Monday, August 31, 2009

Special delivery

This is a post from Singapore, where I'm staying in a backpacker hostel in Chinatown.

I travel from Hanoi to Singapore every year, but this has been a really special trip: this time I have come with a 'special delivery'.

One of the Blue Dragon kids - I'll call him "Nam" - has been offered a scholarship to study at Chatsworth International School. So I traveled over to bring him to Chatsworth, and today was his first day of study.

This scholarship was announced about a year ago by the school principal, so we've had some time to plan and prepare. Nam was the natural choice to take up the offer: he's bright, studies hard, and is well behaved. And more than that, Nam has already traveled a long way with Blue Dragon.

I first met Nam about 3 years ago, in Ho Chi Minh City, where he'd been trafficked to work on the streets. A small team of us put into action a plan to get him away from the traffickers, and we took him home to his family in central Vietnam. Nam then came to live with us in Hanoi - his family circumstances were pretty difficult and we knew his best chance to go back to school was if he stayed in our residence.

From Ho Chi Minh City, to Hanoi, and now to Singapore.

Seeing Nam off to school this morning brought up a lot of emotions - for both of us. We'd been to orientation at the school on Friday... but how would he cope alone? Would his English be good enough to cope? Would he fit in with the other students?

This afternoon I was back at Chatsworth to pick Nam up. The smile on his face said it all. "Everything was OK," he told me. But it seemed more than OK; somehow, his English had improved in just one day, and Nam stood tall as he explained to me his timetable.

Nam's really going to be OK. He's not just going to survive; he's going to thrive at Chatsworth. This is the chance of a lifetime, and Nam knows it.

How his life has changed in just a few years!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kids with HIV

I've just come across this article in Time about the prejudice faced by children with HIV in Vietnam:

HIV-Positive Kids Shunned from Vietnam School

(Thanks, Minh, for sending me that).

This does sound similar to attitudes in Australia 20 years ago... I just hope that Vietnam can catch up soon.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tune in

For all readers in Australia:

Tune in to Channel 10 this Sunday, August 30, at 3pm, to see the documentary No Ordinary Journey.

Last year AusAid commissioned a documentary about Australians volunteering around the world. Among the 5 volunteers they decided to feature was one young man named Tam Tran, of Melbourne, who was volunteering with Blue Dragon for 12 months through an AusAid program.

I haven't seen the final cut, but it should give some insight into Blue Dragon and the type of work we do.

And... double check the viewing time beforehand, just in case there are any interstate differences.

Email me to let me know what you think!


Sunday, August 23, 2009

The long way home

During the past week, 3 runaway kids wandered into our Hanoi drop in centre. Of course, none of them admitted to being runaways, but their filthy clothes and wild behavior was something of a clue!

Since Blue Dragon started, we've reunited 55 runaway kids with their families. It would be fair to say that that has involved 55 weeks of work: on average, we need at least a week with each and every runaway before we can take them home and successfully resolve the issues with their parents.

In last week's group of 3 was one very young boy, looking like he was 5 but apparently he was 8. It was clear that he dearly missed his family, but the other kids were pressuring him into staying with them... and on the streets, you learn very quickly to abide by the group.

So this little guy, Tuan, was torn between missing his mother and needing to follow the older kids. Finally, on Friday, Tuan agreed to go home. (As a side note: all major developments at Blue Dragon take place on Friday afternoons).

Tuan is from Lang Son, a province bordering on China and renowned for being a major 'crossing point' for human traffickers. Tuan was lucky that he made it all the way to Blue Dragon without something pretty awful happening to him.

Two of our staff, Van and Vi, drove with Tuan for the 4 hour journey north of Hanoi. As they neared Tuan's home, he suddenly changed his mind: he didn't want to go home! But with assurances that he was safe, he eventually calmed down and went to see his family.

Tuan was indeed safe: his family love him very much and lived in dread of what fate had befallen him. Tuan was away from home for 20 days. I can't imagine the terror his family must have gone through.

He had taken to the streets because of a few problems at home, and in particular one family member treating him badly. But the biggest problem of all was that his mother had left the family home to work in Hanoi. Tuan's father is long gone, so he was living in the care of his grand mother who loves him dearly but simply couldn't substitute for his own mum.

On learning this, Van and Vi got on the phone and tracked down Tuan's mother in Hanoi. She was in tears to hear of what her son had been through, and relieved to know he was safe and well. She's been working on building sites as a laborer, carrying bricks and doing other simple jobs to earn enough to live on. She desperately wants to care for her son, but is too overwhelmed by her own circumstances.

To us, though, this looks like a situation we can help with. Son wants to be with mum... Mum wants to be with son... Each need some help to make it happen.

Van, Vi and little Tuan got back in the car and returned to Hanoi, this time heading for the mother's house. (If only Tuan had known where she lived before this journey began!) Mother and son are back together now, and early this coming week we'll meet with them to see if Blue Dragon can help to keep them together. For now, at least, they're happy.

And for our next trick, we need to see how we can help the other 2 runaways...


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Launch, farewell, watch, welcome back

Launch: With the summer holidays coming to an end, Blue Dragon held the annual Opening Ceremony for our 350 school kids in Bac Ninh province, just north of Hanoi. These children are supported by sponsors around the world, whose donations pay for text books, school fees, uniforms, and gear such as bags and stationery.

Farewell: James and Alison Kember, some of Blue Dragon's strongest supporters (and also, in their spare time, New Zealand's ambassadors to Vietnam) are heading home after a three year posting to Hanoi. Alison has been teaching English to some of the school girls at the Blue Dragon centre; these girls have just graduated from Year 12 and have benefited enormously from all the extra tuition they have received. The farewells for both Alison and James have been moving, but we know we will see them again soon...

... and we've also just said farewell to Heather Campbell, a member of the Blue Dragon Committee in NSW Australia who took leave from her career to work with us for about 5 months. It's been terrific having her here, and she's really become a part of the family - but time now to go back to work!

Watch: Some great volunteers have made a short film about one of the Blue Dragon kids named Toan, who has been with us for about 4 years now. Check this out for some insight into the life of a former street kid .

Welcome back: And we're thrilled to welcome back to Vietnam two of our kids, Quyen and Nghia, who have just spent 3 amazing weeks in Thailand! The Royal Thai Embassy invited them to join 20 other Vietnamese youth on a cultural exchange to northern Thailand, and what an EXTRAORDINARY time they've had. We went out to the airport to welcome them back on Monday, and I swear they've grown taller and infinitely more confident in just a few weeks. In the pic below, Nghia is the boy standing behind the guard; and Quyen is wearing the pink hat.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Word

Lots happening at the moment - including a huge day of opening ceremonies north of Bac Ninh, and a multitude of farewells for good friends who are leaving Vietnam and/or Blue Dragon.

I'll get around to writing some more soon, but for now here's a link to a recent feature article about street kids in southern Vietnam.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Every Sunday morning, Blue Dragon staff organise games of football for kids living around the Red River. With soccer as the unofficial national religion, it's no wonder that we get up to 80 kids every week; and the challenge for us is to use our contact with them to do some greater good (greater, even, than an hour of football).

So from time to time we organise workshops for the kids to join after football; and in the past 2 months we've held some workshops to teach the kids about how to prevent HIV infections.

HIV/AIDS is a rapidly growing problem in Vietnam; people here commonly believe in luck and superstition, so it's not unusual to hear people say things like "I won't get AIDS because I'm a good person and fate will protect me." And unprotected sex isn't the only cause of high transmission rates. In the area surrounding the Red River in Hanoi, drug use is rampant and needles are usually shared among friends before being discarded on the street. One morning at football we had to sweep aside almost 20 discarded needles before play could begin.

Vietnam has some innovative local organisations to support victims of HIV/AIDS, and these same groups are available to teach youth all about the disease.

Meeting in a local kindergarten near the football field...

Demonstrating a safe way to pick up a discarded needle

The workshops have been well attended - kids came to one of the sessions even though torrential rain had forced the cancellation of football! And it's great to see that the kids have the maturity to discuss the taboo topic of HIV/AIDS...


Saturday, August 08, 2009

Off to work

Something to make up for the fact that I haven't blogged all week -

A day's work

- and you might notice that gold mining scores a mention at the end...


Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Dragon House deal

Coming out on September 1 is a novel about Vietnamese street kids called Dragon House. The author, John Shors, sent me a draft to look over it late last year and I was stunned by its authenticity!

John wants to use his novel to help Blue Dragon Children's Foundation, so he's offered a special deal:

Anyone who goes to the Blue Dragon website and donates $100 (following this link: will receive an autographed copy of the book!

Get on the website and check it out. This is a great way to support the work we're doing with street kids, and a chance to get hold of an autographed novel by a bestselling author!


They're shining!

Some months ago, I first blogged about an activity we're running in Hue called The Right to Shine.

Funded by ArtVenture in Singapore, this is a drama group for kids from impoverished families who had been trafficked from rural to urban areas, but are now back in their villages trying to return to normal lives.

The basic premise of the project is that these kids, like any others, have the right to shine - to be recognised as amazing, valuable human beings who deserve to be cared for and respected.

Over the summer holidays, the kids have been taking part in drama classes, learning to express themselves in a safe environment. But it's all been leading up to some community performances in which the kids can use drama to tell their communities about the experience of being trafficked. The message of the performances is: kids should be at home, not slaving away in factories.

The facilitator of the drama groups, the irrepressible Skye Maconachie, has been keeping her own blog about this. Check out her latest entry to see what she says about the first performance, which was held on Tuesday night.

There's one more performance to come, this coming Tuesday, and I will be in Hue for that one.

For now: some photos of the first village performance by Blue Dragon kids...