Minh was 13 and collecting scrap on the streets of Hanoi when we met him.
It was at Dong Xuan market, a city landmark, where a Blue Dragon volunteer saw Minh with a bag of scrap metal and invited him for a bowl of noodles. Minh was ravenously hungry, and he still remembers how good those noodles tasted.
Seventeen years on, that volunteer is now our Chief Lawyer, and Minh is volunteering for Blue Dragon.
Back when we met Minh, his life was hard. He lived with his mother and sister by the Red River and worked on the streets just so the family could get by. The first time he came to play football with the Blue Dragon soccer team, he was the smallest child there.
Football has always been important in our work. Every Sunday morning since we started in 2003, dozens of kids come to don the jersey and spend an hour on the pitch having what is, for many, the best hour of their week. We play on Tuesday and Friday nights as well – there’s so much demand.
Minh was one of those kids who turned up every week. As we got to know him and his family, he opened up about his life and his dreams for the future.
We helped Minh go back to school and assisted his sister to apply for a vocational training course. Week by week we could see their lives improving.
We could also see Minh growing. One of the small joys of our work is watching the children become young men and women, finding their place in the world and making their mark.
Minh graduated from high school and with a Blue Dragon scholarship went on to university. He’s now a well spoken, knowledgeable tour guide who loves introducing international visitors to his country. They have no idea that he was once a hungry street kid barely making it from day to day.
But now, of course, Minh is one of the millions who have lost their job because of COVID-19. There are simply no tourists, and there won’t be for some time.
Minh and his wife and child are OK; they have savings and still do some small business from their home. They know how to get through difficult times.
Now that he has time on his hands, Minh came back to the Blue Dragon centre with a request. He wasn’t asking for help – he was asking to help.
He explained that he’s always wanted to volunteer, and reminisced about how much it meant to him as a boy to have someone offer a meal, invite him to play football, and help his whole family – in return for nothing but a wish that he would be OK.
So now it’s Minh’s turn to give back. He has started coming once again to the Sunday football field, but now as a volunteer rather than as a player. And he’s talking to the social workers about holding classes for teens at the drop-in centre to share about his experiences as university student and a tour guide.
Minh has much to offer. He’s grown so much – in size and stature. But he’s still the same wonderful person he’s always been. As a child he just wanted to help his mother makes ends meet, and now he wants to help other boys and girls who are doing it tough.
Our world needs more people like Minh. And as a volunteer, he’s certain to inspire more young people to keep dreaming of better days to come.
Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis. Your support means that young people like Minh have a chance at an amazing life.