Friday, June 28, 2013

Hate me

It's Friday... and the Blue Dragon staff are collectively holding their breath. Can we make it through this weekend without any dramas?

The past week has been packed with crisis.

Our rescue of 2 girls in China, which I will write more about next week, was particularly dangerous; the girls were being kept in an underground brothel, with escape seemingly impossible.

Here in Hanoi, several staff spent much of the week in and out of police stations dealing with kids who had been arrested. The team at Dragon House were focused on counseling teenagers who were turning up with self inflicted cuts and burns, or diagnosed with serious illnesses, or afraid that they (or their girlfriend) were pregnant.

So why all the problems?

The common thread with many of the kids we're working with is a deep self loathing. They've been raised to believe they are bad people. They've heard it from family, from school, and from the community. And then they have come across adults who see their vulnerability, and take full advantage of it.

Teens and children who have no self worth are easy pickings for abusers who want kids for sex, or to sell drugs, or to kidnap and sell to brothels. These experiences, in turn, reinforce the kids' belief that they are useless and valueless. That's when they turn to punishing themselves and engaging in risky behaviour.

During the week, one police station released into our care a teen boy they had arrested. When we picked him up, he had no shirt and no shoes - he was in a real mess. So we grabbed some spare clothes, then took him for a meal on the way back to the Shelter.

As he finished the meal, he excused himself to have a cigarette outside... and promptly vanished. We didn't see him until lunch the next day.

Why would this boy, who we have been caring for over the past 6 months, behave like that? Was he ungrateful? Was he just taking advantage of us?

It was confusing and hurtful for one of the kids treat us like that - but that's exactly what he needed us to feel. Confused and hurt. Because that's how he feels. His life is a mess. He doesn't know who he is or what will happen next. So he wants to know if we really care about him or not. By walking away like that, he was asking us: How will you react? Will you hate me?

I personally find it frightening to see the risky behaviours among the kids, along with the self hate and the self harm. We're seeing it more and more. Vietnam's street kids are facing more problems, and more complex problems, than ever before.

So here's to hoping for a weekend with no arrests, no injuries, no kidnappings. But in case they do occur - and it's pretty likely that they will - we'll be ready as always.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Blue Dragon works in some dark places. Day to day, we deal with kids being exploited and abused... teens being deceived and abducted... and the often-awful people who make a 'living' out of hurting others.

But sometimes, we stumble across beautiful people and situations, taking us by surprise.

This morning I was riding through Hanoi with Vi, who leads Blue Dragon's Outreach work to street kids. We were on our way to solve a problem (as is the nature of our work!) when we both spotted something happening by the side of the road.

Two boys, who we guessed were runaway boys from the countryside by their appearance and their back packs, were talking to three professional-looking women across from a bank. It looked just a little odd.

So we pulled over to see what was going on. 

The women worked in the bank, and one of them, named Ha, had somehow spotted these two boys and realised that they were hungry and homeless. At the time we saw them, the women were about to take the boys for a meal and see how they could help.

Naturally, the women were very cautious about letting Vi and I in to the conversation: they were being protective of the boys and were worried that we might have bad intentions. But when we introduced ourselves as being from Blue Dragon, the women immediately knew us. Ha had volunteered with us a few years ago, so was thrilled that we had turned up and was glad for the boys to return to Dragon House for a meal.

Hanoi is not a friendly city for street kids. There are many dangers and traps that innocent kids from the countryside know nothing about. But today I was touched to see three young women looking out for the kids, and prepared to go out of their way to ensure some kids were safe.

For all the bad in our world, there are also some great people out there.

... and an update on this story: On investigation, the boys did NOT run away from home; they were invited to the city by someone offering a job in a cafe, but once they arrived it was clear that they were much too young to be working. The boys were very happy to go home, so we contacted their families and put them on the bus back to their village with food in their bellies and some new clothes. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Let's make this happen

Thanh is 14 years old. He lives in Dien Bien province, up near the border of Laos, where child traffickers are a plague, preying on impoverished rural families with promises of training, jobs, and a better life in the city.

When Thanh was trafficked, he thought he was going to learn to be a tailor. Instead he became a slave in a sweatshop, working up to 18 hours a day for no pay. Blue Dragon found him and his friends in March this year and got him safely home.

But home is not ideal for Thanh. Storms have damaged his already-fragile house, and his mother has no money to repair or rebuild.

Thanh needs a new house before winter arrives. He doesn't need much; just something safe and solid to keep the rain and cold out.

Blue Dragon's Whatever It Takes appeal is raising money for kids in crisis. If you can help with Thanh's house, please donate to the appeal and let us know it's for Thanh - just email We need $3000 for a full rebuild (yes, an entire house for $3000) and welcome contributions towards this.

A few dollars will give Thanh and his family a powerful new start in life. Let's make this happen.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

To the sea!

It's time again for Blue Dragon's annual trip to Halong Bay!

Every summer we get together all of the kids with disabilities who are part of the Blue Dragon family. They are quite a diverse group: some are deaf, some are blind, others are confined to wheelchairs, and many have intellectual impairments.

One thing they have in common is that they lead very difficult lives. This is their only 'fun time' for the year; for most of these kids, their whole life consists of being at home or at a special school. There are no days out, no trips to the park, no visits to the shops.

Once again Halong Pearl Hotel welcomed us in, totally for free, and Exotissimo Travel  provided the transport, making this trip possible. Thank you both for this exceptional generosity.

And exactly what did the kids and their carers do on this trip? I'll let the pictures tell the story...