500 to 1

If you’ve seen the latest newsletter, then you’ll have heard the news that we’ve just passed another milestone.

Blue Dragon has successfully reunited 500 street children with their families.

Meeting homeless children and offering care and protection is where Blue Dragon started, even though we are now better known for our rescues of people from slavery.

Every city in the world has children who live or work on the streets. Hanoi is no exception.

What’s noticeable here is the lack of services for them; every now and then there are special projects to put street kids in protection centres, or to distribute information about safe sex, but Blue Dragon’s outreach to homeless young people is unique.

We have a presence on the streets every night, visiting the places where children gather and offering help whenever we are needed.

Our vision is to ensure that every homeless child in the city has someone they can call on for help. We’re not there yet, but we are growing and continually looking for new ways to reach children.

Put simply, if we don’t get to the kids, someone else will.

There are pimps hanging out at intercity bus stations looking for teen and pre-teen boys as they arrive. Overwhelmed by the noise and bustle, and their pockets empty, these children are easy prey for smooth talking pimps offering a helping hand.

There are camps within the city, on unused building sites, where pimps set up tents to accommodate the children they rent out.

Internet cafes running around the clock provide homeless children with a place to stay, but they are not safe; drugs are handed around, and pedophiles know which places to frequent to pick up kids. At times they pay children for sex right there in the internet café toilets.

When Blue Dragon first started, back in 2003, there were very few safe places for street kids. Our co-founder Chung and I, along with some enthusiastic volunteers, took to the streets to meet young people and offer English classes, football games, and a helping hand through crisis.

As word got out that we were there, the kids kept coming. We struggled to attract support for this work: people dismissed us as fly-by-nighters who had no idea what we were doing, while some held the view that the kids weren’t worth helping (and even told us as much!).

But we believed in the kids so we kept going. And I’m glad we did.

As we celebrate the success of helping 500 street kids make their way home to be with their families again, I’m reminded of our very first reunion, which was actually of 2 boys who had run away together.

Tuan and Nhi were tiny for their age, although they were both only about 12 years old. Tuan had had an argument with his father, so he called on his friend to run away with him and go to the city.

Once there, of course, they were completely lost. Their plan had only extended as far as running away… They hadn’t given any thought to what would come next!

Chung and I met them begging on the streets of the city. They were tired and dirty but still managed big smiles when we started talking to them and offered them a meal.

As most street kids still do, they kept the truth of their stories to themselves for as long as they could, ashamed to admit that they had done something wrong for fear we would punish or reject them. After some days, they opened up and explained their stories.

The next problem was that they didn’t know how to contact their families, as they had no phones at home!

Fortunately Chung worked out how to ring the school where they studied, and from there we made contact with their desperately worried fathers. Late at night we traveled across Hanoi with the boys on our motorbikes to meet their dads, who came in to the city and met us at a relative’s home.

Getting those boys back to be with their families was a powerful moment, and in hindsight it was a sign of great things to come, but at the time it was just Chung and I to quietly celebrate our little victory.

The very next day we met another homeless boy: Thang, who had an intellectual impairment, and so straight away we were back at it. No time to rest on our laurels!

500 is a great number to mark, and we’re proud of reaching this milestone. At the same time, we are conscious that each one of those 500 (mostly) boys and (some) girls is a valuable and important person, whose story is unique.

Now: On to the next 500!

 

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

Street life

Here’s something I’d love to share – a film made by some high school students as part of their final year studies.

The students from the United Nations International School created this as an assignment, deciding to create a story looking into the life of street children in Vietnam. It’s a fictional take on the life of one child, and captures the essence of what it’s like to be homeless in Hanoi.

Treat yourself to 7 minutes of a very touching film made by some wonderfully talented young people.

 

Director: Nga (Hannah) Nguyen
Cinematographer: Giang Nguyen
Screenwriter: Linh Nguyen

Finding passion

When Tan was 13, he ran away from his home on a small farm in northern Vietnam.

I met him in Hanoi a few weeks later. He had been surviving on the streets with help from some older boys who stole and pimped for a living. Fortunately, Tan hadn’t become entangled in anything too bad by the time Blue Dragon’s outreach workers met him and offered him a place to stay. 

Tan was a shy and nervous little boy. I never understood how he had found the courage to leave home and try to live on the streets until much later when he shared the depths of pain he had grown up with.

His mother had left when Tan was still an infant, unable to live any more with his father so remarried to start a new family. Nobody ever explained to Tan why this had happened, so he grew up believing he was unloved and worthless. 

Going to live on the street seemed like a natural step for Tan. He had stopped going to school, he felt that his father and the extended family all blamed him for his mother leaving, and his household was mired in such poverty that there was nothing to hope for anyway. 

Tan’s first days with Blue Dragon were not auspicious. In coordination with one of the older gang members he had been staying with, he stole money and personal possessions from the very staff who had met him and brought him to a safe house. 

Realising he had been caught, Tan’s reaction was to sink straight back into self loathing. He cried uncontrollably, howling so loudly that we feared the neighbors would come to see what the disturbance was! 

Tan wanted to leave the shelter immediately and return to the streets. He feared that we would punish him severely or maybe call the police. But we convinced him to stay at least until he had finished crying and had had something to eat, and he could then make his decision. 

He stayed. 

That was in 2014. In the years since then, Tan’s life has been sometimes tumultuous but increasingly calmer. He has found his mother and learned that she loves him deeply. He has taken part in various training courses, some of which he has graduated from with great success and some of which ended in disaster. 

Today, Tan is still fragile and needs more care and love than many his age, but he is building a life for himself that he loves. 

Put simply, Tan has found two passions that have allowed him to succeed: sport and cooking.

Tan is an avid soccer player, turning up to every game of football we organise and working out in the gym in between to prepare. He’s no longer the skinny little boy I met back in 2014!

And his love of cooking has grown to the point that he has now started his first full time job in one of Hanoi’s great restaurants. 

Tan has never been happier. His face beams with joy when he talks about his new job… something we all hope for our children as they grow up and start becoming independent. 

Finding these passions and having opportunities to grow in them has been transformational. With every new day, Tan is a little more confident and has a stronger belief in himself. 

The awful days of hopelessness, doubt and blame are moving further into Tan’s past. Greater promise lies ahead. 

 

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.