough information for the police to act on this one sooner rather than later...


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bits and pieces

The last week or so has been quite busy... apologies for not posting much lately!

- While I was in Ho Chi Minh City last week I met up with street kids around the tourist area of District 1. Some of the kids were tiny... one little girl was just 9 years old. A whole troupe of small children had come to the city from Thanh Hoa province, which is close to Hanoi; this is usually a 'red flag' for child trafficking. The kids seemed to be there to work for the summer holidays, so my staff and I plan to go visit them when they are back in their village in September. Perhaps we can get to the bottom of this and prevent it happening again in the future.

- Kids from the Hoi An Children's Home have just come back from a camping trip with, apparently, about 1000 other disadvantaged youth from around Vietnam. Sounds like they had a great time!

- About 30 children with disabilities - along with their parents, Blue Dragon staff, and a host of volunteers - went on an overnight trip to Halong Bay late last week. We organised a similar trip last year, and given the sheer joy expressed by all the kids we had to do it again. These children and their families never, ever get out of Hanoi. We made sure the parents had a morning to themselves, too, so they could have a break from looking after their children for a few hours.

- Back in April I wrote this blog in which I mentioned one of our boys, Truong, and the 'typical' teenage issue of working out what he wants to do with his life. A surprising update - Truong has just started a 3 month course in sales and marketing! So far, he's all smiles.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Newsletter time

The quarterly Blue Dragon newsletter was sent out last week... if you want to receive a copy just email Amy at:

I'm in Ho Chi Minh City at the moment, and heading back to Hanoi tomorrow. I've been catching up with some of the street kids Blue Dragon helps here, and seeing what more we might be able to do...


Friday, June 12, 2009

In training

Summer has hit Vietnam! Apart from sweltering heat, this also means the Blue Dragon kids have a few weeks off school. (Summer break is normally 3 months, but most of our kids attend special schools, which for some cruel reason have shorter holidays).

So... we're taking the opportunity to run a football development program for street kids. Each Friday our staff are offering training workshops for the teenagers who live around an area of Hanoi called Phuc Tan, which is notorious for poverty, crime, and drug use.

This also gives us a chance to build stronger relationships with the kids - essential if we are to make any headway in getting them back to school and jobs.

Here are some pics from the first week...

Tho, standing in the centre, is Blue Dragon's
IT coordinator-cum-football coach.

In the midst of an activity...

This guy's hairdresser missed a bit!

... and here's the team in their uniform.

We're really lucky that the British Council's Premier Skills program helped out with the uniforms, and the field managers have cut the price of field rental in half. Makes it all a bit more affordable.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

It's just a small thing, but...

The pictures below were taken about a week ago in a small village in Hue. They don't look so impressive, do they? But there is a story behind them...

What you're looking at are slogans displayed on banners, hanging on a very long fence. Each of the slogans says something different, but all are urging the people to take care of poor children... and to resist pressure from child traffickers.

The truly remarkable thing, though, is that these banners are hanging in a village where, 4 years ago, Blue Dragon staff faced arrest for merely suggesting that there might be a problem with child trafficking. Our concerns were met with outright denial: "No children from this village have gone to work in the south..."

But how things have changed! The local government has declared a month of action to support poor children, and at the top of its list of concerns is children being taken by traffickers.

This is one village where things are really getting better for children. I know it's just a small example of improvement, but this was completely unthinkable just a few years ago...


Friday, June 05, 2009

Hard at work

This article appeared in the Vietnam News this week, with some facts and figures about child labour.

An interesting read, if you have 5 minutes...


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A big day in Hoi An

Monday June 1st was Children's Day in Vietnam, and the kids at the Hoi An Children's Home were treated to a terrific morning - not only for Children's Day, but to mark the end of the school year.

Here are some images of their celebrations...

Eating 'che' (a liquid dessert) blindfolded - followed by
an hour of washing clothes, I presume!

The Home has a huge yard - perfect for Tug o' War...

Here's a video clip of some general insanity.

In the formal part of the day, awards were presented.
Thao's award is for "Best All-Round Resident"

Dan's award is for being the most helpful around the Home.
Both of these awards were decided by a vote among the kids.

And there were gifts!
Here, the boys are showing off the football shirts
they received - donated by Tanglin Trust school in Singapore.

So, a great day for the kids and a nice way to end the school year. This was an espcially important day for the 5 students who are finishing Grade 12, and will soon be leaving the Home for university and work.


Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Exam time!

Year 12 exams have started throughout Vietnam this morning - first exam is literature, commencing 7.30 am! (Who sets an exam for 7.30 am??)

There are lots of Blue Dragon kids in Year 12 this year - about 35 I think! - so we've had a few stressed teenagers around the place recently.

From our Hanoi centre, some of the kids sitting for their exams today are:

Hanh - our 'resident artist' whose paintings feature on the gift cards we sell at Christmas

Chinh - a former shoeshine boy who has lived in our residence for several years

Ngoc - the singer and dancer who was stabbed in late 2007 but made an extraordinary comeback

Hieu - a very bright girl with cerebral palsy, who has defied the odds to stay at school and do extremely well

There are 2 exams per day for 3 days, so come Thursday night it will be all over. Then the study for uni entrance exams will begin...


Monday, June 01, 2009

The drama continues

Skye Maconachie, who is organising the theatre workshops for trafficked children in Hue, has created her own blog: The Right to Shine.

This should be interesting - check it out...