Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Festivals and football

It's the mid Autumn festival in Vietnam - time for moon cakes, parties, and dancing dragons! Here are some pics of the kids at the Hoi An Children's Home...

... and in Hanoi, our football team has once again joined the Hanoi Youth Football League. One of our 2 teams won their age group in the last tournament; we're hoping to do well again this time!

In the first week, our teams came second in their games (yes, yes, I know what 'second' means in soccer...) but they had a terrific time!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A week on the north island

For the past week I have been on New Zealand's north island; mostly in Auckland, where our three boys have started their courses at NTEC and are off to a flying start.

The oldest boy, Chinh, has started a diploma of business management; the two younger boys, Son and Khanh, are studying English and in a few months time will join some hospitality courses. They're on a real high now: the teachers are amazing, the students are friendly, and they are learning LOTS.

Our biggest challenge now is to secure sponsorship for their homestays and living expenses, which has turned out to be rather difficult. I'm leaving Auckland on Monday, but will have to keep working on this as it's rather urgent!

While here in New Zealand, I traveled to Wellington for launch of the Blue Dragon Children's Trust (New Zealand). The event was hosted by Wellington College, and we had a terrific turnout for the start of what should be a pretty dynamic and exciting organisation.

I caught up with some great friends there and spoke at the Harbour City Rotary Club before heading to Taupo, where Chinh studied English last year. I was only there for about 24 hours, but spent time with his former homestay family, who have remained in close contact with Chinh, and was able to thank the school where Chinh studied. Incidentally, while I was in Taupo we had the news that Chinh's IELTS test results had come through: he scored a 6!

Visiting New Zealand has been fantastic, and I am already planning to get back here next March. But for now, it's just about time to pack my bags...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hello New Zealand!

The Blue Dragon boys have made it to Auckland, ready to start their scholarships on Monday!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Time for the Tales

The latest Blue Dragon newsletter, Dragon Tales, has just been emailed out - another great read!

If you're not on the mailing list, drop my staff a note and they'll be happy to send you the quarterly newsletter: info@bdcf.org.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bits and pieces from Hanoi

As usual, my lack of regular blogging doesn't mean that nothing is happening... In fact it's quite the opposite. There's so much going on that I am not sure where to start!

Most of our kids are back at school now, with the summer holidays behind us. People sometimes mistakenly think that Blue Dragon is, or has, a school; we do have classes at our centre, but our goal is to get the kids into local schools or training programs. There are at least a dozen different schools around Hanoi which our kids attend, each according to need.

Back in March, I wrote about a girl named Bi who had suffered a brain injury and was struggling to regain her speech and senses. Although not fully recovered - my staff say "about 80%" - Bi is now often at the Blue Dragon centre, playing games or studying private lessons with our teacher. She's able to communicate quite well, and although she often looks to be in a world of her own the visible recovery she has made is quite remarkable.

If you're a follower of Blue Dragon on Facebook, you may have seen the notice about Cath DeVrye's latest book, Paper Clips Don't Grown On Trees. Cath once volunteered with us, and has been a terrific supporter ever since. Check out her book here - each purchase helps Blue Dragon Children's Foundation!

Three of our older kids (18-21) are heading off to Auckland next week for 6-12 months of study at the National Technology Institute. Together with our student at Chatsworth International School in Singapore, that makes 4 of our kids on international scholarships. These scholarships, although free, do come at a cost - Blue Dragon still needs to support living allowances, and even the process of applying for a visa for former street kids is rather complex and time-consuming - but these are amazing opportunities that are just too good to turn down.

Our drop-in centre has a steady flow of new faces these days; our staff have become great at finding runaway children, bringing them to the centre to care for them, and help them reunite with their families. As I write this, one of our staff is in the countryside with a 14 year old named Long who has been living on the streets for less than a month. Long has been really worried about going home, but the text message from my staff about 20 minutes ago said: We are back at Long's house now... Everything is fine and Long is very happy."

And speaking of the drop-in centre, here's what the kids were up to this afternoon...



... and over!

I don't think this ended well.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

On the road

Over the past week, I have been on the road quite a bit - hence the blogging silence. Today I am blogging from a cafe in Saigon.

First stop on my trip was Hue, where Blue Dragon runs a program to help trafficked children. We've pretty much ended child trafficking in 3 villages, and are on the way to ending it in a fourth, so we now have to decide which village to move on to next. Plans are underway for a rescue trip in a few months time, so the staff have started gathering information from the community about which children have been taken, and where they might be now.

Even though the trafficking rings have been disrupted, we still have a commitment to working in the villages for a few years yet. We need to keep on supporting the families of children who were trafficked, and making sure the traffickers don't have any chance to come back.

To this end, we need to raise some funds to build a house for one family - more info about that in the Blue Dragon newsletter, which should be emailed out within a week. We're also helping one mother who is very sick and in hospital at the moment.

One village has asked us to build them a road to connect their homes to the highway, which will give them better access to local markets. We hope to be able to do that soon, too!

After Hue, I traveled south to Hoi An, where we have been working at the Hoi An Children's Home since 2007. Before we started at the Home, conditions were quite difficult for the kids: there was a Director and a cook, but no other staff to look after the children from day to day, and no formal structure to ensure the health and safety of the 30 girls and boys living there.

Now the Home has social workers and carers, ensuring supervision and support around the clock, along with a really well organised program of social work.

For the long term, the Home eventually needs to go back to being under local management, so Blue Dragon has started the first step in this direction. We've now partnered with another organisation based in Hoi An, called CHIA, which is now getting involved at the Home. By working closely with CHIA, we hope to improve services for the kids even more. A big part of my work in Hoi An on this trip was meeting with CHIA to discuss the practical aspects of such a partnership.... Doesn't sound very exciting, but it was really important and I'm confident that we've made some good decisions!

And now I am in Saigon, aka Ho Chi Minh City. Blue Dragon doesn't have any formal program here, but I need to visit some kids and other organisations, so I've managed to fit that in with a long weekend (it's Vietnamese national day today).

This morning I went to visit the Green Bamboo Shelter, a home for over 20 street kids. I met with Mrs Phat, the Director, who took the time to chat with me about how her Home works. Blue Dragon runs a similar Home in Hanoi, so it was quite cathartic to compare our struggles and challenges and see how similar they are!

Later today I will meet with one of the Blue Dragon kids from Hanoi who has been working in the south for some months. He's been learning motorbike repair, and is excited at the chance to catch up. And of course, I have already met up with Vu, who now carries his school bag with him absolutely everywhere (even on a public holiday!) and beams with joy pretty much continuously. What a kid.

Hopefully tomorrow I will go to visit the staff of Saigon Children's Charity, who helped enormously with Vu's case. And then - if the rain stops, I might behave like a tourist for a couple of days!