Tan, aged 14, sleeping in a concrete pipe.
This is what COVID looks like in Vietnam, a country that has had roaring success in the first year of the pandemic and now is battling to contain a new outbreak.
We’re all sick of it. COVID stories seemed so urgent before but now we’re comfortable and familiar with the crisis. It doesn’t really seem like a crisis any more – we’ve found ways to adjust and get on with life.
But it’s different for the kids. For Tan, and young people like him around the country, COVID means a new layer of hardship on lives that were already difficult.
Tan grew up in a town not far from Hanoi. When he was young, he wanted to be a policeman, or start his own business. He still seems shocked when he thinks about what his life has actually become.
He’s homeless. A street kid. He sleeps in an abandoned construction site, where pimps and pedophiles routinely visit because it’s known as a place where children sleep away from the storms and the summer sun.
So far Tan has resisted the offers of help from Blue Dragon social workers, because he still believes he can make it on his own. He wants to prove to his family and himself that he is strong and independent. But he appreciates the visits, and the meals we bring him.
We know from experience that he’s likely to change his mind soon, and finally accept an offer of safe shelter. We also know that if he doesn’t, then he may find himself desperate enough to follow the pimps who promise easy money and quick fixes.
Being a street kid is always hard. Living in filth, unable to sleep through the night, always worrying about the next meal. The stress that homeless children experience can mark them for many years.
COVID has led to a surge in the number of kids sleeping rough – for all kinds of reasons. For some, it’s because money ran out at home and the children have headed to the city for survival. Others are on the streets because being with their parents, now unemployed, led to violence within the family, and they needed to escape.
Since the end of April, COVID has returned to Vietnam in a new wave that the authorities are struggling to get under control. For families living in poverty, the months ahead are going to be tougher than ever.
Blue Dragon’s work on the streets is a lifeline for kids like Tan. We don’t have any quick fixes; with some young people, it takes a long time to build trust to the point that we can really understand and offer help.
But what matters is that we keep trying. We don’t give up. We will keep talking to Tan, keep dropping by his concrete box with food and hygiene gear and friendly conversation.
When he’s ready to trust, we’ll be ready to help.
You can help by donating to the Blue Dragon Rescue Appeal at this link. Every dollar you donate will make a powerful difference.