When Thoat first came to Blue Dragon, she was wild.
People often assume that the boys must be harder to work with than the girls. In fact, when we meet homeless girls out on the streets of Hanoi, it’s not unusual that their behaviour is far more out of control than the boys who are in similar situations. Girls tend to grow up under stricter parental and family control; when that control is gone, the girls may not know how to manage their own behaviour. By contrast, boys are always given a greater degree of freedom, so are more likely to have learned at least a little self discipline.
When Thoat came into the drop-in centre, everyone would know. She could stir up the other kids and get them following her in an instant. She knew no boundaries, and no rules would contain her.
And while it was easy to see all the negatives in Thoat, one thing was clear: she was a natural leader.
Many of the street kids we meet show these same characteristics. They are brave: they’ve made the decision to leave abusive or dysfunctional families and try to survive on their own. They are resilient: in any one day they may face risks and dangers that most of us don’t have to deal with in a year, and yet they find ways to keep on going. And they are innovative: they adapt to their circumstances, making something out of nothing.
All of these qualities are positives, not negatives.
And so a constant challenge for us is to draw on the kids’ strengths, to build on their courage and resilience and innovative natures, instead of seeing them as weaknesses or character flaws. Girls in particular are likely to be criticised for being too outspoken, or too bold; they are regularly told that their strengths are their weaknesses, and made to feel useless.
Over the last weekend, the Blue Dragon Social Workers kicked off a series of leadership workshops for 12 of the kids who want to learn more about how to lead others and themselves. With Vietnam’s summer holidays underway, our kids are eager for meaningful activities and the idea of leadership classes came from the teens themselves.
Through games, discussions, and team activities, they’ve started learning about how they can take on leadership roles in their lives right now – not waiting until they are older, or more experienced, or have finished high school. They want to know what they can do today to make the world a better place.
Even though it’s only the first day of learning, each of the kids is already coming up with some wonderful insights and ideas. One of the boys, Tam (aged 15), spoke up on the question of what leadership means to him:
Everyone makes different choices. A leader is someone who doesn’t try to change the choices of others, but helps them to follow their own decision in the best way.
Some of this might seem like pretty routine stuff for teens learning leadership: but it’s worth remembering that these are all kids who have lived on the streets and been through all kinds of horrors and trials so early in life.
And yes, Thoat was there too, taking part and putting her hand up to volunteer her thoughts and loving every minute of it. There’s still a natural wildness to her character, which I hope she will never lose; but by now she knows more about how to use her remarkable talents for the good of others.
I don’t need to wonder if Thoat will make a great leader one day. She’s already one.
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!