Saturday, March 02, 2013


In Vietnamese culture, the Year of the Dragon is thought to be particularly fortuitous. For me, it certainly was not fortuitous, but it was momentous.

Now we have entered the Year of the Snake, and so far the word that comes to mind is: Slippery. I only hope the rest of the year isn't quite so challenging.

Even before the Lunar New Year holiday was over, we were called out on our first trafficking case. A tiny boy with no comprehensible communication skills had been picked up by the police at the Chinese border. With no idea of where his family was, we were absolutely perplexed and at first all we could really offer was safety and protection. Fortunately, the boy's parents contacted the police, and we were able to get him home within a couple of days.

Since then, a great deal of our work has been centered on issues with Hanoi's street kids. These are generally a forgotten group; many organisations find them too difficult to deal with, too wild, and frankly their plight isn't seen as being 'compelling' as that of trafficking victims.

Compounding all this, as I wrote some time ago, is the fact that street kids in Hanoi are largely invisible. Many people simply think they don't exist. Or that if they do, they're just naughty children who have better options but choose to be little rascals.

A few nights ago I was walking through the Old Quarter when a group of street kids I know walked by. They were little kids, from about 8 to 13 years old, boys and girls together. The first words out of the mouth of one of the boys was this: "My mother died." Just that. Just a factual, this-is-what-happened-and-I-don't-know-what-to-do statement from a 10 year old boy who now relies solely on the care of an older sister, who works on the streets herself.

This was not a little boy with lots of better options in life.

A recurring theme among kids on the streets is that the kids don't believe they are 'good people'. For whatever reason, they believe that they are awful, undeserving of anything good, and that therefore whatever happens to them is just their fate.

Challenging this perception is one of the goals I have set for Blue Dragon in this Year of the Snake. As the number of kids on the streets grows, and as their problems both multiply and intensify, we need to offer not only shelter and basic care, but also hope and belief. We need to encourage the kids to believe that they are deserving of something better; that they don't have to accept the exploitation and abuse that has become a normal part of their lives.

This won't be easy. But then, it's the Year of the Snake. I suspect that all of our victories this year will be hard won.