On Sunday, Blue Dragon United played its 2000th game of football (or soccer, for my Australian readers!).
We started in 2003, before there even was such a thing as Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. We were just a bunch of friends in Hanoi wanting to help out the city’s street kids.
The idea started with a Spanish member of our group suggesting the football as a solution to our overcrowded classroom. Maybe we could help more kids by taking our activities to a field. At that time they were mostly shoeshine boys, all kids from the countryside working in the city to support their families.
We spoke to the kids about this and they all, unanimously, agreed. But on that first day, only 3 boys turned up! Maybe our idea wasn’t going to work after all.
The next week, a few more came. And some more the week after that. Word was out.
At our 2000th game, 105 kids came to play.
Many kids in Hanoi know Blue Dragon because of the football. Some only know us as Blue Dragon United and have never even been to our centre. Others start at the games, then come to the centre for activities, and end up receiving help from our Social Workers to go to school or look for a job. One of the great things about the way we work is that the kids decide what level of help they will receive from us; it’s up to them. If they just want to come and play football from time to time, they can. If they want to come to the centre every day and take part in our Career Preparation Program or study with a tutor, then we’ll accommodate that.
The kids we meet and help come from disrupted lives. They may have been abandoned, or abused, or their family has broken down for any number of reasons. One of their greatest needs is for stability: long-term care and unconditional love.
While Blue Dragon United is only one part of our work in Vietnam, it is a great representation of our approach. We’re not here for a one-off game; we play week after week, regardless of the weather or public holidays or anything else. (We’ve even met during a flood… although admittedly we couldn’t play that day). We let kids come and go as they wish, and interact with us as they choose. Nobody has to come to the games, but everybody is invited. All we ask is that the kids try their best.
Now that we have played 2000 games – and counting! – I can be confident to say that our formula works.