During the week I visited British International School in Hanoi, and was talking to their Grade 8 class about charity, charities, and the idea that we all have a role to play in caring for our world.
It’s always the Question Time that I most enjoy, because there’s nothing so insightful as the question of a child. And this class didn’t let me down. One of the girls asked me something quite profound:
What if I hadn’t started Blue Dragon?
Where would I be? And what about all the kids we’ve helped?
For my own situation: I probably would have lived a simpler life, building a career and owning a home, traveling from time to time and maybe raising a family. I really can’t imagine.
The far greater part of the question is what would have become of the children we’ve encountered over the years – as well as those we are yet to meet.
There have been thousands along the way. Some we’ve helped briefly but our role in their lives has been important; just this past week we met 2 boys aged about 13 sleeping rough in a tunnel. They are back home with their families now, but if we hadn’t met them they easily would have been prey for the pedophile rings that continue to haunt Hanoi.
The boys were fortunate that we met them before anything dire happened. Of the 450-or-so homeless kids we’ve so far met and helped go home, many have come into our care after they’ve been abused or exploited. The damage done will live with them forever.
We are about to reach the milestone of having rescued 700 people from human trafficking, and every rescue has been in response to a call for help from someone locked away against their will. Some have been in factories or farms; others have been in brothels or forced marriages in other countries.
How can we even start to guess at the “what if”? Some of these 700 would surely have been OK. Some may have found there own way out after a time and hopefully made it home. But the grim reality is: not many. Escape without help is near impossible, and the punishment for an attempted escape can be anything from a beating to death.
And so, on reflection I have to say I’m glad that the “what if” is only hypothetical. I’m satisfied with what I have done, and hope to do much more yet.
The student’s question, however, isn’t only for someone who has founded a charity. That “what if?” pertains to us all. No matter what we are doing now, we could be doing something else. No matter how rich and powerful we are, we could equally be homeless and downtrodden. Every decision we have made, and every interaction with those around us, has led us to where we are today. Any different decision or interaction, and our lives may have turned out very differently.
It’s worth thinking about the “what if” not because it lets us reflect on what might have been, but because it reminds us of the importance of what has become.