Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The girl who talked to herself

Almost a month ago, a father walked in to the Blue Dragon centre in Hanoi. He lives with his wife and 17 year old daughter, Bi, not far from our centre in a small house. Although his family is very poor, the father had never before come to ask for help: he provided for his wife and child and did his best to keep his daughter in school.

But something had happened and he didn't know what to do. Bi had had an accident on the road - there were no witnesses, so nobody knows if she was hit by a car, or suffered a seizure. What they do know is that her head hit the road, she fell unconscious, and when she woke up she had lost her mind.

Bi became completely unaware of her self and her surroundings. She appeared to recognise nobody; she spoke to herself but did not respond to questions or conversation. Everything around her seemed strange and new. One morning, she wandered away from home and came back three days later. Nobody has any idea where she was or what happened.

So finally the father came to Blue Dragon to ask for help. He couldn't even afford to take her to the hospital; could we give him the money for the doctor's fee?

Over the years, we've had plenty of strange or rare cases walk through our doors. Sometimes we think we've seen it all. Looking at Bi, we were at a loss. We'd never seen anything like this before,
but by all appearances this was not a case we could really expect to solve. Perhaps we should simply give some comfort and support to the family to help them deal with their daughter's strange new condition.

One of our social workers, Huong, took this case on and accompanied the family to a local hospital. They too were fairly bleak in their assessment, but referred us to another hospital which had more expertise in psychological cases.

Huong, Bi, and the parents made an appointment at the next hospital, and with their hopes fairly low they went off to see the next doctor. This time, some hope was offered: Bi would need to stay at the hospital for treatment, but with some medication and therapy there was hope of improvement.

Today, my staff came to me in shock - and I should say that it takes an awful lot to shock my staff. They had just been to see Bi, and to their amazement she has made a dramatic improvement. She was aware of her visitors, she could manage a simple conversation, and she was no longer babbling incoherently. None of us expected such a change!

Bi is not 'out of the woods' yet, and I dare not hope for a full recovery. We still have no idea what to expect. But this was truly an incredible moment for the Blue Dragon staff to see such rapid progress from what seemed like an impossible situation.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Some great news: Blue Dragon staff, along with Vietnamese police, have finally crossed he border in to Vietnam with the 3 girls they were searching for in China.

I still can't give out all the details, but it seems the girls are fine, although traumatised - but much better than we had hoped.

Over the last 2 days, the group couldn't disclose exactly where they were or what they were doing in case there was any attempt to intercept them. But everything has gone well, everyone is safe, and tonight all will be sleeping in safe places back in Vietnam.

This is not the end of the story - there's much much more to be done - but what a massive relief for everyone that things have gone so well.


Monday, March 22, 2010


The March edition of the quarterly Blue Dragon newsletter was emailed out last week. If you want to be on the mailing list to get the newsletters, drop my colleagues an email: info @ bdcf.org.


Sunday, March 21, 2010


A super quick update on the progress of our rescue trip to China...

All is fine. That's about all I can say today; I hope to be able to elaborate a little within 48 hours. Everyone is safe, and their progress has been quite remarkable.

Apologies for the lack of detail. All will be explained soon!


Friday, March 19, 2010


This morning at 3am the Blue Dragon staff searching for trafficked girls in China sent the following text message:

"We rescued 3 girls safely. Tomorrow we arrest traffickers."

This is great news for the girls, although I can imagine they must still be very frightened. There is still some danger, and will be until they have all returned to Vietnam.

More news to come!


Thursday, March 18, 2010


Blue Dragon staff have traveled up as far as Guanzhou today, in search of a group of teenage girls who have been kidnapped and sold to brothels. This is slow going, and there's no guarantee of success, but definitely worth the journey.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Setting out

I'm in Hobart, Tasmania, this week: I had a terrific time yesterday talking with students at Cambridge Public School and Huonville High.

Back in Vietnam, my staff are setting off today with police to look for the missing girls in China. It's taken a while to obtain visas, but everything is prepared and they really are heading off into the unknown. Planning for something like this is a relatively futile task: but preparation (ie for anything) is essential.

Once they're over the border I won't be hearing much from them, but will update on what happens whenever I have news.


Monday, March 15, 2010


Blue Dragon works with about 900 kids throughout Vietnam.

Whenever I tell someone that statistic, I am always asked: Who do they live with? If the Blue Dragon residences only hold up to 50 kids, then where do the rest of the kids live?

In fact, nearly all of the kids we work with have some family, somewhere. It might just be an uncle who lives in the countryside, or a grandmother; but there's nearly always a relative to be found.

Most of our kids live with either their mother or father, or a grandparent. The typical story of our kids in Hanoi is that a parent is either dead or in prison, and the child is being raised by relatives.

Over the last weekend, one of the Blue Dragon staff was out in the countryside trying to track down the parents of one young boy who has only just joined us. He claims to have no idea at all of who or where his parents are, but he was able to lead us to a family who he lived with for a short time before coming to Hanoi. It's a bit like following a trail of crumbs, but we're on the way.

As an organisation, we have to make a real effort to involve parents and the community. The pics below are of parents and carers of the children in our Hanoi programs; we gathered them all together one weekend to talk about what we're doing, and how we're helping their children. In Hoi An, too, where we run a home for 30 kids, the relatives are invited to meetings from time to time, and encouraged to visit whenever they can.

Even street kids usually have families somewhere. Part of the work of a charity like Blue Dragon is helping the kids find their relatives and keep up contact with them.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

No news is... no news!

Apologies to people who have been checking in to see the update of the China situation; everything is on track but we haven't yet been able to make a start. Blue Dragon staff will be accompanying Vietnamese police, so we need to wait for the police to organise visas and some other details. Won't be much longer!

I have just been staying on the central coast of NSW, where I took part in a leadership forum for primary schools. What a great day - and a great opportunity to talk to Australian school kids about the plight of street kids in Vietnam.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

And now another rescue

Much of the anti-trafficking work that Blue Dragon does is to help children who have been trafficked within Vietnam - from rural to urban areas. But once, a few years ago, we rescued 6 girls who had been kidnapped and taken to China, where they were sold to a brothel.

Two of our staff crossed in to China, found the brothel, and helped the 6 girls get away. All of those involved in the kidnapping were arrested and imprisoned.

That was some time ago, and since then we've concentrated on domestic trafficking. A sudden turn of events has meant that we're now looking back over the Chinese border.

Yesterday morning, the Blue Dragon lawyer was contacted by some Vietnamese police. They know of 3 girls who have been kidnapped and were being held in China against their will; however they seem to have escaped and have been able to call for help.

As to be expected, though, information is scarce - the details aren't completely clear. So the police have asked if Blue Dragon can help out, by accompanying them across the border in search of the 3 missing girls.

For our organisation, this is an incredible honour. It means that we can apply what we've learnt to an extremely important case, and we have the opportunity to work side by side with Vietnam's anti trafficking police.

There's some urgency to this, as every day delayed is a day of danger for the 3 girls. Our staff are getting ready and will leave soon - some time within this week. We're not yet sure what we will find, or how this will turn out. Above everything else, we are hoping to bring 3 teenage girls home to their families.


Saturday, March 06, 2010

An unusual rescue

While I am on the road, I'm still keeping in close touch with the staff back in Vietnam - especially about a particular case that has been developing for some time now, but which came to a head on Wednesday.

One of the boys who used to live at Blue Dragon - let's call him Thanh - had been making an effort to fix his relationship with his family, who live a few hundred kilometers from Hanoi. Before Thanh was with us, his mother had been making him work as a shoeshine boy in a provincial city so that she could live a life of leisure at home. Thanh wanted to go to school, so he hit the road and ended up living on the streets of Hanoi, until we came across him.

His family knew that he was with us, and we even made an attempt at reuniting them - but the mother was never going to let her son, then 14, go to school, and he was adamant that he didn't want to be working on the streets.

So until a few months back, Thanh was living with us and going to school. He made the occasional trip back to see his mother and his younger siblings, who he cares for very much, and things seemed to be getting better.

But then we received a phone call: Thanh would not be coming back. He had decided, we were told, to stay with his mother and go to work for a company. Our staff traveled out to visit him and talk to his mother, but on arriving at the home we found that they were gone. Different neighbours had different stories, and we had no way of knowing for sure where Thanh or his mother were, or what they were doing.

About a week ago, Thanh was finally able to tell us where he was, and ask for our help. He was in the far south of Vietnam, selling heroin. His mother or uncle (I'm not yet sure who) is an addict, and to feed their habit they needed him to be selling. Kids are sometimes forced to sell drugs, as they look less suspicious and are likely to receive less severe punishments if caught. So Thanh's situation was now far worse than prior to meeting Blue Dragon, and he was pleading for our help to escape.

One of our staff traveled to the countryside outside of Ho Chi Minh City to find Thanh, not sure of how to help (without breaking the law!) but determined to find a solution. It was a tricky situation: we have no right or legal authority to help a 15 year old run away from his family, and we could be in an awful lot of trouble for doing so. But then again, we've dealt with more complex problems, so it was worth a try.

Ultimately we have been able to help Thanh come back to Blue Dragon, with the family's knowledge and consent - if not their blessing! Thanh is glad to be back, but now has a long journey ahead dealing with the trauma of what's just happened, and working out what to do from here. He wants to study, but also knows that he alone can help his younger siblings avoid the same fate that has so far befallen him.

The escape is over, but much remains to be done.


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

On the road

I'm writing this blog from Wellington, New Zealand, where I have just arrived as part of my annual travels to visit friends and supporters of Blue Dragon around the world.

We have a few good friends here in New Zealand, and not just in Wellington although this time around I won't have the chance to get out and see everyone. While I'm here I am hoping to meet up with David Cameron, a school teacher and musician who is bicycling around New Zealand for 6 months, visiting schools, teaching music, and talking about street kids in Vietnam. He's a hugely interesting guy - check out his blog here: bluedragonbicycletour.org.

Over the last couple of weeks my head has been off in the clouds, so I've been blogging very little. Apologies for those of you who are waiting for me to get my act together. There has been some good work going on back at Blue Dragon; although I am away now I'll be posting about that in coming days. Promise!