The first time I saw him, Tan was standing alone on a street staring into nothing.
He was down the road from the Blue Dragon centre, and everything about him signaled a child in distress. His face showed no expression; his shoulders slumped forward. His arms hung limply by his side.
Just 14 years old, Tan had been neglected and abandoned by his family, forcing him to leave home. Once on the streets of Hanoi, he was abused repeatedly by pedophiles who traded him like an object.
Once he was with Blue Dragon, Tan’s healing took years of care, counselling, and legal representation to find justice against those who had harmed him. Today he is a very different young man to the boy I first saw on the street. He has a job and a circle of great friends; he has started rebuilding the relationship with his parents; and his eyes shine with hope and joy.
Last week, Tan joined in Blue Dragon’s annual Tet celebration, called Tet Awards; we shared some photos of this on Facebook on Sunday. We hold this party for children in the lead-up to Lunar New Year, and many of our ‘old’ boys and girls come back to see us.
Tet Awards is one of the few big events we hold; our work is much more focused on dealing with day to day crisis than with organising ceremonies and parties.
In fact, Tan inspired the creation of this very blog at a Tet Awards party several years ago. Looking out over the crowd and thinking how much his own life had changed since he met Blue Dragon, Tan shared his astute reflection: Life is a long story.
For kids like Tan, this annual event has a significance beyond it being a great night. Dressing up, meeting old friends and enjoying hours of singing and dancing takes the kids away from the hardships of their daily lives.
The delightful chaos and laughter of a children’s party will never replace the need for long-term care, shelter, legal advocacy and psychological therapy. But a moment to forget the pain and turn instead to friendship and the simple joys of life is a precious moment indeed.
Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis while advocating for greater legal protections and policies. You can read more of Tan’s story and how we changed Vietnamese law to protect boys here.