Friday, April 29, 2011

The centre of the universe

A few weeks ago, I read a novel by Alan Philps and John Lahutzky: The boy from Baby House Number 10.

It's a terribly sad story about children with disabilities being abandoned and neglected in Russian institutions. Not a feel good story at all, but it is true and ends beautifully for the young man who is the focus of the book.

Throughout the novel, one of the narrators used a phrase several times that really caught my eye. When speaking of a little girl or boy who had given up on life and was either dieing or wasting away, the narrator would comment: "She was not the centre of anybody's universe."

Here at the Blue Dragon centre in Hanoi, I can see many kids who have come to us just so they can be the centre of someone's universe.

The really street-hardened kids usually do this by being loud and aggressive; they've learned over the years to take what they need by force, but once they're with us they gradually calm down. When they see that we care for them and pay attention to their needs even without their wild behaviour, they transform into completely different children.

Others come through our doors with their total lack of confidence written all over their faces. We have one young girl with us now, about 12 years old, who has been handed from family to family, used as a slave, abandoned and neglected. She sits on the carpet of the drop in centre playing card games with the staff so so quietly that nobody could guess the inner turmoil she must experience.

Increasingly we're meeting young teenage boys who have no male carers or role models other than gang members and drug dealers. These boys long to be the centre of someone's universe, and that longing makes them incredibly vulnerable to being exploited.

One of our staff, the young man who does our Outreach Work, always has half a dozen kids around him - teenage boys who have been abandoned or run away from home and want nothing more than a big brother to talk to and hang out with. From my point of view, it's much better that the kids find their "Big Brother" figure among the Blue Dragon staff than among the gangs around the Long Bien bridge.

We all need to be the centre of somebody's universe. For street kids in Vietnam, the most important role that Blue Dragon staff can play is letting the kids be the centre of ours.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Plans, plans, plans

I have just returned to Hanoi after a few days on the road in Hue and Hoi An. It was great to visit the kids we're helping in central Vietnam, catch up with the staff, and I even squeezed in a day riding down the Ho Chi Minh trail in a jeep with Rally Indochina.

Some of it was like this....

And then other bits were like this....

Overall, it was a brilliant day!

Back in Hanoi now, we're preparing for the end of the school year, which means kids are studying for exams and some of the older teens are thinking about what to do next. University? Jobs? Training? More schooling? It's great that we can offer them so many choices.

At the risk of sound like an advertisement, I want to mention a couple of events coming up in Australia and New Zealand.

First, in Wellington there'll a book fair held on Saturday May 7. More info is to be found here, on the Blue Dragon NZ website. The organisers are looking for donations of books and CD, and are happy for people to promote the event - the more people come, the better the day will be!

And second, there'll be a dinner in Melbourne on Tuesday May 24. This is being organised by a friend who used to volunteer with us. Intrepid has donated a grand prize for the event - a 10 day trip through Vietnam!

As always, lots happening...

Monday, April 18, 2011

The ride

You may have read of the Rally Indochina bike ride from Hanoi to Hoi An; 14 travelers from around the world riding Urals through some astonishingly beautiful countryside to raise money for Blue Dragon.

The trip is a bit more than half way now. One of the organisers has been uploading photos to his flickr site - they're definitely worth checking out.

There'll be more photos added each day. And if these pictures make you want to get on a motorbike and start riding through Vietnam, keep an eye on Rally Indochina. This is their first such rally - not their last.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hip Hop of the day

A couple of kids showing their moves in the Blue Dragon centre...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

When the floodgates open

One of the Blue Dragon boys - let's call him Trung - has increasingly been acting out in recent weeks.

Not that he's usually an angel ("he's a character" is what we would politely say in Australia), but Blue Dragon staff have noticed a fairly rapid shift in his behaviour. As each day goes by, Trung has been becoming increasingly aggressive, and throwing tantrums over the smallest problems.

Today I called him in for a chat with our most senior social worker.

We started out by watching a YouTube clip of a cat cuddling a dolphin. Just to let Trung know that this was not going to be a conventional "You've done something wrong and need to be punished" kind of chat. It seemed to work.

Then we got down to business.

We started by asking Trung if he had any idea why he was behaving like this. "You're not usually aggressive like this," we explained. "This is really unusual for you. Any idea what's been causing you to act this way?"

Straight away Trung launched into his justification: This person said that to me; that staff member did this wrong...

But clearly this was not the reason. So we put to him a proposition.

We know that Trung has had some major family issues in the past few months. He's recently had some experiences which have left him feeling alone and uncared for; still just a little kid, Trung has discovered that he'll be growing up without a mother, father, or even an extended family to call on.

Very gently, very tenderly, we put the question to Trung: Does he think that these experiences might be causing him to behave this way now?

Trung didn't need to answer with any words. No sooner had we asked the question than a floodgate opened and the tears started flowing.

Talking to Trung today was just the beginning of what will be a long healing process for him. Healing? Well, I hope so. Maybe it will just be 'coping', but I have to be optimistic and believe that he can get through this. Without a family to believe in you, it's very hard to grow up believing in yourself. We do our best here at Blue Dragon, but I know we can never take the place of a loving family.

Our work at Blue Dragon is so much more than running activities and providing material support. Some things we do just can't be quantified or measured. But those little things we do from day to day, those chats with the kids behind the scenes, really are what Blue Dragon is all about.

Monday, April 04, 2011


This article has appeared today in Thanh Nien News, one of the main Vietnamese newspapers:

Re-sold into slavery

In short, the article explores the complexities of combating child trafficking, as experienced by Blue Dragon and two other great organisations, Catalyst and AFESIP.

Apart from this being a good, well researched article, it's worth pointing out that the very topic of domestic child trafficking was pretty much off-limits just a few years ago. The very fact that the newspapers are interested in the issue, and can cover it as openly as this, is a terrific sign of progress.

Not particularly good news for the traffickers, though...

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Off the streets and off to Auckland

Late in 2010, three Blue Dragon boys, all former street kids, flew to New Zealand on scholarships...

This is their story!

Friday, April 01, 2011

News from Vietnam

Having been on the road for a few weeks, it's great to be back home in Vietnam where all the action is. Every time I go away and come back, the kids seem to be a bit taller and more grown up!

Lots has been happening, including celebrations in Hoi An for International Woman's Day...

... workshops for kids, parents, and government officials on issues like study techniques and children's rights....

... an art event for country kids who we sponsor to go to school...

... and, of course, Earth Hour.

Two of our young guys who were studying in New Zealand on scholarships have just returned to Hanoi and are looking for jobs. One is applying to work in another charity, which is great to see, and the other is likely to apply to some restaurants. Their English is amazing now, so I don't think they'll have much trouble getting good jobs.