Nguyen is a pretty special teenage boy.
He can be an angel at times, and he has a smile that beams with innocence. His mission in life is to bring joy to everyone; he becomes visibly frustrated and worried when people around him are arguing. Nguyen just wants everyone to be happy.
And of course, being a teenager, he can also be a handful of trouble. He likes to hang out on the street late at night and has a habit of shouting at people who harass his friends. Just recently this escalated into him being stabbed in the shoulder by a gang who didn’t appreciate his lecture. It was a pretty serious wound, and could easily have been far worse.
Nguyen’s motivation comes from his upbringing: he has grown up in extreme poverty within a violent household where beatings, hunger and fear are completely normal. Two years ago he ran away from his home up in the mountains to find reprieve in the city. While living on the street he met the staff of Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. When we took him back to meet his parents, it was clear that he was in constant danger there from his father, and his mother was unable to protect him, so now he lives with us and studies vocational training.
He has a beautiful love of life and wants peace all around him, but is still learning the basic social skills of conflict resolution and negotiation. As a child, he learned that dominance and shouting get you what you want, and until recently never saw another way.
Blue Dragon has many kids like Nguyen. When we first meet them, we don’t know the depth and complexity of their lives up until that point. We don’t know what has shaped them, who they have learned from, or what ideas they have about their world. Some of our kids come to us off the streets just wanting to get back into school. Others have experienced trauma and need time to heal before they’re ready to do anything. And plenty come with the bad habits they’ve learned from violent families or institutions or street gangs.
It’s easy to say that the answer for kids like Nguyen is education: Blue Dragon needs to offer classes and workshops in social skills, and provide a disciplined environment for them to learn how to fit in. We do all that – although we take a fairly broad view of “fitting in” – and it would be a pretty unusual week that our staff aren’t running group discussions on how to make friends, or sexual health, or one of any countless number of social skills.
Such classes are always useful, and easy to evaluate, but they are only a tiny part of children’s education. Kids don’t learn how to live by sitting and taking notes. You and I didn’t form our values and ethics through attending workshops.
In reality, we learn by being with others. We see what they do, we may try it out ourselves, and we see how it makes us feel. We imitate the values that we see around us; we find ourselves wanting to be like the people we trust. At Blue Dragon, it’s quite common to hear kids saying that when they grow up they want to be like one of the Social Workers – many indeed dream of becoming Social Workers – because they want to emulate the people who care for them.
So what does that mean for Blue Dragon? While the workshops and classes will always have a place, to really shape the young people in our care we need to be their role models.
We need to persevere when they take time to get it right.
We need to be calm when they are out of control.
We need to take time to explain, and ask questions, and listen.
We need to hope and believe that every child has good in them, regardless of what they’ve done or where they’ve been.
And we need to show that we care for them, no matter what.
For Nguyen, there’s real hope that he will grow into a wonderful man whose children have a very different upbringing to his own: a childhood where they are safe and know they are loved.
To help him get there, it’s the daily work of the people at Blue Dragon that matters most.
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!