Family time

This morning I’m headed to a wedding.

Thai was one of the very early Blue Dragon kids; we met him about 12 years ago, when we were just starting out in Hanoi. His family lived in a tiny makeshift house by an open sewer and his brother was in prison. Thai had a pretty rotten start to life, and spent some time in a reform school as a teenager.

Despite everything, he’s made a good life for himself. He’s worked as a baker, a barman, and now as a security guard. He’s stayed away from serious trouble, which is tough in a part of the city where drugs are everywhere. And today he marries his girlfriend of 5 years.

In the coming weeks, there’ll be plenty more celebrations, too. At this time of year, Vietnam has a long stream of major events. As an Australian, Christmas for me is December 25, while Vietnamese celebrate on the 24th; so in essence I end up with 2 Christmas days. Then there’s ‘western’ new year and a few weeks later we’ll have Tet, the lunar new year, which is the major event in the Vietnamese calendar.

All of this is a great time to catch up with family. At Blue Dragon, that means seeing the ‘old kids’, like Thai, who have moved on and have their own independent lives but continue to stay in touch. Between now and the end of January, we’ll have a flow of young women and men dropping by, some with children of their own, to say hi and chat with the team. Half a dozen of the Blue Dragon staff have been with us for over 10 years, so there’s a lot of history among them and the old kids love to hang out with them at this special time of year.

One of our girls, Ha, has started making donations now that she and her husband are financially secure. She’ll be coming by on Saturday, when our centre holds its Christmas party, with gifts and food to help us celebrate the day.

Life was very different for Ha when we first met her back in 2005; at that time she needed a helping hand and a safe place to study and play. Now she wants to share her own relative prosperity with the children who are coming to Blue Dragon for that same safety and care that she once needed.

Throughout the year we see a lot of sorrow and hardship. Christmas, new year and Tet can still be hard times for the kids, but they’re also an opportunity to focus on and celebrate what matters most: Family.

 

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Sooner

Manh looked like a little man. He’s 14 years old and very small for his age, but my first impression was that he could have been anywhere between 10 and 40.

He’d been on the streets of Hanoi for a few months, living in internet cafes and begging for money when he first arrived.

It wasn’t long before some pimps had their hooks into him, and soon he was introduced to a much older man who took him to a hotel for sex. By the time I met him, he had been abused by at least half a dozen men, mostly Vietnamese but one foreign man as well.

He was tiny, yet hardened; every feature of his teenage face was ambiguously innocent and experienced in the same moment.

At Blue Dragon we’ve worked with dozens of boys who have been sexually abused, and always at the start of our relationship there’s a worrying doubt about whether we can succeed in getting the boy out of the clutches of the rings. Typically the boys have been scarred, their self esteem in tatters, and the death of hope preventing them from even trying to escape.

I had that doubt when I first met Manh, sitting in a cafe with one of our Outreach Workers who had just met him at a lake where pimps and pedophiles congregate to look for homeless children. But Manh proved my doubts to be groundless almost immediately. Despite pressure from a pimp to head straight back out to the streets, Manh came in to a Blue Dragon shelter and has been with us since.

Manh’s story could almost have a happy ending, except that he’s been left with permanent health issues as a result of being abused. He’ll need treatment and care for the rest of his life.

Some time ago, Manh was talking to us about how things have been going, and at one point he asked the question: “Why didn’t you save me sooner?”

At Blue Dragon, we pride ourselves on our responsiveness and our flexibility. We go out of our way to keep kids safe, even when it means we put ourselves in the way of harm. We also know that we can’t save everyone; there will always be kids we can’t reach, no matter how hard we try.

We have to do our very best, and then must be content that we’ve honestly done all within our power.

Although we couldn’t find Manh sooner, we can care for him now.

It may well be that Manh has many hardships to come, but he won’t have to face them alone.

 

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A change of title

In a staff training session recently, our Communications Manager asked us to think of what our job title really should be, given what we actually do at work.

It was a light-hearted but revealing activity. Someone said that his title should be ‘Batman’ as he is a protector of homeless children. Another described herself as a “Bridge,” because she brings young people in trauma back to safety and connects them with their families.

When it came to my turn, I said that I consider myself the CPB of Blue Dragon: the Chief Punching Bag.

Why would that be my title? Because a huge part of my role as the charity’s founder and leader is taking the blows that come our way. A lot of people are in prison or out of business because of our work; and over the years there are plenty of gangsters who’ve been unhappy about decisions I’ve made. They all know who I am and where I live.

Within Blue Dragon, too, I carry the responsibility if our pay rises are too low, or if we can’t afford something that we desperately need. Sometimes the kids will be unhappy about decisions we make, and I’ve lost count of all the organisations, people, and institutions I’ve managed to offend over the years.

The problem with my Chief Punching Bag title, however, is that it’s such a negative, and in reality my work is incredibly inspiring. Even if does sometimes feel like I’m in the ring with Mike Tyson, I’m in there for some amazing reasons.

One thing I love about the team at Blue Dragon is that nobody backs down from a challenge. There’s never a time when, as an organisation, we say “That’s just too hard” and walk away. Of course, that’s the main reason I often feel like a punching bag, but it’s also the main reason we have achieved so much.

During this past week, 3 things happened to bring this reality home to me.

First, we had barely completed a court case against the owner of an illegal gold mine who was responsible for the deaths of 3 brothers when the Legal team came to me with a concern. The family of the brothers are to receive a substantial compensation payout, and it will be vastly more money than they have ever seen in their lives. The team wanted to go spend some time with the family, help them open a bank account, and make a plan with them on how to save and use the money so it will last.

In itself, all of that is great – and it’s wonderful that the Legal team was so concerned to make sure the family would be helped, and not harmed, by the compensation. What makes it more remarkable is that to go and talk to the family about this involved a 4-day round trip into the mountains bordering Laos. To reach the family, the team had to spend the night in the home of the local policeman (that’s his house below) and the next morning walk the remaining 3 hours through the jungle to reach the family.

 

house

My team knew this is what they’d have to do, and they insisted that this was important enough that it was worth doing.

Second, one of the Blue Dragon boys started in a vocational training program. “Nam” is 16, and has been out of school for about 4 years, so it’s great that he has made this commitment to return to study.

However, it’s more than just ‘great’. It’s pretty close to miraculous. When I first met Nam 2 years ago, he was a shattered soul. He had been caught up in a pedophile ring on the streets of Hanoi, and his whole existence was a terrible cycle of abuse. The Outreach team worked with him over months just to build a relationship of trust; it was more than 2 months before he would even agree to come to Dragon House, our drop-in centre. Even then, he would only come by a side entrance and would have a shower, change his clothes, then leave immediately.

Nam was so deeply traumatised and ashamed that he couldn’t bring himself to mix with other kids. He hated himself, saw himself as totally worthless.

Since then, his transformation has been painstakingly slow. Our Social Workers have invested countless hundreds of hours building up his confidence; he has been living in our shelter at night and hanging out at the centre by day, and now, finally, he has an idea to do something with his life. This shattered soul now has hope and new life. Extraordinary. I could not have imagined this when I first met Nam.

And third, the Blue Dragon rescue team had another amazing result during the week. The team was in the process of finalising a case they’ve been working on; they had traveled to southern Vietnam to reunite a young woman who we recently rescued from a trafficking situation in China, the outcome of some weeks of work. Before they were finished, a woman from the community appeared out of nowhere, begging for help. Her 15 year old daughter, Vinh, had been tricked by a young man and whisked away, sold into China as a bride.

Vinh had been able to call for help and give her location, but the mother had no idea of how to find her daughter and help her escape. She was close to Beijing, over 3,000 km away, with no money, no knowledge of Chinese languages, and terrified for her life.

Less than 30 hours later, the Blue Dragon rescue team had Vinh in a safe location. She’s already back in Vietnam.

The work we do is powerful and life changing. The team around me is incredible, and if I have to be the punching bag to support them, that’s fine with me.

But I can see that Chief Punching Bag isn’t the best title for my role after all. That’s the negative, and it’s well and truly outshone by the positives. So it’s time I give myself a new title:

Manager of Super Heroes.

 

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Recovery

Thuong married on Sunday.

It was a beautiful wedding; she had long dreamt of this day and her family worked hard to make it perfect. Vietnamese weddings are packed with specific customs and traditions, all intended to ensure the marriage is a success, and Thuong’s family put in an extra effort to ensure nothing would be overlooked.

Because Thuong’s wedding was a little special. It was just over a year ago that she made it home, after being trafficked and sold into a forced marriage in China.

She was 14 years old when this happened. People often think that girls who are trafficked must have somehow asked for it, or engaged in some kind of risky behaviour… so it’s ultimately their own fault. But this is rarely true in Vietnam, and certainly in Thuong’s case. She was tricked and deceived by a young man posing as her friend; she had no way of knowing what was to come.

Her time in slavery was hell. She had no contact with her family in Vietnam; no way of letting them know what had happened or where she was, and no way of asking for help. The very first time she could get her hands on a phone, she immediately called her mother… and soon the message reached us at Blue Dragon. We had her safely home within weeks, and her traffickers are now behind bars. But it was not an easy rescue operation, taking 9 days to get Thuong and 3 others back to the border.

Since we started rescuing people who have been trafficked, we have brought home over 560 girls, boys, women and men, from slavery within Vietnam and from other countries, particularly China. While not all can return to full and happy lives, many can. Thuong’s wedding was a  beautiful end to one chapter of life,  and the start of another.

After the wedding, the Blue Dragon team headed back to our emergency shelter to prepare for the arrival of Hanh, a 26 year old woman who had just crossed back into Vietnam and was on her way to our centre. She too had been trafficked and sold, and she too has been rescued from a forced marriage.

Her own journey to recovery is only just beginning; we don’t know yet how deep are her scars, or how resilient she will be in overcoming the trauma of what she has been through. But we do know that there is hope, and Hanh’s healing begins today.

 

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Somebody should do something

Last week’s blog created some discussion around the issue of personal responsibility: what each of us can (and should) do when we see injustice and suffering.

There’s no shortage of either injustice or suffering in our world, and nor is there going to be any time soon. Whether it’s Australia’s treatment of refugees, or the apparent rise in hate crimes against minorities in America, or the ongoing tragedy unfolding before our eyes in Syria, or the fact that the past 5 years are the hottest 5 years ever recorded, the news is constant and overwhelming in its portrayal of how badly we are doing as a planet.

Any good news – and there is good news – is readily drowned out by the endless lists of catastrophes. In part this is because the good news is often on a ‘human’ scale (such as individuals or communities taking action) while the bad news is in a political or global sphere, which seems to be out of our ability to influence.

It’s easy to be left feeling powerless and thinking there’s nothing we can do.

It’s easy to think that someone out there, that unknown “they”, should do something to fix the world.

But this is our world. It’s our world to break, and it’s our world to make better.

So there’s no use in waiting for things to just change. It may be cliched, but I believe it’s true: change starts with you and me.

I’m in Singapore at the moment, and have the incredible privilege of speaking here to schools and organisations which have committed to helping the work of Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation through funding. United World College SEA has organised an event at the Hilton Hotel on Monday night, with teens from Vietnam being invited over to demonstrate their hip hop skills on stage. In the past few days I’ve watched the kids grow in confidence like never before as they refine a dance they created themselves, receiving guidance and choreography from an international artist named Escoe. They’ve even performed twice in public, completely spontaneously.

This whole event is being led and organised by school students, from start to finish.

Similarly, on Sunday morning I spoke in a park to almost 400 students from schools around Singapore who had spent the past 24 hours running and walking in teams to raise money for charities which fight against human trafficking. The organisers of this event, called the 24 Hour Race, are all students themselves. Now held in 3 countries across South East Asia, the race brings together teenagers who want to not only fundraise, but also learn about the issues and develop some more empathy for the victims of this crime.

And again, it’s an entirely student-led initiative.

In the past week alone, Blue Dragon has brought 3 Vietnamese girls back across the border from China, where they had been trafficked and sold. One was just 13 years old. These schools and events in Singapore are taking action that will directly help those 3 girls, and hundreds more like them in the coming year.

So yes, somebody should do something about the state of our world. And if so much hard work and advocacy is being done by our youth, then what excuse does the adult world have for our failure to act?

 

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Be angry

Every day I meet children and young adults who have been through extraordinary trauma.

If they lived in the west, their stories would be front page in the newspapers.

There’s one story that always stands out to me as among the worst; and it’s one of the foundational stories behind why Blue Dragon began, back in 2003.

Even before Blue Dragon was created, I was volunteering alongside Vietnamese and international friends to help out street kids we were meeting in Hanoi. We had no real plan to form a charity. We just met these awesome kids, and did what we could do to help.

One was a shoeshine boy named Ban.

Ban was from a village outside the city, and at age 14 he was the family breadwinner. His family had always been poor, but 5 years before I met him shining shoes in Hanoi they suffered a catastrophe.

Ban’s younger brother, Lan, was out in a field one day when he found a metal ball half buried by dirt. He brought it home and left it by his bed.

But Lan’s “ball” was a grenade, one of millions of pieces of Unexploded Ordinance (UXO) left over from the American-Vietnamese war.  And in the morning, it exploded.

Lan was blinded. His mother was killed. His grandfather was badly injured. His house half destroyed.

Only his older brother Ban and their father were unharmed; but the shock of it all sent their father insane. Their father eventually remarried, but he never recovered from that horrific moment.

And so, in the aftermath, Ban left home and went to Hanoi to shine shoes for 10c a pair so that he could support his family.

When I met Ban, he was wanting to go back to school and also wanted to help his family. We managed to do both; we found a special school that could accept Ban (who had been out of the formal education system for too long to go back) and we also found a school that could teach his blind brother, Lan – who had by now been sitting at home alone for 6 years.

For the first time in years, this family had a ray of hope.

Shortly after starting back at school, we learned that Ban was actually a sponsored child. Although he was living in a shelter we had set up, and going to school with money coming from the pockets of volunteers, it turned out that he was technically ‘sponsored’ by one of Europe’s largest development organisations.

We found this out when he was called to go home to his village, which meant taking 2 days off school, so that he could write a letter to his sponsor in Norway. The letter was dictated to him by a staff member, and he later recited what he could remember of it: “Life with my family is good… My father is in the fields planting rice… I enjoy going to school…”

On top of everything he had been through, Ban was being exploited by an international NGO to make money.

Some months later, we received very bad news. The step mother of Ban and Lan had died of cancer. Ban returned immediately to be with his father. I had the task of going down to the School for the Blind to let Lan know.

It was a stinking hot summer’s day, and I led Lan by the hand to a stall outside the school gates selling ice cream. We sat in the shade and I told him of this latest tragedy to hit his family. He took it all in complete silence, his face turned downward. It was just another blow in an extremely difficult life.

As we sat like this by the road, a shiny new 4WD rumbled by. On the outside it bore the logo of a multinational children’s aid agency. On the inside sat an NGO worker in the backseat, dressed up and enjoying the air conditioned ride on the way to work.

It was just a moment in time but the incongruence hit me hard. Lan and I were crouched on tiny plastic stools in the oppressive heat, absorbing the latest awful events in this boy’s life. And here was someone who seemed to have such resources, such power, just driving on by in their protective, air conditioned bubble.

Those 2 stories – of the sponsorship and the 4WD – have stuck with me over the years. They made me angry, and looking back I really shouldn’t have been as angry as I actually was. One bad story about a child sponsorship-gone-wrong certainly doesn’t mean they’re all bad. An NGO worker on their way to a meeting in an expensive car doesn’t mean that all NGO work is wasteful or out-of -touch. It’s unfair to judge the whole by these 2 tiny parts of the story.

But at the time, my response was anger. I sensed injustice. I felt that those with power were not using it as best they could to help the powerless. I felt that those who should be helping were looking in the other direction at best – and sometimes even doing harm.

I was angry; so I did something about it.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation was born.

Ban has grown up now to become a baker. Lan studied through to Grade 9, learning to read braille and play guitar; he’s married now, a father, and runs a small business with his wife. My anger, even if misguided, has paid dividends for the brothers.

International events of recent times have reminded me of Lan and Ban’s story. There’s anger and disappointment in the US and around the globe about the next ‘leader of the free world’. Right or wrong, many people are worried.

The greatest fear appears to be one of social justice: How will the weak be affected? What will happen to minorities? What does this mean for communities who are already marginalised? And for already-fragile climate agreements?

People are angry, because an innate part of our humanity is a desire for justice.

And so I say: Be angry. Demand that the weak are protected, and that minority groups are treated with the same respect as anyone else. Raise your voice and be heard.

Don’t forget, though, that anger does not have to be destructive. Harness it for good. Let that anger take the form of a positive action to help someone who needs it.

Among the countless social media posts I’ve seen on the topic of racial and religious discrimination this week are some by a friend, Lauren, who lives in New York. Hearing the stories of mosques being vandalised in the wake of the election result, which has apparently emboldened racists around the world, Lauren organised a group of friends to visit an Islamic Centre that had been the subject of an attack. Atheists, Christians, Jews and Muslims shared some time together as friends – as people – in a very human show of love and solidarity.

A simple action like this is the perfect channeling of anger. Our world will always be imperfect as long as it is filled with humans; we’ll always make mistakes and sometimes we’ll hurt each other, even when we don’t really mean to. If only our anger makes us reach out to heal one another, then we can make the world as good as it’s ever going to get.

So be angry, and care for someone who needs you. That’s the best we can do.

 

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Matters of significance

I’m flying back today from Australia to Vietnam.

One of our friends in Sydney organized a terrific gala to raise money for Blue Dragon, so I headed over last week and joined in the event on Friday night. It really was a fantastic evening, with some awesome entrepeneurs attending all in the cause of helping kids in crisis.

Normally I’d stick around a bit longer and spend more days in Sydney, which is my hometown. But this time, I have to get home to Hanoi for some matters of significance.

Tuesday is an important day for two reasons.

First, one of the Blue Dragon “old boys” is getting married. Doan joined us back in 2004, when Blue Dragon was really just starting up. He’d come to the city because problems at home, combined with severe poverty, meant that he’d be better off as a shoeshine boy than continuing his education.

Doan is a lovely kid and has worked hard to get where he is now. After some years with our support, he opened his own mobile telephone shop and has been running his business for over 4 years now.

That alone makes him a success story – but Doan’s success goes much further than that. On a personal level, he has overcome incredible odds to leave behind life on the streets and to now be marrying the young woman he has long loved is surely the highlight of his life so far. What a guy.

And there’s another reason I need to get home: a birthday.

Tuesday is also the 17th birthday of ‘Thanh’, one of the boys who has been with us a couple of years now. Like many of the Blue Dragon kids, Thanh has had an extraordinarily difficult life, and yet has risen above it.

Thanh’s journey has been a long one, and there have been times I have feared for what would become of him. In Blue Dragon he has found a home and a family to help him heal and grow.

On Thanh’s 16th birthday I took him to a café and handed him his gift: a set of books about innovators and world leaders. We talked about the coming 12 months being a year of learning and exploration. Thanh went on to get a job as a barman and in his spare time studied music, singing, art and photography.

Most of the photos on this very blog are Thanh’s.

Tuesday will give us a chance to catch up on what Thanh is dreaming of next. He’s taken the step of allowing himself to try his hand at new endeavours; some have failed and many have succeeded. The process of simply trying, and getting back up when things go wrong, has given Thanh a new confidence in himself.

I know I should be spending more time in Sydney catching up with the business side of Blue Dragon; but some occasions are just too important to miss.

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TGIF

Emergency wards in hospitals are always terrible places to be. Nobody goes there when things are going well.

Over the past 14 years of leading Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, I’ve had more occasions than I can recall to visit emergency wards here in Hanoi. The kids we work with tend to get into a fair bit of trouble – that’s why we work with them! – and so it’s not uncommon to get a call that someone has had a motorbike accident, or a skateboarding accident, or has suffered a burn… The list goes on.

Friday night’s trip to the hospital was to see Dang, a 16 year old boy who had been beaten and stabbed at the lake in central Hanoi. A group of 4 young men had set upon him, apparently hoping to settle some score, and the only saving grace was that it was a crowded public place. Dang was quickly in an ambulance and on his way to hospital while police went after the attackers.

The emergency ward resembled Hanoi’s streets, with stretchers replacing motorbikes. Absolute chaos, with a steady stream of people limping or being carried in as though there was some kind of battle going on outside. Blood on the floor, a guard bellowing at people through a megaphone, families shouting for doctors or yelling into mobile phones.

And there was Dang: his head bandaged up, his shirt covered in blood, his right elbow strangely swollen. He stood in the passageway alone, looking dazed, and only when he saw us arriving did some light cross his eyes.

The Blue Dragon staff met with doctors to make sure Dang was getting the care he needed, then one of the team stayed by his bed while the rest of us went out on the next part of the adventure: making sure the fight was over. Word had come through that some other Blue Dragon kids had gone after the attackers and were looking for revenge, and at least 2 had been arrested.

We took to the streets to find out what was going on, and soon met up with more Blue Dragon staff who had heard about the incident and were also out looking. By now the centre of Hanoi was throbbing with nightlife, and yet within minutes we were able to find all the Blue Dragon kids who had come down to the lake after hearing about Dang. None had been fighting, and none arrested; thankfully the reports were all wrong. They were just worried about their friend.

I’m no night-owl, so I rarely head out in the evenings to just hang out. But there was a real pleasure in being out with all the staff and kids, knowing they were safe, and sharing their worry for the mate Dang.

In fact, Dang is going to be fine and has already been released from hospital. His attackers are all in custody. Things are going to be OK.

The Blue Dragon kids lead tough lives. Before they find their way to our centre, they come through many years of hardship – neglect, abuse, trafficking. Finding a new chance with us is a powerful beginning, but it can’t undo the years of damage they’ve already been through. They come to us with their histories and their ways of resolving conflicts and their complex webs of relationships; our purpose is to care for them no matter what they bring.

Friday night reminded us how harsh life can be for the kids, and also how much good they have inside of them.

It was almost midnight by the time we got all the kids back to the shelters, and we could finally all go home. Exhausted, and still worried for Dang, but relieved that Friday night ended as well as it did.

 

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Safe

Last week I wrote about Canh, a teenage boy who has been living in an internet cafe and on the streets of Hanoi for the past year.

He has been unable to return home, and wanting to join Blue Dragon but afraid he could not fit in. Instead, he’s been waiting for us to open a new safe house for kids in crisis; and on Friday we finally took the keys to the new building we’ve rented.

Blue Dragon staff were there first thing in the morning, scrubbing the house down and getting it ready for kids to move in. It’s intended as a short term home only, helping kids until they are through their time of trauma and ready to move on.

Before we’ve even finished cleaning the house – let alone furnishing it! – Canh turned up at the front door. He was ready. He wants a place to be.

Once inside, Canh found a quiet corner and curled up into a deep sleep almost immediately. He spent the next 24 hours asleep, even as people carried in furniture and worked around him. Nobody could wake him. It’s the first time in many many months since Canh felt safe enough to sleep like this, and he was making the most it.

And while Canh slept, 5 Cambodian girls started their journey home after a month at Blue Dragon.

The girls had been taken through Vietnam and into China by a sophisticated and well-resourced trafficking ring. Initially the Chinese police rescued 3 of the girls, who were bound for a brothel, and they were returned to Vietnam so that the police here could investigate. While they stayed in safe accommodation with us, the police used their information to track down 2 more young women who were then also found and set free, and returned to Vietnam.

The past month has not been easy on the 5; nobody at Blue Dragon speaks Khmer so we have been resorting to occasional interpreters and using translation apps on smart phones. Far from perfect – but at least the girls have been safe and cared for.

Finally on Friday there was an official handover ceremony between the Vietnamese and Cambodian authorities, and on the weekend all 5 started their journey home. They’ve endured so much and have shown such spirit over the past month, and they are all so relieved to now be going back to their families.

Everybody deserves to be safe.

 

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The best time of your life

Every other day, I get a text message from a boy named Canh.

He’s 16 years old, but looks not a day over 12. He is tiny, and along with it he has a child-like laugh and air of innocence.

Despite appearances, life has been hard on Canh. He lives in a dank internet cafe – Hanoi is littered with them – and spends his days staring at a screen, chain smoking. I don’t know how he makes money, but his closest friend is a teenage boy just slightly older than him who sells sex in parks at night.

Canh first ran away from home over a year ago. He spent some time at Blue Dragon before getting into a fight with some other kids, stealing their things, and running away. It was nothing major – it all could have been easily resolved – but Canh is deeply shy and throughout his life has only learned to hide from his problems, rather than deal with them.

From time to time the Blue Dragon social workers convince Canh to go home with them to see his family. We have tried really hard to make their reunions work, but they never last long. On the last trip, Canh’s mother called a fortune teller who announced that Canh keeps running away because there’s a spirit inside him. When Canh scoffed at this, the fortune teller decided that the best way to deal with the spirit would be by slapping it out of Canh.

Canh may be small, but he’s also quite used to defending himself. The fortune teller quickly regretted his decision, and Canh’s family reunion was abruptly ended. He’s been back in the internet cafe since then.

And so, Canh regularly texts me and a few other Blue Dragon staff to ask for money. We all have to coordinate our responses as we’re never sure if he’s asking one of us, or all of us. We don’t want to give him money, but someone always arranges to meet him, have a meal with him, and then give him enough to keep him alive for the next few days.

Last week one of the team responded to Canh’s message and went to meet him. As they sat eating rice together, the social worker asked Canh to think about the best time he’s ever had in life. Without much hesitation, Canh realised that in all his 16 years, the happiest and safest he’s ever been was when he was with Blue Dragon.

After many months of us working to convince Canh to leave the internet cafe behind and either return home or go to stay in a shelter, he asked if he could come back to Blue Dragon.

Finally Canh is getting his life together. Will it last? We don’t know yet; we’re still in the earliest of stages and Canh has a great deal of trauma to work through.

Being in a Blue Dragon shelter certainly doesn’t mean his problems are over; but it does mean that he now has a real chance of finding some healing and care.

 

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