The Blue Dragon kids, along with much of Vietnam and the world, have been through some especially difficult times of late. So this weekend, we took the opportunity to have some fun.
In case you missed it, this weekend was Halloween.
It might seem an unlikely celebration for Vietnam, but in cities and towns across the country, people were dressing up and decorating their homes and their shops with all the familiar ‘spooky’ imagery.
The past month has been a difficult few weeks in a terrible year. The central provinces of Vietnam have been hit by storm after storm, causing floods and landslides and damage to tens of thousands of homes.
Blue Dragon’s work is always about resolving crisis. This year, coronavirus and the floods have added to the complexity of life for people who are already in crisis, already struggling, already trying to cope with abuse and exploitation.
So when Halloween came onto the horizon, we knew what we had to do.
Throw a party.
In the end, for all the crisis and hardship, kids have to be kids. Fun and play shouldn’t be luxuries for children; they are essentials.
And the Blue Dragon kids know how to have a party. They painted a huge banner, organized a talent competition – “Blue Dragon’s Next Top Zombie” – and spent the whole afternoon dressing up and painting their faces.
We’re all still mourning the loss of My, one of our young women who died in an accident just over a week ago. We’re doing all we can to get aid to flood victims, and help families repair their homes before the next storm hits. And our work of rescuing victims of trafficking and finding homeless children continues.
But for a few glorious hours, the girls and boys at the Blue Dragon centre could put all their woes aside and just be kids, having silly, playful fun.
There’s really only one good thing about a crisis. It shows us who we really are.
Do we rise to the occasion, or fall into a heap? Do we keep smiling and working toward better days, or do we give up and expect the worst?
For 19 year-old Viet, this global crisis has been his turn to shine.
Not that he knows it. Not that he was looking for it. But a teenager who was living under a bridge just a few months ago, with a metal bar tucked away for protection, is now playing an important role in how Blue Dragon faces the COVID-19 pandemic.
Late in 2019, Australian Masterchef Adam Liaw met Viet under a bridge in Hanoi. Liaw was with SBS Dateline, learning about what life is like for homeless young people in Vietnam. This short clip shows the extraordinary hardship of Viet’s life at that time. And yet, he was stoic and accepting.
Viet has long known Blue Dragon. Sometimes he lives with us, and sometimes he wanders back to the streets when he needs the open sky and the space to be alone.
Shortly after filming, Blue Dragon helped Viet find work on a farm outside the city, where he loved getting his hands dirty, building with stone and bamboo and farming the fields. It was not only great for Viet: most of that food ended up on the plates of children back at the Blue Dragon centre in Hanoi.
And then the coronavirus started making headlines. As it spread through China and then the world, a crisis enveloped us all.
Blue Dragon has continued working through these months. The children and families in our care are reliant on us at a time like this. They are girls and boys who have been trafficked and sold; children who have escaped violence at home and made their way to the city, only to face exploitation and further abuse.
Caring for so many children is a challenge while schools are closed, public events cancelled, and now all non-essential businesses shut. At the very same time that Blue Dragon’s work has become even more critical for the welfare of children, the nature of this global crisis has meant that donations are drying up and resources are more limited.
And so, many of the Blue Dragon children from our Hanoi centre have moved out to the farm with Viet to be in a safe and healthy environment. They’re helping in the fields a few hours and in their free time they enjoy swimming in the dam or just being in nature. In the evening the kids do their school study online and group activities.
In this way, they’re safe from the spread of the virus in Hanoi, and able to contribute to Blue Dragon and their own wellbeing at the same time. Had they stayed in Hanoi, they would be largely locked into homes with little to do all day or at high risk of being exposed to the virus if still on the streets with no safe place to stay.
Suddenly, Viet’s knowledge and experience is tremendously valuable. As the number of other teens on the farm has grown, Viet has quietly stepped into a role of supporting everyone to know their way around, to know what needs to be done, and to know how to cope with the inevitable challenges.
Viet has taken on the special role of being responsible for keeping the farm equipment. Every evening his job is to make sure the hoes and the shovels are back in place; the wheelbarrows are clean; and all the gloves are dry and dirt-free.
What Viet is doing is important. He has a purpose, and he’s passionate about farming. He has the respect of everyone around him.
Has he blossomed into a flawless leader? Of course not. This is no fairytale. Viet is still struggling with his own past trauma and has much to learn in his new leadership role.
But he is learning, and he’s making the most of a very bad situation. Right now, Viet is needed as a leader: and a leader he has become.
Your help is needed to keep essential services going for Viet and children like him. If you can donate the cost of a couple of cups of coffee a month, please consider joining Dragon Wings, an online community of people giving monthly for this important work. Thank you!