Freedom Day

With lockdowns easing in parts of Vietnam, a new risk is emerging for children and youth.

Some countries have called it “Freedom Day”: the day that lockdowns are ended and COVID restrictions are lifted.

For all of us who have been through extended lockdowns – or are still going through them now – we know the hardship of being forced to stay home.

Here in Vietnam, lockdowns have been particularly difficult for kids living in poverty. Without the luxuries that many of us consider necessities – our own private spaces, a fridge, an internet connection – isolating at home is exceptionally tough.

And when there’s a shortage of food as well, lockdowns aren’t just frustrating. They are perilous.

So when Hanoi and some northern provinces started easing the rules on social distancing last week, Blue Dragon straight away saw an increase in children sleeping rough on the streets.

Dinh is one of those kids.

He’s 13, and from a town up in the mountains. When lockdown came to his area, Dinh was happy at first when he heard that school would be closed. But as the days turned into weeks and then months, home life became strained.

And when school started up online… he just couldn’t cope.

As soon as he was able to leave the house unnoticed, Dinh decided to have his own “Freedom Day”.

He took the family motorbike and rode 150 km to Hanoi – totally unaware of the enormity of what he was doing.

Dinh’s idea was that he could find a job in the big city. Then he wouldn’t have to study online. He could do as he pleased and would have plenty of money to eat.

The reality, of course, was totally different. Dinh was shocked to find that Hanoi, too, is in serious hardship. Businesses are closed and people everywhere out of work.

Dinh’s naive dream very quickly turned into a nightmare. He found shelter under a bridge, sleeping on a timber board to keep from the dirt. The only way to get food was to beg.

Dinh under the bridge, eating a meal brought by Blue Dragon.

Fortunately a Blue Dragon outreach worker spotted him soon after he arrived in the city. Dinh had only been here a few days and already he was desperate to go home.

We gave him a good meal and a place to stay the night, and Dinh slept like he’d never slept before.

Despite everything, all he wanted to do was be back with his mother and father. So we made the call, and his parents came straight to Hanoi to pick him – and their motorbike – up.

This family is in need of some healing. They love each other, but haven’t coped well with the hardships of lockdowns. Already living in poverty, the strain has been too much.

Dinh wanted his freedom, but life on the streets is incredibly risky for a child. He had a rough few days, but much worse could have happened. There are gangs and predators who know that kids are more vulnerable right now, and they’re out looking to recruit them.

For now Dinh’s family will be better able to cope. They’re back together and Blue Dragon is making sure they won’t go hungry through the coming weeks. When we’re able, we’ll head up to the mountains to visit and see how else we can help, to make sure they’re OK in the long term.

With Dinh safely home, we’ll continue searching for more boys and girls who have made the journey to the city in hope of something better. It’s a job that never ends, and never ceases to be critically important.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

Missing

This month marks 10 years since Blue Dragon was called on to find and rescue 23 children missing from ethnic minority communities in Vietnam’s northern mountains. Lai was one of those children. She was 13 years old.

Tuyết had already quit school when the traffickers came.

Living high up in the mountains, far from the bustling cities and growing economy of Vietnam’s lowlands, Tuyết just didn’t see much point in studying.

Her family lived in extreme poverty and Tuyết knew almost nothing of the outside world. All she knew was that life was a daily grind, a struggle to get by and have enough to eat.

So when the traffickers targeted her village, promising training and jobs with a life of wealth to follow, Tuyết and her family figured they had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Other families in the area agreed to let their kids go, so it seemed to be safe and nobody wanted to miss out. Opportunities like this were rare.

Families were assured that the children would be taken to Hanoi and learn to become tailors. For this community, these promises sounded wonderful. Nobody had actually been to Hanoi – it was just a concept in their minds as a place where rich families live.

Children in the villages that were being targeted by traffickers.

So when the bus trip took 4 days, the children didn’t understand that they were not being taken to Hanoi. Instead, they were taken to Ho Chi Minh City, over 1,200km away.

And they had no way of knowing that being a ‘tailor’ would mean working 18 hours a day in a garment factory.

The children left on a bus together, excited and nervous. That was the last their parents saw or heard of them.

Children were put to work in home-based factories like this one.

Six months later, word reached Blue Dragon about what had happened. The communities knew that something was wrong – the phone numbers they had been given by the traffickers were all turned off and they had heard nothing from any of the children. But they simply didn’t know what to do.

Traveling up into the mountains to meet the families, it was immediately clear that this investigation was going to be very difficult. Many of the families didn’t speak Kinh, the official Vietnamese language, so translators were needed to communicate in Kho Mu, H’mong and Thai.

Even then, the families had very little information. There was almost no evidence at all of what had happened to these children.

The one breakthrough was in a meeting with a young man who himself had been in the garment factories of Ho Chi Minh City several years ago. He didn’t know any addresses or street names, but he could describe what the area looked like and explain the sort of factories that the children would be held in.

The young man painted a grim picture. He told us that it was most likely the children had been divided up into more than one garment factory and were locked in as slaves. They would be working day and night without breaks and sleeping on concrete floors beside the machines.

Armed with that knowledge, Blue Dragon traveled to Ho Chi Minh City with police and began a search. We paced the streets of the industrial suburbs for two days and nights, looking for factories with children sitting on the floor or sitting at their machines. Late at night, we looked for buildings that had lights on and motors running. We peered through cracks in windows to see who was inside.

And finally we found them.

Spread across two buildings, the 23 girls and boys from rural northern villages were exhausted, depressed, and afraid. Among them, 13-year-old Tuyết sat at a giant sewing machine wondering if she would ever see her family again.

The moment that police and Blue Dragon entered the factories, the children’s faces turned from hopelessness to hope, and then to relief. Finally, they were safe.

Tuyết back at home after the rescue operation.

***

Within a week, the children were home and the factories closed forever. But Blue Dragon’s work didn’t end there. We knew that there were more children from these mountain areas being taken to the factories, and also being sold across the border into China. We set up a permanent presence in the region and to this day are still combating human trafficking there.

We’re helping families to break out of poverty by creating opportunities for jobs and farming. In schools, we provide scholarships and work with teachers to help them identify the signs of human trafficking. And we train up village leaders and community members so they understand the dangers and know how to prevent this from happening again.

Trafficking is still a significant issue in the area, but there are no more kids being taken to the garment factories like before.

And the great news is that the 23 children all stayed safe after the rescue. Most went back to school, and those who were too old went off to start in jobs within their family or community.

After her frightening ordeal, Tuyết decided to return to school. With Blue Dragon’s support, she went back to Grade 7 and continued right through until she graduated high school.

Today Tuyết works as a security guard, and perhaps it’s no coincidence that her job is to keep people safe. She knows the importance of protecting others.

Tuyết now works as a security guard.

Tuyết’s life now is a world away from when she was so poor that the promises of a human trafficker could lure her into danger.

She’s proud of how far she has come, and rightly so.

Tuyết deserved the chance to grow up in safety and choose her own destiny. And we must not stop the fight against human trafficking until every child has that same chance.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

Going back

For children living in extreme poverty, the start of a new school year is a time to make a momentous decision.

It’s a difficult and dangerous moment. A turning point.

Decisions made now will have ramifications for life.

No, this is not a reflection on COVID. This is the reality of starting the new school year.

When schools reopened across Vietnam at the start of September – virtually for most and in-person for some – not every seat was filled. Many students who should have returned to the classroom simply weren’t there.

The start of a new school year is a time when many students simply don’t return to their studies. Not because of laziness or lack of interest; not at all.

Rather, children growing up in slums in the cities, or remote villages high up in the mountains, or on river boats in the delta, face a grossly unfair decision.

Do they go back to school and keep working toward the long-term future? Or do they stop now and help their family survive?

Hanh was one of those kids faced with a choice.

She lives in a Black Thai community high up in the mountains. Life is hard for many people there, and for her it’s been especially tough. Her father died when she was young and she’s grown up watching her mother toil away day and night to care for her and her little brother.

When she finished Grade 9, Hanh stopped going to school. It was a heartbreaking decision for her because she loved studying. Being with her friends and her teachers was the highlight of every day. But when she thought of her mother travelling around the countryside looking for odd jobs, often on building sites or in hard manual labor, she just couldn’t allow herself the luxury of an education. She had to help.

Hanh’s story is very familiar to Blue Dragon. We meet young people all the time who left school to help their families, just as Hanh did. Sadly, we often come across them sleeping rough on the streets of the cities, or calling desperately for help from places of slavery.

Girls in particular face huge challenges when they leave school early. Dropping out of education is a ticket to a lifetime of poverty. Human traffickers routinely target girls and young women who have left school and are looking for ways to help their families. Their desperation makes them easy to prey on with promises of training and employment and a happy future. The reality, of course, is exactly the opposite.

When we heard that Hanh had not returned to school, Blue Dragon went to visit. It was a long trek up the mountain, but sitting inside Hanh’s home we understood why she made such a difficult decision. Her life was so much harder than any child should have to bear.

Hanh was determined. With all our offers of support, we could not convince her to return to school.

So, for a year, we stayed in touch. We kept track of where Hanh was going and called to chat from time to time. We dropped in to see her and her mother.

A year later, the new school year was starting. Hanh had been working and earning money for her family; she had listened carefully to our warnings about how to avoid danger and never forgot her long discussions with us about the future.

Would Hanh return to school now?

This time, she agreed. As long as we could promise her that her mother and little brother would receive some help, Hanh was happy to get back to the classroom.

That was two years ago, and just this month Hanh has started Grade 12. She has stuck with her education, and Blue Dragon has continued supporting her family. Now she’s dreaming about going to university.

Keeping kids in school is vital. When children are studying, they are safer from human traffickers, and their prospects of breaking out of poverty are vastly higher.

Working in some remote corners of Vietnam, Blue Dragon has developed a model that we simply call Back To School. You can read about this model and its results in a short report on the website. Essentially, it involves talking in person to families and finding out what specific support they need to get their kids back into the classroom.

It’s a simple and powerful intervention.

For Hanh, it means that she is a lot safer now, and her future is a lot brighter. Going back to school has changed the course of her life.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

Just trying to help

Tho quit school and came to the city so he could find a job and send money home. He never expected to be homeless, hungry, and alone on the streets.

Tho was almost 16 when he left home.

He was a good kid, and loved his family dearly. They were poor farmers and wanted him to get an education so that he could have a better life than theirs.

If not for the COVID pandemic, Tho might have stayed at school and followed his dreams. But with no income, and afraid for the future, he knew his family was in trouble.

With his parents’ reluctant blessing, Tho quit school and headed to Hanoi to find work.

The pandemic has affected all of us in one way or another. For those already living day to day, the impact has been the hardest.

Many kids – and adults, too – have been forced to make tough decisions like Tho. When survival is at stake, we sacrifice the future just to get through today.

Like so many young people over the past 18 months, Tho hopped on a bus bound for the big city. He had a phone and some money in his pocket. This wasn’t what he really wanted, but he was proud that he was taking action. He just wanted to help his family.

Blue Dragon met Tho on a highway overpass a few weeks later. His hope and pride were long gone.

Tho on the overpass where we met him.

After arriving in the city, he was approached at the bus station by some job brokers. By this time, Hanoi was starting to lock down and they knew they had nothing to offer. Instead they decided to trick him into thinking they would help. Before he knew it, he had been beaten badly and robbed of everything but an empty backpack. They even took his phone and his ID card.

He was alone in a strange city without any money or means to call his family.

Tho was fortunate that we met him and could get him back to his family before the strict lockdown began. We’re supporting his family now so that they’re safe and don’t have to take any more risks. Once COVID restrictions lift, we’ll help Tho join a vocational training course and see him through to the end.

Growing up in an impoverished family shouldn’t mean that any child is destined to live in misery. Tho and his family have a better chance now that they are getting some help, and their future looks much brighter than it did a few months ago.

But we know that there are many more kids like Tho out there, in need of a helping hand. As COVID continues to harm families and communities around the world, it’s up to all of us to come together and protect those whose futures are at stake.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

The best

​There’s not much good to be said about living through a global pandemic, but experiencing such hard times has one silver lining: it brings out the best in us all.

I met Nhan on the streets when he was 14. 

He was working with an aunty who sold flags and trinkets at a major intersection in the city. All day long, motorbikes, cars and trucks raced by – a constant chaos of honking horns and traffic jams. 

It was late at night and I was just walking by, but Nhan stopped me with a huge smile and a friendly greeting. I stopped to chat, and immediately it was clear that this kid had something special about him. 

His life was clearly very hard, and as I learned in later weeks his relationship with the aunty was not very warm. Nhan desperately wanted to go to school, but she wanted him to earn money. It broke his heart, but his mother had left years ago and his father struggled with alcoholism. He simply had no other means of support, so he did his best to make it work. From time to time, he eased his pain with drugs.

When Nhan learned about Blue Dragon he decided right away that he wanted to join us. He knew it was a way to turn his fortunes around and get back to school. Nhan’s aunty wasn’t too happy about it, but she agreed to let him live in our shelter so that he would be off her hands and someone else could look after him.

Nhan did everything to make the most of his time with us. He joined every activity and took every class at the centre. But he lived with the trauma of his childhood: the poverty he had been raised in, his years working on the street, and the grief of not knowing his mother. Even though he was still a child, he felt guilty that he couldn’t fix his family’s problems.

After some years, Nhan was ready to take some steps toward independence. He joined a training program where he was studying to become a chef, and he moved out of the Blue Dragon shelter. He was excited to be starting a new chapter in his life. 

But it wasn’t long before things started to go wrong. Nhan found it difficult to keep up with classes and spent his nights remembering the pain of his childhood. Finally, he turned back to drugs to dull the pain and soon after dropped out of his training. 

Life spiralled downward very quickly. Blue Dragon was still in touch with him, but Nhan felt that he had failed and wanted to hide. When he needed a caring hand more than ever, his shame drove him into solitude and he left the city. Before long he was in a drug rehabilitation centre, where he spent the next two years. He was angry and disappointed with himself. He was sure that his life was over – that there was no way he could ever be happy again. 

When he was released from rehab, life continued to throw obstacles and challenges at him. Nobody would employ him so he borrowed money to start a business, which then failed. Despite another blow, Nhan refused to let this bring him down. He was determined to do things differently, so he reached out again to Blue Dragon. He was a young man by now and no longer a child, but he wanted to reconnect. Like any of us, he needed to know he still had people who cared for him and who wouldn’t judge him by his past.

So we invited Nhan to return to Hanoi and made plans for him to work in a farming project outside the city. It wasn’t exactly what he wanted, but it would give him an income for a few months in a nurturing environment, and we could provide as much counselling and support as he needed. 

But still Nhan was to face one more challenge. He was staying in Blue Dragon’s emergency accommodation preparing to head out to the farm when the COVID pandemic returned to Vietnam. A lockdown was called, and Nhan’s plans were on hold along with everybody else’s. 

It seemed like yet another blow to a young man who had struggled all his life. Yet this time, Nhan was stronger. 

Instead of being stuck at the emergency shelter, he saw it as a chance to shine. This wasn’t a setback; this was a time to help others, just as Nhan had received help when he needed it. 

Unable to leave the building anyway, Nhan joined with the staff to look after the boys at the shelter. He has become the big brother of the home, and spends his days taking care of everyone.

Nhan has put his training as a chef to work, cooking up incredible meals day after day, and teaching the kids along the way. He sits and listens to the boys share their stories of hardship and homelessness; and he shares his own, showing them that they don’t need to be ashamed. He can relate to their experiences, and they can relate to him. 

In the early mornings and late evenings, when the summer days cool down, Nhan organises games and sports in the yard. You could easily mistake him for one of the kids, laughing hysterically and joining in the fun. But the kids look up to him with a deep respect and if he calls them out for speaking rudely or playing roughly, they quickly apologise and return to the game. 

Boys at the emergency shelter making the most of lockdown.

Being in lockdown isn’t fun for anyone. For a group of teenage boys who were meant to be in an emergency shelter for only a few days, these weeks have been exceptionally hard. But having Nhan there, cheering them up and encouraging them to do their best, has made a world of difference. 

There’s no sign yet as to when the lockdown will end, but Nhan is in no hurry. He’s now wondering if he should focus on becoming a social worker so that he can spend his life caring for others. 

Nhan has had a rough start in life, and this is no fairytale ending. He still faces many challenges in the future and has yet to resolve some family issues that weigh on his shoulders. But it’s clear that this crisis has brought out the best in Nhan. He’s risen to the challenge and found a calling, even in these hardest of times. 

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

Say’s story

Aged 14, Say lived a simple life in the mountains – until the terrifying day her world fell apart at the hands of a human trafficker.

It was meant to be a special day for Say.

She was 14 years old and knew little about the world. Say had never been to school and nobody in her family was literate.

Growing up in a tiny village in the mountains bordering China, Say had led a quiet and simple life. She spoke only H’mong, the language of her community, and spent her days tending the family’s corn crops. In this part of the world, agriculture is exceptionally difficult: the fields are on the sides of steep mountains, and the work is backbreaking.

A woman working in the corn fields close to the border of China.

So when Say met a young man who was passing through her village and took an interest in her, she was delighted. He seemed smart and sophisticated, and wore nice clothes – everything she dreamed about.

After a few encounters, the young man invited her to meet him at the market in the next town. Say only went to the market town for special occasions; it was a long walk to get there, and it had tall brick buildings and people speaking both H’mong and Kinh, the official Vietnamese language. For Say, the town was exciting and exotic. How could she say no?

What started as a promising day of adventure became a terrifying ordeal. The young man she so admired took her by motorbike on a ride through the hills, laughing and joking until they reached a town where all the street signs were in Chinese.

And then, like the flick of a switch, Say’s crush became her tormentor.

Say realised immediately that she had been duped. It was immediately clear that her life was in danger.

Now a group of traffickers was around her – she doesn’t recall how many. But they clung to her arms, standing over her to menace her into silence. She had never been so frightened in all her life.

Say was given a horrifying choice: go with them and agree to become the wife of a Chinese man, or be sold to a brothel. Even just aged 14, Say knew she had to choose the lesser of two evils. As fists rained down on her, she blurted out her decision. She would agree to become a wife.

The following days and weeks are all a blur to Say. She remembers being taken on a motorbike, with a rider in front of her and a strong man on the back to keep her from escaping.

She remembers riding through the hills as the sun set and the world fell black, but she doesn’t know how long they were on that bike or how far they travelled.

When they reached their destination, Say was handed to a Chinese H’mong man who took her as his wife – temporarily. He planned to keep her as his sexual object for a few months and then to re-sell her. He felt that he had paid a low price for such an attractive young girl, and he believed he could make a profit by selling her to a richer man in the city.

For three terrifying months, Say was his possession. She was locked in to his home and brutalised repeatedly. Every day, she searched for a way to escape. Every night, she cried herself to sleep.

In the end, Say was lucky to be found. Chinese police were on a routine visit to her neighborhood checking in on families in the wake of COVID outbreaks. They recognised that she was frightened and clearly did not belong in the area, and brought her to safety.

Say returned to Vietnam with assistance from Blue Dragon, and we’ve been supporting her ever since. After spending time receiving counselling and medical treatment, Say is back with her loving family.

A H’mong girl in her home, high up in the mountains of northwest Vietnam.

Last week, Blue Dragon represented Say and 5 other girls and young women as their two traffickers faced court. They are part of a highly organised gang, with some members still on the run. We believe that they have trafficked many other victims as well, and we hope in time to find them all and bring them home.

For now, the traffickers are out of action. Say is safe. Her family is restored.

But the reality is that healing is a long journey. Say will need time and ongoing care – possibly for many years – to rebuild her life. And the extreme poverty that made her a target for these traffickers must be addressed.

Blue Dragon will keep working with Say and her community in the months and years to come. They need protection, and they need healing.

For Say, seeing her traffickers sentenced – 28 years and 21 years respectively – goes a long way toward her healing. She has seen justice done. And as she returns to her work in the corn field on the side of the mountain, her dream is simply that she and her family can live a life safe and free.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

Tribute

In the face of an overwhelming crisis, the goodness of humanity is shining bright.

On this blog, I like to share stories.

Stories of kids who are homeless or have been trafficked. Stories of young people who overcome despite the odds.

Today, I have a different story to share.

Blue Dragon’s social media has been full of photos and stories of children, families and young adults in desperate need because of this latest COVID outbreak. The Delta variant has wreaked havoc. Whole cities are shut down. Businesses are shuttered. Schools are closed. Hundreds of thousands of people are out of work.

Against this backdrop, Blue Dragon staff are out on the streets of Hanoi night and day, getting food and aid to people in need.

Who are these people, featured in our photos carrying boxes of food to every corner of the city?

A Blue Dragon worker delivers food to a community that has formed under a bridge.

Some are mothers and fathers, with families at home hoping they will return safely when their work is done.

Some are young adults, fresh out of university. Blue Dragon might be their first, or maybe their second, job. And yet, they are so dedicated that they have volunteered to take shifts on the streets or in shelters for days at a time.

Their work might mean they will not see their own families for weeks. Some are sleeping in rented rooms instead of going home to their families, in order to avoid the risk of spreading COVID.

Others still are young people who were receiving Blue Dragon’s assistance not so long ago. Some were homeless themselves, and now their only wish is to help others.

A little girl and her father accept a donation of food.

How is all this possible? Essentially, it’s because of you.

Every box of food delivered to a family… every meal handed to a homeless child… every cup of water handed out in the scorching summer heat. All of the relief Blue Dragon is distributing is donated by people just like you.

Every dollar donated is feeding the hungry. It’s paying the rent of someone who has lost their job and is facing eviction. It’s making sure that, when school starts up after this lockdown has ended, a child can go back to the classroom.

There’s no doubt that COVID has been cruel. None of us has escaped unscathed. Many who have donated to Blue Dragon for this emergency are in difficult situations themselves. This crisis has let the goodness of people shine bright against the darkest of backdrops.

Whether it’s the workers of Blue Dragon out on the streets, or the incredible people around the world who so selflessly send what they can from their own savings, the goodness of humanity is shining through.

Blue Dragon can’t beat COVID, but we can protect children and families from the worst of its consequences. And when the day comes that we look back on all this, we will know that as a global community we did everything we could to care for each other.

Thank you to all who have so far donated to Blue Dragon’s Emergency COVID Appeal!

Getting help

A young woman who has spent half her life in slavery. A young man who escaped life on the streets as a child. Both are desperate to rebuild their lives, but have one more major challenge to overcome.

Trinh feels lucky to be alive.

Just six months ago, she thought she could not survive much longer. She’s almost 22 years old now, and has spent half her life in slavery.

Trinh was 11 when she was taken.

The details of what happened are still emerging, but what we do know is that Trinh was taken from her village in the mountains of north-central Vietnam and sold to a man in China.

Only last month was Trinh finally able to make a call for help. Blue Dragon sent a team to find her and bring her back to Vietnam.

She is safe now, but Trinh is not yet home. COVID-19 restrictions mean that a full month since her rescue, she is still in quarantine, far from her family who are so desperate to see her.

With the pandemic causing disruption and havoc around the country, there’s no possible way she can return home just yet. But that day will come soon.

Many people around Vietnam are in incredibly difficult situations right now – even if their experience has not been as extreme as Trinh’s.

Vuong was one of the Blue Dragon boys more than 10 years ago. He was a street kid at the time. With only extended relatives to raise him, Vuong felt unloved and detached from everyone at home. So he took to the streets and all he found was trouble until he finally met Blue Dragon.

Since then, he’s really turned his life around. Vuong left the streets behind with a helping hand. He’s a young man now, with a family of his own and a job – until COVID.

Suddenly, he has found himself back on the streets. After years of doing well and building a life for himself and his family, Vuong can’t pay the rent.

Late one night during the week, Vuong made a call for help. He feels ashamed to ask for charity – especially after all this time – but he was sleeping under a bridge, hungry, and didn’t know what to do. His wife and child are safely out in the countryside, but Vuong can’t join them because of travel restrictions.

With no money in his pocket and nowhere to go, Vuong felt like a little kid again – all alone on the streets.

But we received his call for help, and Vuong now has a place to stay for the coming weeks and a supply of food that will keep him going.

For both Trinh and Vuong, and countless people like them of all ages, this is an exceptionally difficult time.

Young people who have survived human trafficking, or spent time homeless on the streets, are in positions of great vulnerability.

Blue Dragon is responding by getting help to people like Trinh and Vuong. We’re providing supplies of food, and money to help pay the bills while family members are out of work.

Blue Dragon staff deliver food to a family in Hanoi.

And apart from that very tangible relief, there’s also a huge need right now for the intangible. People are desperately in need of someone to talk to, human contact, a friendly word and an assurance that things will be OK.

As our staff travel about, by motorbike or in trucks filled with rice, we’re doing our best to respond to the calls for help and spend time with people – at the required distance of course! – to offer some comfort.

Loading up a truck to deliver rice inside a quarantine zone.

We can’t get Trinh home just yet. We can’t get Vuong back to his family and his job just yet. But we can help them through day by day, safe and fed.

Together, we will see this crisis through. And then, when the lockdowns start to lift, we’ll be ready to walk with Trinh and Vuong as they take the next steps in their lives.

To help Trinh, Vuong, and young people like them, please consider a donation of $15 to the Blue Dragon COVID Emergency appeal. All funds raised will provide emergency assistance to families who have no income during the current lockdown.

A personal mission

Vi is an unlikely hero on the streets of Hanoi.

In the evening, Vi finishes eating dinner with his family and says goodbye before putting on his mask and heading out to the streets.

Vi works for Blue Dragon, leading a team of over 30 social workers who help street kids. Despite being in a formal management position, he insists on staying involved in frontline work.

Every day he’s at the drop-in centre with kids and at night he’s in parks and under bridges looking for homeless young people. He will never admit it, but he’s a hero to many of the kids.

For Vi, this work is very personal. Because as a teenager, Vi was a street kid himself.

He left his village home in 2002, taking a bus to Hanoi where he found work shining shoes on the streets. All day he would walk through the city, polishing people’s shoes in return for a few cents before heading back to a dorm room where he slept, crammed in with 20 other people who also worked on the streets.

Vi at a game of football with Blue Dragon in 2003.

It was a lucky break for Vi to encounter the founder of Blue Dragon one day while out shining shoes. He immediately accepted an offer to join an English class, and before long Vi was living in a group home, going to school, and had left his days as a street kid behind.

Some people who escape a difficult situation – like being a street kid – would be happy to never look back. After his studies, Vi found work in one of Hanoi’s top restaurants and became a stellar barman. He had a great career in hospitality to look forward to.

Vi loved his work, but had a yearning to give back. So he returned to Blue Dragon, and for 10 years has been protecting girls and boys on the streets of the city.

Vi at the Blue Dragon drop-in centre in July 2021, teaching a child to play ping pong.

And now the city is in a state of crisis. With a wave of COVID-19 leading to lockdowns around Vietnam, people in poverty and living on the streets have it harder than ever. So Vi and his team have stepped up to the challenge.

Since Hanoi called for people to stay home and for non-essential services to close, Vi and his social workers have been delivering food during the day to families without incomes and handing meals directly to homeless people through the night.

As they go from home to home and person to person, they’re checking on people’s health and seeing what else they need. Some families need help to pay the rent so they don’t get evicted. Others need medication. One mother with a newborn needed a fridge – so Vi went to the Blue Dragon centre and took the fridge from the office!

Now Vi is planning another challenge. He’ll be walking on September 19 as part of the Blue Dragon Marathon Walk to raise money for the very kids he works with each day.

If you’d like to be involved, you can sign up and walk wherever you are in the world: bd-marathon-2021.raisely.com.

Or, if walking a full or half marathon is not your thing, you can sponsor Vi to show him your support: bd-marathon-2021.raisely.com/vido.

Vi has even declared that he’ll walk an extra 30km if he reaches his fundraising target.

For Vi, his work may be a very personal mission but he’s not alone. His dedication to the kids is shared by many, from the staff on his team to Blue Dragon’s donors near and far who keep us going.

And as long as there are kids out on the streets in need of help, our world will need people like Vi to keep them safe.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

Spider Boy

Just 10 years old, Thang has grown up on the streets of Hanoi. But now, his life is taking a turn for the better.

In more normal times, Thang spends his days on the streets.

Thang is only ten… or maybe nine. He’s not really sure. He’s never been to school, so he follows his mother around the city while she works, collecting scrap that she sells for recycling.

Even though he has never studied or sat in a classroom, Thang is a bright boy and has taught himself enough to read comic books. He doesn’t have many friends – when you wander the streets all day, it’s hard to have friendships. But he knows what he is missing out on and dreams about being like all the other kids he sees.

Right now, Vietnam is experiencing a wave of COVID unlike any other we’ve seen. Across the country, cities and provinces are in lockdown; businesses are closed and people have been asked or ordered to stay home.

Thang and his mother don’t really have that option. Staying home means staying hungry. They live day to day, with no savings. If they don’t earn money today, they have to move out of their rented room tomorrow. It’s as simple as that.

Thang and a friend in Thang’s rented room.

And Thang isn’t the only child living like this. Across Hanoi and throughout Vietnam, many girls and boys are spending their early years like this. Too poor to go to school, and with no extended family to care for them, they roam the streets every day with a parent or relative.

Now that COVID has upended all of our daily routines, their lives are impossibly difficult.

So now Thang has a new routine. He spends his days at the Blue Dragon centre, along with a growing group of girls and boys who, just like him, would otherwise be out on the streets or locked into tiny, makeshift homes.

It’s a whole new world for Thang and his peers. Being in a centre, having healthy meals at fixed times and playing together as a group are all new experiences.

Even more important, Thang is now learning. He has formal lessons in the afternoons, but in fact his whole day now is about learning. How to make friends. How to be nice to others. How to sit down for lunch and share a meal.

Turning Thang’s life around will take time. We’re working with his mother, to see how we can help her find a more stable income. And of course through this latest lockdown period we are helping her to pay the bills so she can get by.

It’s not easy for Thang or his mother, but finally they have someone to help.

Thang is so excited, and so growing in his new confidence, that this week he arrived at Blue Dragon as the alter-ego of Spider Man.

Spider Boy loves comic books!

His own day to day life is far from that of a super hero, free to go anywhere and with power to command respect.

Thang hasn’t had the best start to life, but he still dreams like children all around the world.

Maybe he won’t really be able to become Spider Man when he grows up, but with some love and care, and a helping hand for his mother, there’s no doubt that his dream of a brighter future can still come true.

To help Thang and children just like him, please consider a donation to the Blue Dragon COVID Emergency appeal. All funds raised will provide food packs to families who have no income during the current lockdown.