Access is all

Street kids live in constant fear and danger. And for a child like Panh, returning home is not always a lasting solution.

At first we could only see Panh’s feet.

He had taken refuge in a construction site with another homeless teen. They were in such a deep sleep that no amount of noise could wake them. Their faces were covered with blankets, so we couldn’t even see who they might be.

Sleep is precious when you’re homeless. It’s also dangerous.

Panh is 14. He had been in the city for nearly 2 weeks when Blue Dragon social workers found him. But it wasn’t his first time running away from home.

Panh and a friend sleeping rough in Hanoi.

Born high up in the mountains of northern Vietnam, Panh’s story is one we have heard too many times. His parents separated before he was born; his mother remarried; and as a child he was left with his elderly grandparents to care for.

In a region so remote and economically poor, Panh’s early years were filled with hardship. His grandparents loved him, but he longed for the love of his parents. Going to school without enough money to pay his fees, or for lunch, put him to shame; and knowing that all his friends would go home at night to their mothers and fathers only made him feel deeply inadequate.

Over time, Panh increasingly acted out in ways that demanded the attention of his family. He skipped school. He didn’t come home at night. And before long he was really pushing the limits: stealing bicycles around the village and hanging out with older kids who already had a bad name in town.

But when we met him in Hanoi, buried in a filthy blanket and deep in an exhausted sleep, all we saw was a child desperate for love and attention.

At heart, Panh is a good kid.

So when we offered help to get him to a safe shelter – and later, to return to his village – Panh knew it was the right thing to do. He was also glad of a safe place to sleep.

Last week we took Panh home. It was a long journey – the social workers were on the road with him for 3 days. He’s back at his father’s house now, and his school and community has committed to looking out for him.

But to be honest, we’re half expecting that Panh will return to the streets before long.

Because life will still be tough back in the village. Panh wants to be with his father, but in reality his dad struggles with an alcohol addiction and he won’t be as helpful tomorrow as he’s promised today. This is no ‘happy ever after’ ending.

And that’s the reality of working with street kids.

Some just need a helping hand one day to get back to their family or to a safe shelter where they’ll stay until they finish their schooling. Others will stumble from crisis to disaster, and may even end up in trouble with the law. Life is messy and complex even for those of us lucky enough to have a loving family around us. For street kids, there may never be an end to the hardships that they know.

Blue Dragon’s work with victims of human traffickers has a clear end point. We want to see the day that trafficking just doesn’t happen any more. We can’t say when that day will be, but that’s the goal and we believe it’s achievable.

In our work with street kids, the goal is very different. We know that there will always be children working and living on the streets. There will never be a tidy end to this work.

Instead, we have set a very different goal. Blue Dragon is aiming to make sure that every street child in Hanoi, where our main centre is based, has access to someone who can care for them.

And we know that caring for street kids is more complex than it sounds. Experienced social workers and psychologists are critical to this work. Lawyers are too, and Panh’s case is a great example. Because his father left home before he was born, Panh has never had official registration as a citizen. Now he does, thanks to Blue Dragon’s work with his village police. That means he’s now legally entitled to support from the government. It sounds like a tiny detail, but it makes a massive difference in anyone’s life.

The Consortium for Street Children – of which Blue Dragon is a member – acknowledges April 12 as the International Day For Street Children.

The theme this year is the right for street children to access the services they need so they can have a safe and prosperous life like anyone else: shelter, education, psychology, legal advocacy.

It’s a basic right for street children to have access to these services, yet it seems so difficult in practice. Because it’s messy. It often involves having social workers climbing around construction sites or under bridges late at night, looking for kids who are hiding or sleeping, afraid to reveal who they are.

Making sure that every street child has access to someone who cares – who really cares – is a bold and ambitious dream. It’s a dream we all must work toward, because together we can do it.

Children on the streets need special care and and attention. We hope that Panh will be OK now that he’s home; but we must accept that he may still need further help. His difficult days are not yet over.

And if Panh does return to the streets, looking to escape the hardships of his life, we will be here for him.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

Reform

Sold into a forced marriage far from home, Na never expected to be a victim of human trafficking. But in this case, she wasn’t the only victim…

Na was 16 when she was sold.

She lived by the river in a simple hut. Her father, Cong, is a fisherman. Although he works all day the money he brings home doesn’t go very far. Most of their family income was from Na’s brother, who worked as a chef in Ho Chi Minh City until COVID came and the restaurant closed.

So Na did what countless girls, boys and young adults around Vietnam did. She decided to leave school and get a job. She wanted to help and she knew that by earning some money her family would get through these difficult times.

Her betrayal was at the hand of someone she thought was a friend. Na could never have imagined the horrors that would unfold – or that she would be sold to a man thousands of miles from home.

Na’s father Cong couldn’t understand the terror that his daughter was going through, but he knew something was wrong. He reported to the police everything he knew – but he wanted to do more.

Seeking help from a neighbor, he took to social media to implore the world to help. He would sell his fishing boat and his house to pay a reward for anyone who could bring Na home safely.

Cong’s public pleas for help swiftly attracted a response. A young man rang just days later with a promise. He had seen Na being taken into China. He had some friends in the area who could help. But it would be costly. The young man asked for $5000.

Never in his life had Cong seen so much money, but if it meant that Na could return home, he would find a way. He approached the local money lenders, whose interest rates were up to 5% per day, and soon had the unbelievable sum of cash in his hand.

Na was gone, but Cong now had a reason to hope.

But once that money was transferred, Cong’s phone fell silent. The young man had disappeared.

It was fully a week before Cong accepted that he had been robbed. He lay awake all night, hating himself for being such a fool. Hating himself for making it even less likely that Na would ever be found. He wondered if ending his own life would in any way make up for what had happened to his only daughter.

And later, he would learn the bitter news that he had given money to the very person who had trafficked his daughter.

Blue Dragon found Na three months after she was taken. We organised a rescue operation and got her back to Vietnam where – after two weeks in COVID quarantine – she could finally get home to her father’s loving arms.

A father and daughter reunited

Cong and Na, and all their extended family, are relieved beyond words to be back together. But this is an ordeal that will haunt them forever.

The trauma that Na has experienced. The massive debt that Cong now has on his shoulders. Their months apart, and the extraordinary stress that they all lived through. The loss of their fishing boat – which was the only source of income for this family.

Recovery will take many, many years.

Blue Dragon’s philosophy is that we will help as much as we can, for as long as we are needed. However, there’s a bigger picture at play here.

What services and support should Na’s family be eligible to receive from the government?

When the trafficker is prosecuted and the court decides on compensation to be paid to Na, should her father Cong also be eligible for financial compensation?

As Na inevitably goes through the system – giving statements, applying for social assistance, re-enrolling in school – what training will each official she encounters have to support her on this journey? What rules are there to ensure her privacy and her dignity?

The truth is, many factors impact on the recovery for survivors of human trafficking and their families.

Right now, Vietnam’s law on human trafficking – the law that sets out all these details like the right to services, support and compensation – is being reviewed. And this means a chance to make a change for good.

Meeting between Blue Dragon and police to discuss areas of the law to reform

Blue Dragon is in a special position to contribute to this review. We’ve rescued over 1,000 people from slavery. In court we have represented 92 survivors of trafficking as their traffickers are prosecuted. And we’ve given psychological counselling and practical assistance to over 1,700 survivors as part of their recovery process.

So as this review gets underway, Blue Dragon is playing a key role in contributing our experience and ideas. Our strategy of having a multidisciplinary approach – with lawyers, psychologists and social workers all together on one team – means we can offer some rich insight on what’s needed in the new law.

This is a chance to make the system work better for everyone.

For Na and Cong, we will continue helping them as best we can while they recover from their terrifying experience. And through this law review, we will ensure that the whole system is better able to support families like them in the future.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis. We are especially thankful to the Czech government’s Transition program for funding our ongoing involvement in this law reform initiative.

The pinky friend

Mai and her little brother and sister have suffered violence at the hands of those who should have protected them. Now they have new friends to look over them wherever they go.

Mai is seven years old, and has always lived in fear.

Her mother loves Mai and her younger brother and sister very much, but their home is dominated by their grandmother, whose violence has ruled their lives since birth. Their mother is powerless to protect the three tiny children.

Domestic violence in Vietnam is often seen as a private matter, for families to sort out for themselves. When children are the victims, it may be seen just as a matter of harsh but necessary discipline – and the right of the parents, or grandparents, to decide.

Mai and her siblings endured severe beatings every other day. The neighbors and community around them simply could not look away. When a call came to Blue Dragon asking for help, the children bore bruises on their faces and bodies that spoke of deeply disturbing abuse.

Through our daily work, we often see young people in desperate situations. But the sorrow on Mai’s face was like nothing else.

Police came and started the process of investigation. Statements from the children. Interviews with the mother and grandmother. Reports from the local community.

Mai and her brother and sister had entered the very adult world of criminal investigation and judicial processes… but they are safe.

Taken into Blue Dragon’s care, they had their first proper sleep in many months. Nothing to fear, no screaming and no beatings. And most of all, each of them slept for the first time with a new friend – soft toys that they clung to through the night.

For Mai and her little brother and sister, these dolls are more than just toys. They are friends to hold onto, to see them through the many changes that they are now going through. A new home. New beds to sleep in at night. New people around them, speaking with quiet and calm words that are unfamiliar to them.

Everything is different. But Mai’s friend, a soft pink toy dog, goes with her everywhere.

Getting the soft toys in order – Mai loves looking after the dolls and stuffed animals in the Blue Dragon library.

In a play session one day at Blue Dragon, Mai told the psychologist: “I will bring my pinky friend wherever I go as she makes me feel that I am not lonely. But she has a hole… Can you help me with that?”

Her psychologist ensured her that they could patch up the hole to make her pinky friend beautiful again. Mai smiled happily and told the soft creature, “You don’t need to worry. I will protect you just like you protect me.”

All that has happened, and all that is yet to come, may be too complex and horrible for Mai to understand. But with her pinky friend in her arms and a safe bed at night, she knows she is going to be OK.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

Back on the streets

Vi Do left home at age 15 and became a ‘street kid.’ Now he has devoted his life to helping other homeless teens to turn their lives around.

Whenever there’s a headline in the news about kids in Hanoi getting arrested, Vi is on alert.

He scans the article and checks the photos. He worries that he will know one of the young people in trouble.

Vi was a street kid himself as a teenager. With some help from Blue Dragon, he escaped the street life and had a promising career in hospitality, but decided to return to the organisation that helped him so that he in turn could help others.

Now he’s a senior leader at Blue Dragon, working with psychologists and social workers and lawyers to protect children from being abused, misled and exploited.

Just last week, one of Vi’s fears was realised. One of the young men arrested for his involvement in a huge gang fight – with swords and knives and metal bars – was Tu, one of the Blue Dragon boys not so long ago.

Tu is an orphan and as a child he learned to fend for himself. By the time we met him, he was already in his mid teens and hardened in his ways.

But Tu always had a soft side; in moments of quiet, he would share his regrets and his dreams, wishing that life had been very different. He would wonder aloud if he had any chance of turning his fortunes around.

The last time that Tu came to see Vi was just last year, and it was an emotional meeting. Tu is in his 20s now and has already spent time in prison; he’s survived a severe bout of pneumonia that almost killed him; and he’s battled with a meth addiction. So he came by the Blue Dragon centre to talk, but instead spent an hour in uncontrollable tears.

Tu said almost nothing. He just wanted someone to sit with him as he unloaded his burden of guilt and shame.

Now he’s caught up again in gangs, and this time he’s facing a prison sentence of at least 5 years. He may be in his 30s the next time he walks free.

For Vi, Tu’s story is too familiar, and very close to home. Vi knows that, as a teenager who worked on the streets alone, he too could easily have followed the path that Tu is now going down.

Vi Do meeting with homeless teens in Hanoi.

In some ways Vi was just lucky. Even though he was a street kid, he had a family back in the countryside who loved him very much. He had a community of people from his village who were also living and working in Hanoi. And he met Blue Dragon before he was on the streets for very long.

All these factors were out of Vi’s control, but along the way he also made some good decisions that kept him out of too much trouble. Now, he can see that the teens who come to Hanoi and end up homeless or working on the streets are in need of that same family support, community and social assistance that got him through the very difficult days he experienced as a teenager.

These girls and boys come from all around Vietnam – from north to south – and come for all kinds of reasons. But they all face the same dangers when they get here, and Vi wants nothing more than to be their shield to keep them safe.

This morning he’ll be checking the newspapers once again, and tonight he’ll be back on the streets with his outreach team, looking to see who needs a helping hand.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation meets and assists 12 – 20 new homeless children every month.

Mother

A life of hardship and tragedy could not stop Vy from dreaming that she would one day have a family of her own.

Vy has lived a hard life.

She’s always been poor. She has usually been unemployed. And in recent years, she has been homeless.

But there’s something else that she has always wanted to be:

A mother.

Collecting scrap on the streets with her partner, Vy shares the same dream that we all share: a happy future with people she loves. So the first time she fell pregnant, she was delighted and hopeful that brighter days were ahead.

When she lost her baby in a miscarriage, she was devastated. And more than a year later when she was pregnant again, a second miscarriage seemed to spell the end of her dreams.

Blue Dragon met Vy in January when Help Hanoi’s Homeless, an awesome local volunteer association, contacted us. Normally Blue Dragon focuses our attention on people who have been trafficked and street children; supporting homeless pregnant women is a little outside our regular work.

But Vy’s situation was dire. 38 weeks pregnant and living on the streets, she was unsafe and unwell. And the risk of a third miscarriage was just too great.

Working with the volunteers, we rented Vy a room and supplied her with some basic needs to see her through. Seeing the mix of joy and fear in her eyes was heartbreaking. Vy’s final weeks of pregnancy were filled with both hope and dread. She faced every day wanting nothing more than to have the chance to be a mother, and hold her baby in her arms.

This is a story with a happy ending. Vy’s dream has come true. Her baby girl was born safely in hospital. Ha Chi has every chance of leading a healthy, happy life. Vy is over the moon.

Vy’s newborn girl, Ha Chi.

Now that she has a child, Vy doesn’t want to work on the streets any more. We’ve helped her stay stable through these first months while Vy’s partner starts in a regular job and begins earning an income. We’re also helping to get a birth certificate for the baby; Vy is from southern Vietnam, so needs some extra help to make that journey and get the paper work done.

Of course, Vy’s story isn’t over. It isn’t always easy for people who have experienced years of homelessness to return to a more stable life. But this is what Vy wants and has fought for; and more than anything, she wants to give Ha Chi the life that she wishes she had had.

Vy may have been through a lot in life, but she’s going to be a wonderful mother.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

Not just a day

Ending equality between women and men is not about “giving” power to women. International Women’s Day gives us an opportunity to reconsider the misconceptions and stereotypes that abound.

Every year, the calendar is packed with dates to mark or promote certain causes.

There are days against human trafficking, and days to celebrate mothers and fathers. There’s even an International Speak Like a Pirate Day.

Blue Dragon rarely acknowledges these symbolic events. For us, what matters most is the day to day work of defending people’s rights. We roll up our sleeves and do what needs to be done, rather than focusing on specific dates.

International Women’s Day is a little different.

With women and girls around world still having less chance of education…

still being paid less…

still having less voice over their own lives and bodies…

still being harassed and facing violence because of their gender…

and with many families still preferring baby boys over baby girls…

every opportunity to speak up against these gender-based injustices must be taken.

Of course, if all we do is pay homage to the importance of equality once a year, then we are doing nothing. I would even suggest that this does harm: because the appearance of taking action, while really taking none, gives an impression that things are getting better when in reality nothing is changing.

So International Women’s Day on its own is not enough – not by a million miles. The principles we espouse today must be put into practice every day.

Blue Dragon tries to live up to this ideal in everything we do. More than 60% of our staff and managers are women. Almost 70% of the tertiary students we sponsor are young women. Well over half of all the children across all our programs who we help day by day are girls. We know that girls need more opportunities to bridge the gap that inequality has created, so we push ourselves constantly to ensure girls and women have the opportunities they rightfully deserve, but otherwise would miss.

Writing as a man, I have to say: this is not about “giving” women a say, or “giving” them a chance. When we think of it this way, it’s an act of condescension and power. Women don’t need to be “given” equality. They need for men to stop taking it from them.

And this change begins with dropping our assumptions, and listening.

It can’t end there, though. Real change must begin with our personal interactions and continue right through to structural reform.

Every day in my work, I witness the extraordinary violence that women and girls suffer. The forced impregnations; forced marriages; forced surrogacies. None of this should exist in our world.

Laws must protect the rights of women. Schools must ensure that girl students have the support they need to complete their education. All of society must work together to find the causes of injustice, and address them. This is not “somebody else’s problem.” It’s yours and mine. And you and I can be part of the solution.

Blue Dragon has many amazing women and girls who are pioneers and leaders. In the lead-up to International Women’s Day 2021, we asked them to share a word that sums up what they want for their future. You can visit our Facebook page to hear what they had to say in response.

Our families, societies, workplaces – our very world – will be stronger and safer when women and men have an equal place and an equal voice. Nothing we can do has a greater impact than reducing the gap between girls and boys, women and men.

Today, and every day, let’s work to end inequality.

To mark International Women’s Day 2021, you are invited to become a sponsor of Girls’ Empowerment.

Be

Sometimes it’s hard to see
Who you’re gonna be
So be the young, the brave, the powerful

– James Blunt, “The Greatest”

Ngoc hears a voice, and holds his breath.

He can’t see anything through the blanket that covers him. He feels the breath of Tam sleeping beside him; and no matter the noise from around them, nothing will ever wake Tam.

The voice calls again and Ngoc pulls the blanket from his face.

At first he sees the vast concrete bridge above him, the discarded bathtub beside him. Then he sees the young man kneeling at his feet, calling softly. A friendly face, but a stranger. And a stranger is always a threat.

Ngoc came to the city last year to find a job. At first everything worked out great, but his boss kept delaying his salary. Finally it became clear he was never going to get paid, and when he raised his voice, he was fired.

Now he’s sleeping under a bridge, ashamed to tell his family that he has nothing to show for his months away from home. Every noise startles him. Even when he wakes, he’s exhausted. Fear is a heavy burden to shoulder, and the shame he carries feels like rocks shackled to his feet.

Ngoc never thought of himself as a homeless person. He’s not a street kid. He has a family, a village up in the mountains. At home he is the funny guy. He jokes with his mates. He talks to the village leader as an equal, looks after the ducks in his spare time, enjoys the solace and the silliness of his feathered friends.

How can he let his parents know that he failed? That he’s sleeping on dirt with no money in his pocket? That he’s afraid of everything around him? This wasn’t what he dreamt about as a child.

It’s now mid afternoon on a cold and rainy Saturday, and the man waking him is offering warm food and a place to stay. He’s a social worker, scanning the streets for young people like Ngoc. Is this finally a chance for escape from the sleepless terror of having nothing and nobody? Is this the moment that will light a path for Ngoc to return to his family, where he is loved and safe?

The life of street kids in Hanoi – and in every town and city around the planet – is harder than any of us can appreciate unless we have been there ourselves. At Blue Dragon, half our Street Outreach team were once homeless themselves, just like the social worker who met Ngoc on Saturday.

Children in our world aren’t homeless because of a lack of resources. There’s more than enough to go around.

Sometimes it’s abuse or neglect that forces them to the streets. Other times, it’s not much more than a sequence of bad luck or misfortune.

But it shouldn’t happen. It doesn’t need to happen. It’s simply not right.

Ngoc and his friend Tam are going to be OK. Blue Dragon has met them and can help them get home.

Over the coming days and nights we’ll spend time with them, helping them work through their fears and keeping them safe until they are ready to return to their families. And once they’re back in their village we can keep helping so they get the education and training they need, and then a good job where they won’t be exploited again.

Every child, every person, needs someone willing to stand up for them. It’s not only for governments or for charities to make a difference. This is something we all can do: be the helping hand that we would wish for ourselves. The shoulder to cry on. The understanding smile on the hardest of days.

We don’t have to be overwhelmed by all the world’s hardships. We can start where we are, play our small part, reach out to the person before us. Be the change we wish to see, as someone once said.

Imagine what our world could be.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

Whatever

Every person we meet at Blue Dragon has a unique need to overcome their crisis. So how can we respond and get people’s lives back on track?

During the week, Long came to visit Blue Dragon.

He’s 23 now, but when we first met him he was 14. He and his sister were sleeping alone on the street. They were cold and hungry and had smeared themselves with mud to stop the mosquitos biting them.

Although he’s a young adult and fairly independent, Long has faced some crises in the past year. His wife died suddenly in an accident, leaving him a single father of a little boy. Around the same time, he brought his 12 year old brother to live with him to escape a difficult home situation and make sure he was cared for properly.

For a young man, he has taken on a lot of responsibility.

And recently he’s had a few more setbacks. Just before the Lunar New Year, he lost his motorbike and then he lost his job.

Sometimes, everything seems to go wrong at once.

When Long came by the Blue Dragon centre and we heard about him losing his bike, we reached out to some friends in Hanoi asking if anyone could donate one. Within hours, not one but TWO motorbikes had been offered.

Long is now mobile again. He’ll be able to take his son and brother to their schools, and will soon return to work as a delivery driver.

There’s an expression we sometimes use to describe Blue Dragon’s work. Some other people and organisations use it too: Whatever it takes.

It’s a bold and evocative statement, but it’s easy for this slogan to become just a cliché. And then in the end, it’s simply: Whatever.

From day to day at Blue Dragon, though, that’s the guiding principle. Whatever it takes.

Long needs a motorbike so he can work and get his family to school. So our mission was to find him one, and thanks to some very generous people he now has wheels!

Other families we meet have needed their houses rebuilt – like Trang up in the mountains bordering China. She was trafficked and enslaved for a month before escaping. When we helped her return home, we saw that she was living in extreme poverty and simply was not safe in her house.

Trang’s house didn’t keep the cold or the rain out, and offered her no protection or comfort.

Again, we called out for help and people donated. Trang now has a new house.

Just two weeks ago, Bao needed surgery to recover from an accident. Friends around the world donated… and Bao is now home and healing nicely.

More often, the help that people need is less tangible: counselling, crisis accommodation, legal advocacy, or help to pay the rent.

Sometimes it’s short-term and sometimes it will be over a decade.

Everyone’s need is different, and there’s no single way to solve all the world’s problems.

Whether it’s a motorbike for Long or a house for Trang – or counselling, schooling, or anything at all – Blue Dragon is here to do whatever it takes.

We can’t stop supporting someone after a fixed period of time, or when they reach a certain age. We can’t narrow down the scope of our help to just a few specific needs. We can’t insist that everyone who comes our way fits into the box that we’ve built for them.

Because life isn’t like that.

Life is messy and complicated and rarely works out the way we think it will. And that’s OK.

The people who support Blue Dragon understand this, which is why so many children and young adults have received help so far. Everything that we have achieved so far is only possible because of people around the world who believe that we all deserve a fair chance in life.

And because of that belief – the belief that we must do whatever it takes – Long, Trang and Bao, and many thousands just like them, have a whole new chance in life.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation does whatever it takes to rescue kids in crisis.

The Tet Dream

Close to Lunar New Year, people trapped in slavery take their life in their hands calling for help to be rescued. Tram is one young woman who took that risk.

It’s 2 years now since Tram came home.

She was 17 when she was trafficked to China, and 20 when she returned to Vietnam.

At the time she was tricked into thinking she was going on a shopping trip with a friend, Tram was a school student planning for her future. Over the next three years, she was sold as a bride – twice – and endured beatings and torture that she will never be able to forget.

Tet – Vietnam’s celebration of Lunar New Year – marks the anniversary of Tram’s rescue from slavery. Most years, Blue Dragon sees a significant spike in calls for help as Tet draws near. Girls and women being held against their will far from home are more likely to take the risk of calling for help, as Tram did, dreaming that they can be home with their families for this important, deeply cultural, tradition.

Calling for help can be dangerous – deadly so. Traffickers and the men who buy these women have much to lose should their victim escape and report to police. Anyone caught trying to escape may be beaten, tied up, and resold. Some young women have been killed at the hands of their traffickers for daring to try for freedom.

Tram took that risk, and her gamble paid off. Blue Dragon found her, created an escape plan, and assisted her return to Vietnam. It took 10 days, and every moment was terrifying for Tram until she was finally back in her father’s arms.

Getting girls and women home for Tet has never been as difficult as this year. COVID-19 inevitably means restrictions on travel within and between countries. Lockdowns mean that people living in slavery have fewer opportunities to steal a moment on a telephone or slip down the street unnoticed.

For those we have brought back, mandatory quarantine awaits – a further delay of 2 weeks before that final journey home is possible.

Tram thinks of herself as one of the lucky ones. She knows that there are many more young people like herself who are still trapped. It’s not just that they can’t escape; right now, even calling for help is more of a life-endangering feat than usual.

In time, those calls will come. They will be too late for this year’s Tet celebrations, but they’ll never be too late for the chance of a new start.

And when those calls come, we must be ready.

P.S. Very special thanks to everyone who donated last week in support of Bao. He’s now through his surgery and back at home healing. Your donations paid his bill, and there’s enough remaining to continue supporting Bao and his son over the next months until Bao is able to get back to work.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

A helping hand

Now a young father working hard to raise his son, Bao is a Blue Dragon “old boy.” And he’s facing a new crisis in his life.

When Blue Dragon was just starting out, Bao was one of the kids who dropped by our centre every day.

A quiet and gentle boy, he lived on a floating house on Hanoi’s Red River. His life has always been hard, but he never let that show. No matter what was going on in his world, Bao always had a smile to share and he never, ever complained.

Now he’s a young adult and has a child of his own, soon to go to school. We still see Bao every now and then; he works as a delivery driver, scooting around the city on his motorbike.

He still lives on the river, and life is still difficult. Bao has no legal documentation – no birth certificate or proof of his own existence. This means that he can’t get a motorbike license, and he has no health insurance or bank account or any way to properly enroll his son in school.

Even though Blue Dragon has helped more than 13,000 people get their legal documentation, Bao’s is one of the few cases we haven’t yet resolved – it’s that complicated.

And now Bao is facing a new crisis.

Just before Christmas he was in a road accident, through no fault of his own. His arm was broken and his whole body scratched up quite badly. He hasn’t been able to work since then, so as a single dad he’s been doing it tough.

Because he doesn’t have any health insurance, Bao didn’t receive proper medical treatment for the broken arm. Earlier this week, with the arm still causing tremendous pain, he came to Blue Dragon to ask for help.

Bao at his family home on the Red River.

People often ask us: What’s our cut-off age for helping the kids? The truth is, we don’t have any arbitrary limits to stop caring. If someone genuinely needs help, we try to find a way.

So a social worker went to the hospital with Bao, and the news was terrible.

Bao needed fairly major surgery to fix the arm. And it would cost more than $3,000. More than Bao could pay in 10 years.

Without the surgery, Bao would be disabled. He would never have proper use of the arm, and we know that would mean he could never hold down a job. This would be devastating for Bao, and would force his child into a life of hardship too.

The Blue Dragon social worker was able to find the right people in the hospital to help. When he explained Bao’s situation in detail, the hospital agreed to help in every way they could – cutting costs on everything. But still, the bill would be about $1,300.

Blue Dragon will help with this – right now we’re asking for donations to pay the cost of Bao’s surgery, and if we happen to raise more than that we’ll put it to the cost of schooling for his son. Every contribution to this will be appreciated – whether it’s $10 or $100, it will help a lot.

For a young man like Bao, doing his best and raising his son in pretty tough circumstances, life has never been easy.

We all face crises at different points of our lives, and most of the time we can get through on our own. But no matter where we were born or how good life has been to us, sometimes we all need a helping hand, like Bao does right now.

If you would like to help Bao through this crisis, please donate at www.bluedragon.org/donate