Chung was stabbed at his home last Sunday night.
The details are murky. One version of the story is that somebody broke into his home, a sweltering concrete box by Hanoi’s Red River, and attacked him over some dispute. Another version is that he was in a fight with a drug dealer.
Chung is a heroin addict. He has been for about 15 years now, despite two separate stints in rehab and multiple periods in prison.
Life has always been very difficult for Chung. He was one of 7 brothers born into extreme poverty in an area of the city notorious for heroin and violence. One of his brothers drowned in the river when they were all still just kids, and when Chung’s mother went to prison for drug dealing his life spiraled out of control.
But there was always something special about Chung. When he first encountered Blue Dragon through our weekly football games in his neighbourhood, he became one of our most loyal and reliable followers. Sitting alone, his face would bear the lines of grief and hardship that marked his childhood. But when he saw one of the social workers or volunteers, his whole face would light up with joy, and he would become a child again.
People used to warn us to be careful: You should never trust an addict, they would say. For Chung, that simply wasn’t true. He would come to the Blue Dragon centre and collapse onto the sofas, falling into a deep sleep. At times he would spend the night there, safe and sound from the horrors that awaited him in his daily life.
We would let him sleep as long as he needed; when he woke up he would have a shower, change his clothes and head back out to the streets. He simply refused any further help, except on two occasions when he asked us to take him to a rehabilitation centre.
He wanted to clean himself up, and he gave it his best shot. Both times he stayed in rehab, he transformed into a gentle, smiling young man, but within months of going home he would relapse.
He never once stole or caused trouble. It was very rare that he would ask for anything at all. He knew that we cared for him and that was all he wanted.
As the years passed, Chung’s life slipped deeper into darkness. His parents both died of overdoses, and then his grandmother passed away.
Chung is almost 30 now – no longer a child. He finds every day a struggle, but that goodness of character remains. Through it all he is loyal and honest, and protects those he loves.
He has spent the week in hospital, recovering from his injuries. Chung doesn’t want to explain why he was stabbed, and he doesn’t ask for help. He’s just glad to have a friend visit and sit by his bed, sharing memories of football by the river and imagining what could have been.
Not every child we help goes on to find happiness or follow satisfying career paths. Many do, but some like Chung will always struggle. And yet, every moment of being by his side, bringing back that smile to his face, is a moment well spent.
He’s still just a kid at heart, and his dream of an innocent, carefree life has never faded.
Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation works with Vietnamese children and youth in crisis.