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.

Something better

Two teens left their homes wanting to escape poverty and hardship. The dangers that they encountered are a warning to us all.

Troc was sleeping under a bridge when we first met him. He was 14 years old.

During our nightly street outreach, the Blue Dragon social workers spotted him covered in a filthy blanket, sound asleep and all on his own.

Troc had come to the city to find a job. His family live about 120km from Hanoi and relied on the income of Troc’s father, a construction worker. When the COVID pandemic first hit Vietnam, his father lost his job and returned home. The family was broke.

Wanting to do something good, Troc slipped away at night and hitchhiked to the city. He was sure that he could find a job and send money home to his family, but soon realised how wrong he had been.

The city was shut down. The streets were empty and the businesses closed. Ashamed to call his parents and tell them the truth, Troc found himself homeless and hungry.

Asleep on the pylon of a bridge in Hanoi.

Nu’s story is not all that different, but her journey was even more frightening. From the mountains of north-central Vietnam, a stone’s throw from Laos, she was almost 16 when the pandemic hit.

Nu had been counting the days until she was old enough to leave home and get a job. Her family was desperately poor and she knew that if she stayed in her village she would soon be married to one of the local boys – a fate she simply did not want.

COVID-19 meant that just as she was able to start planning to leave, she had to put everything on hold. So she waited.

A year into the pandemic, Nu was feeling trapped. She spent her days online, chatting with people far and wide. One young woman she met through social media was particularly friendly. She even offered to introduce Nu to a restaurant in Ha Long Bay that was hiring. Finally, a lucky break!

But as happens so often, Nu’s friend was in fact a trafficker. Nu travelled to the nearest city where they met in a cafe and then hopped on a bus. They were on the road for so long that Nu eventually fell asleep, despite her excitement. When she awoke, she sensed that something was wrong.

Instead of heading to Ha Long Bay, they were high up in the mountains near China. Still, Nu held out hope that everything would be OK – but when they got off the bus late at night and started walking through the forest, she knew she was in trouble.

Both Troc and Nu took risks, and both ended up in dangerous situations.

It’s easy to judge young people for getting into trouble, and it happens all the time. People often assume that girls who get trafficked must have been asking for it. If only they had been more ‘aware’ it wouldn’t have happened.

And the same goes for street kids, who are just assumed to be troublemakers. All they need to do is go home and the streets would be safer.

Troc and Nu were setting out in search of the same dream: something better.

In fact, we all do it. For most of us, it’s about leaving home to start at university or a new job in another city. Or it might mean traveling to a new state – or, in COVID-free times, a new country.

For kids like Troc and Nu, their dream of something better isn’t about adventure or a new challenge. It’s about survival. They don’t want to live – or die – in poverty. They want to change their circumstances, help their families, find a way out of hardship.

They’re both safe now. Troc came to Blue Dragon’s emergency shelter for a few weeks, and once the pandemic eased we took him back to his family. We’ve been supporting them since then and Troc returned to school to finish Grade 9.

Nu was rescued shortly after arriving in China. Her trafficker escaped, but Nu was saved from the trauma of being sold as a bride. She’s now doing a training course and in coming months will be ready to start work in a restaurant as a chef.

Troc and Nu are typical of the young people we meet every day at Blue Dragon: good kids who are trying to escape from some difficulty in life.

In many ways, they’re like all of us. They dream of having a good life, free from hunger and hardship. But their poverty means that they have to take risks that most of us would never face – and that’s where things go wrong for them.

What Troc and Nu want is the same thing that we all should be working towards: something better. For all of us.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

A trafficker’s story

Vin committed a terrible crime and received the punishment he deserved. But could this all have been prevented?

Vin was trembling as he stood, head bowed and hands clasped.

He had never been in a court room before today. He’d never even had trouble with the police.

As the judge read out his sentence – 11 years in prison – Vin still couldn’t believe that this was really happening.

And now it was official: he was a human trafficker. He had tricked a girl from a nearby village into taking a ride on his motorbike and handed her to a gang waiting on the border between Vietnam and China.

A trafficker is sentenced by the court.

While he was doing this, he knew deep down it was wrong – but something drove him to do it anyway.

Vin’s life was always hard as a child and teenager. He grew up in a H’mong village and quit school before he was 10 so that he could work full time in the fields. Some months, there just wasn’t enough to eat, so he would travel away with his father and find jobs on construction sites in the towns and cities.

Being out in the world was always a humiliating experience. People laughed at his manners and his clothes. He was embarrassed that he couldn’t speak much Kinh, the mainstream Vietnamese language, like the other workers. Even going to shops to buy supplies was difficult: he could hardly read or write and nothing was familiar.

When he met a wealthy H’mong woman and her Chinese husband one day, everything changed. He was offered a chance to make some easy money – for the first time in his life.

All he had to do was bring them a Vietnamese girl who they would take to China, where she would marry and have children.

She might not like it at first, they told Vin, because she will want to stay in Vietnam. But her life will be much better in China; she won’t be poor any more and her children will go to school. She’ll be glad you did this.

And the sum of money on offer was almost unbelievable. If he could bring a pretty girl aged under 18, he would receive 30 million VND – over $1,300! He couldn’t earn that much in a year, let alone for one day’s work.

Still he knew it was wrong, so he assured himself that this was his only way out of poverty. And why shouldn’t he have that chance? It wasn’t his fault that he was born into poverty. It wasn’t his fault that people laughed at him and joked about how stupid he was.

With this money, he could buy a new motorbike. Maybe one of the local girls would finally want to marry him! This would change his life.

Vin’s story is common among people who traffic others. In the end, his poverty and disadvantage were similar to that of the young woman he targeted and enslaved. They were alike in so many ways, except that he sought to profit from her misery.

Last week, Blue Dragon released an analysis of the profiles of human traffickers. You can find the full report here, and an article in the South China Morning Post that neatly explains the research here. We found that cases like Vin’s are extremely common: most people who end up in court for trafficking are first time offenders from backgrounds of poverty and with low levels of education.

That doesn’t excuse Vin. His victim spent a terrifying 3 months in slavery before Blue Dragon found and rescued her. What he did was unequivocally wrong.

Vin did something monstrous – but that doesn’t make him a monster. Standing there in court, he knew he deserved this punishment. He saw himself as a failure.

And yet, the findings of our research give us reason to hope.

If people like Vin are becoming traffickers because of their low education and poverty, we may be able to intervene. Programs to combat trafficking are often designed to help people who are vulnerable to being trafficked – like scholarships to keep girls in school.

It makes sense to consider that extending those programs to also keep potential traffickers in school, or to help them find legitimate jobs, would reduce human trafficking even further.

Sending Vin to prison is a just and fair decision by the court. But if only we could step in to help people like Vin and his family to find a better path, we would be preventing a human tragedy before it even happens.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

Please note that some details of this story are changed for legal and privacy reasons.

Dirty word

A terrified call for help in the middle of the night. A life-and-death escape from slavery in a foreign country. This is the reality of a rescue operation, where the consequences of failure could be devastating.

Phuong had to pretend that she was sleeping.

Every second was more terrifying than the last. She had a chance to call for help, but everything depended on the family being asleep. She had to act in complete secrecy.

The risk of being caught was high. The consequences could be deadly. But after three years in slavery, Phuong was desperate.

She had been trafficked from her home in southern Vietnam and sold as a bride to a man in China. Back home, she had a child. She lived in extreme poverty and had never been able to find a steady job because she was illiterate and physically disabled. A trafficker took advantage of these multiple vulnerabilities and tricked her.

Phuong had thought she was going to find a job. Instead she became a slave. And every moment of her 3 years was consumed with the question: How could she get back home?

That night, when the house was in complete silence, Phuong slipped out of the bedroom and made a frantic, whispered phone call. It was her first contact with her family since she had been taken.

Blue Dragon received the call from her family the next day, and within a week we had set in motion an operation to rescue Phuong and bring her home.

Every week, and sometimes every day, we receive similar calls for help. These are typically from the families of girls and women, and sometimes boys and men, who are trapped in slavery. They are people who were tricked and manipulated; made to think they were going to a good job or traveling with a trusted friend.

In every case, they are desperate.

And so Blue Dragon conducts rescue operations to bring them home. So far we’ve brought over 1,000 people home from slavery.

However, in some circles “rescue” is a dirty word.

It implies bravado and danger. It reeks of a “savior mentality”. And sometimes, it’s just plain confusing. Various people and organisations use the word “rescue” to describe many different activities: providing scholarships to vulnerable girls, meeting and counselling homeless people, or even distributing emergency food supplies.

Because of this, the word “rescue” has earned a bad reputation.

But for Blue Dragon, the act of rescue is a vital humanitarian tool. We are responding to a call for help; finding people who are reaching out and need a hand to escape their situation.

This might require bravery from our staff, but the real hero of the rescue is the survivor. The act of calling for help, as Phuong did late one night last November, requires a courage close to super human. She is safely home now, but the risk she took to make that call could have led to her being beaten, resold, or even killed. (You can read more about her rescue and return home here).

Blue Dragon’s rescues are not raids and we never use violence. We find the safest way possible to get someone out of danger, and back to the safety of their home.

And that’s not the end of the rescue. Even once someone is home, with the violence and danger far behind them, Blue Dragon continues providing support in every way we can: legal representation, psychological counselling, medical treatment, schooling… even help to start a small business or find a job.

This “follow up care” is not as dramatic as the initial rescue, but it’s vital to ensuring that the rescued person is really, truly safe.

Around the world, July is designated as a month of combating human trafficking and slavery. Blue Dragon is proud to be a part of this fight, and we look forward to the day that we can say our work is done. When slavery is finally a relic of the past, we will be glad to retire from this work.

Until then, we must be ready for the next rescue.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

Chung

His brother drowned. His mother went to prison. Then Chung became addicted to heroin. But despite all the hardships, Chung hangs on to hope for better days ahead.

Chung was stabbed at his home last Sunday night.

The details are murky. One version of the story is that somebody broke into his home, a sweltering concrete box by Hanoi’s Red River, and attacked him over some dispute. Another version is that he was in a fight with a drug dealer.

Chung is a heroin addict. He has been for about 15 years now, despite two separate stints in rehab and multiple periods in prison.

Life has always been very difficult for Chung. He was one of 7 brothers born into extreme poverty in an area of the city notorious for heroin and violence. One of his brothers drowned in the river when they were all still just kids, and when Chung’s mother went to prison for drug dealing his life spiraled out of control.

But there was always something special about Chung. When he first encountered Blue Dragon through our weekly football games in his neighbourhood, he became one of our most loyal and reliable followers. Sitting alone, his face would bear the lines of grief and hardship that marked his childhood. But when he saw one of the social workers or volunteers, his whole face would light up with joy, and he would become a child again.

People used to warn us to be careful: You should never trust an addict, they would say. For Chung, that simply wasn’t true. He would come to the Blue Dragon centre and collapse onto the sofas, falling into a deep sleep. At times he would spend the night there, safe and sound from the horrors that awaited him in his daily life.

We would let him sleep as long as he needed; when he woke up he would have a shower, change his clothes and head back out to the streets. He simply refused any further help, except on two occasions when he asked us to take him to a rehabilitation centre.

He wanted to clean himself up, and he gave it his best shot. Both times he stayed in rehab, he transformed into a gentle, smiling young man, but within months of going home he would relapse.

He never once stole or caused trouble. It was very rare that he would ask for anything at all. He knew that we cared for him and that was all he wanted.

As the years passed, Chung’s life slipped deeper into darkness. His parents both died of overdoses, and then his grandmother passed away.

Chung is almost 30 now – no longer a child. He finds every day a struggle, but that goodness of character remains. Through it all he is loyal and honest, and protects those he loves.

He has spent the week in hospital, recovering from his injuries. Chung doesn’t want to explain why he was stabbed, and he doesn’t ask for help. He’s just glad to have a friend visit and sit by his bed, sharing memories of football by the river and imagining what could have been.

Chung will stay in hospital for at least 2 weeks following his stabbing.

Not every child we help goes on to find happiness or follow satisfying career paths. Many do, but some like Chung will always struggle. And yet, every moment of being by his side, bringing back that smile to his face, is a moment well spent.

He’s still just a kid at heart, and his dream of an innocent, carefree life has never faded.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation  works with Vietnamese children and youth in crisis. 

Mischief

Some children become homeless because of extreme poverty, violence at home, or mental illness. But sometimes the reasons for a child being on the street can be devastatingly simple…

Long was alone on the streets of Hanoi, but he wasn’t really a street kid.

He had run away from his home up in the northern provinces after getting into some trouble. It was nothing serious – pretty ordinary for a 13 year old boy who is bored. COVID had closed his school and there was nothing much to do, so Long found his way into some mischief.

When he ran away, he didn’t really plan to leave home. His family love him very much, and although they are not rich they live comfortable lives. It was more of an adventure. He knew he would be in some trouble at home so he thought this would be a good time to go exploring!

Once Long reached Hanoi, though, things turned sour – fast. With the city largely closed for social distancing, he found himself alone and without any money. He realised that he hadn’t really thought it through; he assumed it would be easy to get by. Long survived by eating food out of garbage bins.

He had been in the city for a week when one of the Blue Dragon boys named Son spotted him by a lake. Long was clearly in some difficulty. The look on his face said that Long was hungry, tired, and in need of some help.

Son brought Long back to a Blue Dragon emergency shelter, and straight away things started looking up. Long was thrilled to have plenty to eat, a soft bed to sleep in, and some wonderful people looking after him.

But what Long wanted most was to go home… and he couldn’t.

As soon as Long knew he was safe, he called his parents to let them know where he was. They had been in deep distress, worried about what had happened and searching everywhere. His phone call home was a very emotional moment.

However, there was a problem: COVID. Because of some serious outbreaks in provinces north of Hanoi, it wasn’t possible for Long’s parents to come to the city to pick him up, or for Blue Dragon to take him home.

Long was fine now, but still separated from his family.

And so for the past month Long has been staying in an emergency shelter, studying online and joining in activities with the kids and staff. His week of roaming the streets afraid and alone was followed with four weeks in a shelter making friends and learning new skills – quite a change!

Long even celebrated his 14th birthday at the shelter, enjoying a cake and a party.

Finally, on Thursday, Long’s parents were able to get to the city. They drove to Blue Dragon and were overcome with emotion to be with their son again. Now he’s home, and the various misdeeds that started this whole adventure are forgotten.

Long is thrilled to be home and safe!

Long’s story is not dramatic or shocking; he is incredibly fortunate that he was met by the boy Son and was able to come back to a safe shelter. It could have been much worse.

Once he was home, Long took to Facebook to send a message to Blue Dragon:

I wish you all health and happiness! Thank you so much for taking care of me during this past time. Once again, I thank you, my brothers and sisters!

Long’s story finishes with a happy ending – something we would love to see more of at Blue Dragon!

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis. A donation of any amount to the Blue Dragon Rescue Appeal will protect children like Long.

The boy in the park

Thiem and his father were sleeping rough when Blue Dragon came across them in a park. This week, they disappeared – but our effort to help them did not end.

He was there one day, and gone the next.

Thiem and his father had been sleeping in the park for over a week, despite an incredible heatwave with temperatures of over 40 degrees each day… and also despite Vietnam’s worst outbreak of COVID-19 so far.

Every day, Blue Dragon staff would head down to the park with food and drink, and sometimes games or toys for Thiem. He especially loved the coloring pad and pencils, so that he could bring his 12 year old imagination to life.

Thiem’s father never said a word. He would turn away, appearing to ignore the social workers while staying close enough to hear and see everything.

Thiem in the park, with food and drink and a Blue Dragon card.

But one day they were gone. The park was empty.

People in the area talked about a car coming and taking Thiem away. Someone said that they thought the police were involved. None of the stories added up.

And so we turned to the skills that have made Blue Dragon a leader in finding and rescuing victims of human trafficking: the skills of searching for missing people. Within a day, we found an online forum where Thiem’s relatives had posted about their search for him, and we made contact with an uncle.

Thiem’s backstory is one of sadness and loss.

As a very young boy, his family was happy and his future looked bright. But as he grew up, mental illness took over his father’s life. This prosperous, hardworking family lost everything, and finally Thiem’s mother left for Laos to find work.

Thiem is a bright child. Growing up, he desperately wanted to go to school with his friends. But his father would periodically lapse into clouds of darkness and confusion.

During these times, he would take his son and travel – with no plan, no money, and no destination. The extended family had no idea where they went, and would just have to wait for weeks and months to pass until they returned.

They would live in parks or under bridges, wandering the streets as homeless beggars.

Thiem asleep in the Hanoi park.

For Thiem, this is indescribably difficult. He loves his father and wants to protect him, but he knows their situation is dangerous and they should be back in the countryside.

Their home is a tiny village in north-central Vietnam. People there don’t understand the complexity of mental health issues, and there are no services or agencies they can call on for assistance. They are on their own.

Three weeks ago, Thiem and his father again vanished from their home. Since then, the extended family has been searching. When Thiem disappeared from the park, he had in fact been found by his family.

His father is now in hospital receiving care, and Thiem is with his uncles. Thanks to donations that Blue Dragon supporters have sent, we have funds to help the family through this time and to assist with the next steps for Thiem – whatever they may be.

The future is still unclear and although Thiem is safe, his struggles are far from over. But he is with family, his father is receiving care, and Blue Dragon remains ready to help… whatever comes next.

Thank you to all who donated in response to last week’s story. If you would like to contribute to the care of children like Thiem, a donation of any amount to Blue Dragon’s Rescue Appeal would be greatly appreciated.

It takes time

A 12-year old boy and his father are sleeping rough in the city during a heatwave and pandemic. What will it take to get them to safety?

Thiem and his father arrived in Hanoi on a bicycle.

They travelled more than 300km, and it was a difficult journey. While they were riding, much of Vietnam imposed new social distancing rules. Then a heat wave descended on the region, bringing temperatures of over 40 degrees day after day.

But they kept on riding, no matter how tired they were, and finally they reached the city.

Since then, they’ve been sleeping in a park. Blue Dragon staff met them early in the week, sitting in the shade of a giant tree trying to find relief from the massive heat.

At first Thiem was shy, staring down at his plastic slippers while he spoke. His father looked the other way, not wanting to talk at all.

Thiem has never been to school. He can read and write just a little, and he loves to draw. In fact, the timber board that he and his father sleep on doubles as a canvas for Thiem’s imagination.

In blue pen, Thiem has mapped out his dreams. He wants to have a house where his family can live. He wants to see his sister and travel the world on an airplane.

Thiem draws his dreams on his bed.

Beyond this, we don’t know much about either Thiem or his father. We don’t know why they are in the city or why Thiem has never been to school.

The social workers see them every day down at the park when we drop by with food and drinks. We sit and chat, and share a meal together sitting on the concrete benches.

But Thiem and his father aren’t ready to open up yet. Whatever trauma is in their past, whatever adversity they’ve been dealt, they have learned to protect themselves with silence.

When Blue Dragon finds someone in a crisis situation, we want to get them to safety right away. Often we can: even when a young person has been trafficked across an international border, we may be able to get them home within a few days.

For some, though, it takes time. People aren’t always ready to receive help, even though they may be homeless or in danger.

It’s hard to see Thiem in the park, knowing he’ll be sleeping on a timber board, exposed to the heat and the occasional thunderstorm. We’ve done all we can to show the boy and his father that we just want to help.

They have our phone number and address; we see them every day; and we’ve given Thiem his own pencils and pad so he can bring his imagination to life all he wants. It just might be the most precious gift he’s ever received.

Thiem with his new pad and pencils.

And yet, we could do so much more.

We can offer a place to stay so they’re safe while we work out with them what they really need: schooling for Thiem, and a job for his father. It’s likely they have a few issues back home in the village that they’ll also need some help with.

For now they’re sleeping rough and are happy to just have some friends who come by each day to talk. It may take days, or it may take weeks. When the time comes that Thiem and his father are ready to accept an offer of help, Blue Dragon will be there.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation works in Vietnam with children and families in crisis. Right now, we are asking for donations to the Rescue Appeal so that children like Thiem can receive help.

Ashes

Trafficked to China 21 years ago, everyone believed that Liem was dead. But her parents refused to give up hope.

When Liem was 15, she left home.

It was 1999, and she was studying in Grade 9. Life was difficult and she wanted to find a way to help her family through some tough times.

A woman from the neighborhood approached Liem with an offer: a job at a restaurant in Hanoi. She could work there for a few months, save up some money, and return to her family as a hero.

But, the woman warned, Liem would need to keep it a secret. Her parents would never agree in advance – it would be better to send a message once Liem had already started the job.

Liem left with her school bag and a dream of saving her family from poverty. She was gone for 21 years.

Those decades away were a living hell. The woman from her village took her to China, and Liem didn’t even know that anything was wrong at first. By the time she realised, it was far too late.

At first Liem was sold into a brothel, and a year later sold into another. Over the 21 years of slavery, Liem was sold again and again. Her final years in China were as a ‘wife’ to a man who wanted a servant he could control and force himself onto.

The years of extreme hardship took their toll. Liem had a stroke, and was left unable to walk.

Her family knew none of this. On that awful afternoon in 1999, her mother and father came home in the evening to an empty house and wondered where their daughter had gone. The next day they set out in search of her, desperately hoping there was some simple, innocent explanation that Liem had stayed out over night.

Liem never came home. Days turned into weeks and then years. It was as though she had just vanished, like a puff of smoke.

Everyone was sure that Liem had died; there could be no other explanation. But while some families would have built a grave and placed their daughter’s photo on the family altar, Liem’s parents did not. Deep down they continued to hope that somehow their little girl would come home.

Then one day a mysterious phone call came. A woman who refused to identify herself was asking questions about Liem. When the family was able to verify that Liem was indeed their daughter, the woman told them the news that they had waited 21 years to hear: Liem was alive.

With 48 hours, Blue Dragon put together a rescue team and brought Liem back to Vietnam. Unable to walk, we carried her across the border.

COVID precautions meant that Liem was required to go straight to a quarantine facility. In an act of compassion, the border guards allowed Liem’s father to also go to quarantine. After two decades separated from his daughter, he could not wait another two weeks.

Liem is home now. After release from quarantine, she was carried back to the home that she walked away from more than half her life ago.

Liem being carried home after release from quarantine.

For her whole family, it seems that the impossible has come true. The years ahead are going to be hard: Liem will always live with the trauma of slavery, and her parents will always live with the regret of losing their daughter.

But at least they have a chance to start over, and to build a life from the ashes of all they lost.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation works in Vietnam with children and families in crisis. A donation to the Rescue Appeal will provide urgent assistance for the rescue and care of people like Liem.