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Ode to Joy, and Sorrow

Mr Triem dropped by the Blue Dragon centre in Hanoi on Friday afternoon with an invitation. A renowned pianist, Mr Triem and his soprano wife Xuan Thanh have retired from public life and spend their days teaching the Hope Choir, a band of blind students who over the years have performed for visiting dignitaries – including Bill Clinton – as well as countless charity events around the city. Triem and Xuan Thanh are an extraordinary couple. As someone with no musical talent whatsoever, I marvel at the magic they conjure…

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The cool kids

Thuan has a new piercing this week. He saved up money from his part time job and went down to the parlour around the corner from Blue Dragon. Like some other teens from our Hanoi centre, he now has multiple earrings, a few tattoos, and his hair is dyed another colour every other day. It’s all very inexpensive – the kids do much of this “self renovation” work themselves – but the result is incredibly cool. Trang doesn’t have any piercings, but she has defined herself through movement. In just a few short…

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The ‘R’ word

Among charities that work in the field of human trafficking, there’s a particular word which is considered highly contentious. My own organisation, Blue Dragon, started using the word 10 years ago. I didn’t even know that there was controversy around its use. The word? Rescue. It’s controversial for some good reasons. In places, organisations have ‘rescued’ people who didn’t want to be rescued, or used it as a euphemism for ‘imprison’. There are stories of NGOs raiding brothels or night clubs and taking out adult sex workers who didn’t consider themselves slaves,…

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If only

Ton and Viet are neighbours in a village about two hours drive from Hanoi. The roads turn into alleys and then into dirt tracks, winding through the hills towards the quiet settlement that they call home. Both boys are aged 15 now. Both are the only child in their family; both have grown up with just their mother; and both live in houses so dilapidated that they are beyond being fit for any person to inhabit. With all this in common, both boys ran away from home together more than a…

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Blame

Of all of Blue Dragon’s work with kids in crisis, it is our involvement in rescuing people trafficked into the sex industry that attracts the most attention. Our rescues are in response to specific calls for help. Vietnamese girls and women who have been trafficked to China for sale as brides or into brothels call home for help; the message gets to us and we send a team to find them and bring them home. Among the questions I am asked most about this work is a question of blame. How could…

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The player

An old friend came to soccer this morning. Nam is 28 this year; he and his wife both work as chefs in Hanoi, and their beautiful son is 18 months now. But when I first met Nam, life was very different for both of us. The oldest son in his family, it was Nam’s duty to quit school and earn money when his mother fell on hard times. Nam left his home in Thanh Hoa province and traveled to Hanoi, where he started work shining shoes on the streets. We…

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In the end

Over the weekend in Lakeland Florida, Angela McGrath passed away in her home. Angie was a friend of the most special kind: someone who cared and loved with a genuine passion. I first met Angie through Facebook. She had come across Blue Dragon after reading John Shors’ novel Dragon House, and started following our work. Even though I had never met her, Angie immediately became a friend – not just a ‘supporter’ or a ‘donor’. Angie’s interest in our work wasn’t something new for her; as a mother of two,…

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20 years away

Nga walked across the border from China to Vietnam on Friday, 20 years after she was taken across by a gang of traffickers. Nga is in her 50s now. Most of the rescue operations that we conduct at Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation are of children and teens; but in reality we never say no to any call for help, no matter what age the person. Aged 33 when she was taken, Nga had a 6 year old son and a family who loved her very much. Her disappearance was a cause…

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Bringing out the best

A few weeks ago, Vietnam celebrated an annual day to honour the Kitchen Gods. Right before Lunar New Year, legend has it that the Kitchen Gods ride to heaven on the back of a fish to report to the other Gods about how things are going down on earth. To mark the day, Vietnamese people release a live fish into rivers and lakes. As with many traditions, the custom of releasing the fish has been given a modern slant. Men and women riding their motorbikes to work in the morning buy…

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Heroes among us

Trong has a mobile phone business. He buys and sells second hand phones from a shopfront in a winding alley in Hanoi. All day long, people stop by to recharge their phone credit, or repair their broken screen, or sell the phone they bought a few weeks ago but now can’t afford. It’s a booming business, and in his spare time Trong dreams of opening a second shop so his brother has a job too. But first he hopes to marry his sweetheart – once he convinces her parents to agree to…

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