Monday, December 28, 2009

The search

With Christmas barely behind us, the pace continues...

I've often blogged in the past about our work of finding children who have been trafficked from rural areas to factories in Ho Chi Minh City. These kids, sometimes as young as ten, slave away for little or even no pay while their parents believe they are learning a trade. In reality, they're just factory fodder.

Up til now, we've rescued close to 60 kids - both boys and girls - from such situations. And today, Blue Dragon staff are back in the industrial neighbourhoods of HCMC looking for kids whose parents have asked for our help to get their children home.

But a new development: somehow, the traffickers knew we were coming. They've turned off their phones so we have no way of calling or tracking them down. At the end of a whole day of searching, we've managed to secure the release of just one child.

In the next few days, progress is likely to be slow; but it's not all bad. We'd prefer to be able to find the kids and get them out, but there's some value in knowing that the traffickers are so scared. We're making their industry difficult. If we can keep up the pressure, it might just be easier for them to go and - well, get a real job.

This happened to us a couple of year back, when our anti-trafficking work was focused on children who had been forced to sell flowers on the streets. There are still a few kids doing that, but in nothing like the numbers who we first saw in 2005. Eventually, our constant harrassment of the traffickers lead them to simply give up and do something else.

Could we be heading the same way with the factory traffickers?


Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas party in Hoi An!

Here are some pics from the Christmas party at the Hoi An Children's Home last night... They even had a visit from multiple Santas!


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas fun, and a cat

Today we've been learning juggling and circus acts - yeeha, and so far no broken bones!

... and... one of our boys found a stray a kitten outside the Blue Dragon centre. The cat - now named Tom - is in pretty shaky health, so after spending a couple of nights at our centre and residence, Tom is now convalescing at a local veterinary hospital. We're hoping that Tom will be back with us, in better shape, very soon.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I made this!

A pic from the Hoi An Children's Home, where one of the boys has put his artistic talents to a Christmas endeavour...


Monday, December 21, 2009

It begins: Beardless Santa Strikes

Christmas is coming!

Hanoi is abuzz with Christmas trees, Santa Claus, and fake snow!

The kids at Blue Dragon's Sunday soccer game had a special visit yesterday - Santa himself (aka Binh, Blue Dragon's rather unique tap-dancing, cheer-leading IT teacher) put in an appearance, laden with gifts, much to the delight of the 50 or so boys and girls who turned up.

Happiness all round...


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Angels and Dragons

We're having a real rollercoaster of a week...

...One of the former Blue Dragon kids, Binh, has just gotten married...

...his youngest brother is in hospital with a serious head injury from a motorbike accident... of the original Blue Dragon kids - Minh, now in his 20s - has announced that he's getting married in January...

...our staff have taken the runaway boy Tiep home to his family - although it seems pretty clear that he won't be going back to live with his mother ever again...

...another runway boy, who has been living on the streets for many months, also went back to his family with the Blue Dragon staff - but again, there's not much prospect that this family is going to stick together...

...and one of our friendliest neighbours died unexpectedly. (When you have a drop in centre and residential home on any street in any country, friendly neighbours are hard to come by!)

... and it's not even Wednesday yet!

Meanwhile, the Sofitel Plaza in Hanoi is helping us to raise money for the street kids we work with. They've set up a huge Christmas tree, and are selling Blue Dragon dolls in their lobby. They even have an angel working there to sell the dragons! It's nice to get a helping hand like this - it all helps...

In response to Terynn's comment - here are the dragons!


Friday, December 11, 2009

Fighting poverty, by making cages

Blue Dragon has rescued 56 trafficked children, over the past few years; and most of these kids have come from a sea-side area of central Vietnam.

Getting the kids home is just the beginning. Once they are back with their families, we need to help them return to school or training; help out with material needs (like build them a house); and help the families to become more secure and, ultimately, independently able to look after their children without our help.

To that end, our latest venture is a project with another NGO, called Telefoods, to teach some aquaculture to families living in particular hardship.

Stage 1 has already begun: the families are learning how to make cages in which to raise fish! Here are some pics of what's been happening this week...


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Update on runaways

As we hoped, the runaway boy named Binh who I mentioned in my last blog entry is now back with his family.

His mother and some extended family came to the Blue Dragon centre yesterday afternoon. Binh was very worried at first, and tried running away from them again, but eventually they all set off together back to their home in the countryside.

It was really interesting to see that the family were concerned about who we were: they feared that we might be child traffickers, and so they brought some burly neighbours with them in case their child was in any danger. Once they saw us with Binh, though, their fears were calmed, and they were incredibly thankful for our assistance. It was touching to hear the grandfather offer to pay us for any costs we had incurred while Binh was with us. (Of course, we declined!)


This article on street children appeared in a local newspaper this week. I can't say that I agree with the headline, or with the forced repatriation of street children that's discussed at the end (news flash: it rarely, if ever, works! And we'd never force kids in western countries to go home, so western NGOs in Vietnam shouldn't be trying to get away with it here!) the article does explore some important issues that street kids face.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

2 runaways

The past few days at Blue Dragon have been dominated by our work with two runaway boys.

Each has come to us separately; they're very different people and have come to us for very different reasons. But they're both in quite difficult situations and need some help.

First is a 14 year old named Binh, who has a notable intellectual impairment. He's a tiny little guy, looking more like an 11 year old than a 14 year old; and when one of our staff spotted him on Long Bien bridge he was filthy and hungry.

Because of his impairment, it's been hard going to find out any information from him about where he's from and why he's ended up in Hanoi. The staff team here has been great, though, and finally we've been able to piece together enough clues to track down his family in the countryside. They've been hugely worried about him - of course! - and are on their way in to Hanoi today to meet up with Binh. Fingers crossed for a happy reunion.

The second runaway boy is a 16 year old named Tiep. He was brought to us by another one of our kids, who used to live on the streets in a gang but now lives at our residence and has a regular job. He saw Tiep shoeless and filthy on a bus, and realised that something was wrong!

Tiep has been living at home with his mother, and for the past 2 years has been working in a factory. But things at home aren't going well; Tiep and his mother aren't getting on and Tiep believes he's better off now to venture out on his own. There are bound to be many emotions tied up with this case, but we've already been able to make contact with his mother and we're hoping to have some kind of resolution this week.

Runaway cases are always difficult; they require intense attention and need to be handled carefully. There's a lot at stake! Hopefully I'll have some good news about Binh and Tiep in coming days.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009


I am in Hoi An at the moment, in central Vietnam, where Blue Dragon operates a home for 30 children.

Although I'm here to do some work at the Home, this trip coincided with the grand opening of another fantastic project based in Hoi An: a training restaurant for disadvantaged youth.

This restaurant, called Streets, has been open for a month or so already, but tonight was the 'official' event. It's a great restaurant - the food is top notch, the building itself is worth a visit, and the service is excellent. Best of all, the trainees who run the place (under supervision, of course) are the most wonderful people you can meet!

Check out their website here.

I'll write more in coming days about my other work here in Hoi An. But if you're traveling through, make sure you stop in for a meal here. A very worthy cause!