Taking the lead

When Thoat first came to Blue Dragon, she was wild.

People often assume that the boys must be harder to work with than the girls. In fact, when we meet homeless girls out on the streets of Hanoi, it’s not unusual that their behaviour is far more out of control than the boys who are in similar situations. Girls tend to grow up under stricter parental and family control; when that control is gone, the girls may not know how to manage their own behaviour. By contrast, boys are always given a greater degree of freedom, so are more likely to have learned at least a little self discipline.

When Thoat came into the drop-in centre, everyone would know. She could stir up the other kids and get them following her in an instant. She knew no boundaries, and no rules would contain her.

And while it was easy to see all the negatives in Thoat, one thing was clear: she was a natural leader.

Many of the street kids we meet show these same characteristics. They are brave: they’ve made the decision to leave abusive or dysfunctional families and try to survive on their own. They are resilient: in any one day they may face risks and dangers that most of us don’t have to deal with in a year, and yet they find ways to keep on going. And they are innovative: they adapt to their circumstances, making something out of nothing.

All of these qualities are positives, not negatives.

And so a constant challenge for us is to draw on the kids’ strengths, to build on their courage and resilience and innovative natures, instead of seeing them as weaknesses or character flaws. Girls in particular are likely to be criticised for being too outspoken, or too bold; they are regularly told that their strengths are their weaknesses, and made to feel useless.

Over the last weekend, the Blue Dragon Social Workers kicked off a series of leadership workshops for 12 of the kids who want to learn more about how to lead others and themselves. With Vietnam’s summer holidays underway, our kids are eager for meaningful activities and the idea of leadership classes came from the teens themselves.

Through games, discussions, and team activities, they’ve started learning about how they can take on leadership roles in their lives right now – not waiting until they are older, or more experienced, or have finished high school. They want to know what they can do today to make the world a better place.

Even though it’s only the first day of learning, each of the kids is already coming up with some wonderful insights and ideas. One of the boys, Tam (aged 15), spoke up on the question of what leadership means to him:

Everyone makes different choices. A leader is someone who doesn’t try to change the choices of others, but helps them to follow their own decision in the best way. 

Some of this might seem like pretty routine stuff for teens learning leadership: but it’s worth remembering that these are all kids who have lived on the streets and been through all kinds of horrors and trials so early in life.

And yes, Thoat was there too, taking part and putting her hand up to volunteer her thoughts and loving every minute of it. There’s still a natural wildness to her character, which I hope she will never lose; but by now she knows more about how to use her remarkable talents for the good of others.

I don’t need to wonder if Thoat will make a great leader one day. She’s already one.



P.S. We’re having our annual fundraising appeal right now, so if you want to contribute to the important work of Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, now is the time! 

A difficult journey

It’s easy to think of working in charity as a glorious and noble mission.

Sometimes it is: there are plenty of days I go home beaming, knowing that we’ve achieved something great and changed a life.

And sometimes it’s grimy and dangerous and frustrating. There are plenty of days that end with nothing but a question mark about what will come next.

This article, written by one of the most meticulous investigative journalists I have come across, was published just last weekend. It explores a case that Blue Dragon faced over 18 months from 2014 through to 2016.

A foreign man was abusing street boys in Hanoi. When we first heard about him, we knew nothing at all: not his name (he gave out fake names to the kids, and a different fake name to all his friends and colleagues); nor his nationality; nor where he lived. We also didn’t know that he had a long and documented history of abusing children in other countries, and worming his way out of trouble every time.

Blue Dragon exists to care for kids in crisis. We weren’t created as an agency to investigate crimes, but we found ourselves having to do so in order to protect the city’s children. With a long track record of finding and rescuing victims of human trafficking, we applied ourselves to working out who this mysterious guy was and figuring out how Vietnamese law could stop him.

There were many times that we thought we could not put a stop to this man. There were people who criticised us for taking on an investigative role. And there were many long, unproductive nights of working on the streets but achieving nothing.

Finally we succeeded, and Vadim Scott Benderman is now the first foreign person imprisoned in Vietnam for sexually abusing underage boys. But getting to that point was a very difficult and painful journey.

Had he not been caught, by now there would be scores more children who would have been through the experience of sexual abuse at the hands of Benderman.

The journey was long, but it in the end it was worthwhile.

Read the full article here:




P.S. We’re having our annual fundraising appeal right now, so if you want to contribute to the important work of Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, now is the time!