If not us

Most of us have a safety net to protect us when things go wrong. For those who don’t: what do they have? They have us.

While I am taking a short break from writing my weekly blog, I wanted to share a post from Vi Do, Blue Dragon’s co-CEO.

Vi recently shared these thoughts on his LinkedIn to inspire and to challenge.

It’s inspiring to think that we can do so much, have such an impact, simply by caring for others.

But it’s also challenging to know the responsibility that gives us.

I leave you with Vi’s words…

LinkedIn post by Vi Do

There’s a famous quote often used by activists in the US:

    If not us, who? 
    If not now, when?

I think about these words when I reflect on the work I do at Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation.

In Blue Dragon, we take on difficult and thankless work. We search for children in brothels and under bridges… we face threats from pimps and traffickers… and many times we help young people who seem impossible to help.

You might have an image of a grateful child, smiling and saying thanks as we lift them out of the dirt. Sometimes it’s like that – but not often.

The children we meet suffer from all kinds of psychological issues. Many are not ready to go back to school or start a job because they are still suffering so much trauma. These kids might act out by rebelling against authority or misbehaving. Some want to make trouble just to see how we will react. They test us to see if we will still care for them even if they do something bad.

A boy sleeping by the road in Hanoi.

There are kids we have helped over the years who started out seeming to be impossible but in the end they shine like stars. I remember one boy named Duc who was homeless in Hanoi and was abused by many pedophiles. He was only 14.

Duc gave up on himself and never believed he could ever do anything good. Even when I offered him money or a place to stay, he would refuse, and would go again with the men who abused him. It looked like he didn’t want any help. Some people said he was a bad kid.

But I knew differently. I could see he hated his life and was punishing himself for things that were not his fault. So I kept caring for him even when it didn’t seem to make any difference. I met with him at cafes, I gave him money for food, and I stayed in touch every day.

Eventually, Duc came to me and said he wanted to change his life. From that day, he never went back to the streets and did everything he could to start over. Now he is a young man and recently he married. He has his own business and uses his money for others in need. Sometimes he calls me to help homeless children he sees on the street.

Duc’s story has a very happy ending. But not all do. Some young people go to prison or join gangs. Not all of them follow the path of Duc and start helping others.

So people ask me: Why do I do it? Why dedicate my life to helping people who might never be that grateful, smiling child? Why help others when I can never be sure if it will really change their life? 

And that brings me back to the wise words:

    If not us, who? 
    If not now, when?

Most of us have family or friends to help us through a crisis. Most of us have a safety net to protect us when things go wrong.

For those who don’t: what do they have? They have us. You and me. Those of us who are lucky enough to be safe and well are the ones to help those who are in crisis.

We all have a part to play. We can’t just hope that someone else will make the world better. We can take responsibility and do it ourselves.

Because if we don’t, then who will?

Vi Do is co-CEO of Blue Dragon and a former street kid. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Start with strengths

Keeping kids and families safe from human trafficking demands some creative interventions. Here’s one that works every time.

I’m taking a short break from writing the blog – back in July! – but before I go, there’s one quick message to share.

If you head over to the Blue Dragon website you’ll find something new. We’re running a Pay It Forward campaign in rural regions of Vietnam for families who need a helping hand.

Most people are familiar with the concept. You help someone start a farm or a small business, and the recipient of that charity ‘pays it forward’ by helping someone else in need.

A gift to help one person lift themselves out of poverty ultimately helps several families. It’s an impact multiplier.

Even better, our partner organisation Help For Hope is involved. They’re doubling all donations for this campaign to a total of $50,000.

(If, at this point, you would like to make a donation for this, you can do it here).

Helping families get out of poverty is a key strategy to ending human trafficking. And doing so usually takes a mix of ‘charity’ and ‘development’. Some people may rely on handouts in the short term: paying school fees for the kids, or cash allowances so they have a stable supply of food.

For the longer term, though, people need a way to look after themselves. In rural areas where there are few jobs, or for parents who need to stay home to look after children, this may mean starting a small business.

A father at work on his sewing machines.

In the past year alone, Blue Dragon has helped 338 people start a business.

One of the great things about this strategy is that it starts with the strengths of the individual, not with their deficits.

The first step in getting someone started is to find out what they already have, what they can do, what they enjoy. And that’s why Blue Dragon has helped to start so many different types of businesses: small farms, food stalls, hairdressing and tailoring are among the many.

From there, a family may need training or technical support. When we buy a cow, for example, we need to make sure the recipient knows how to feed it. And when the cow falls pregnant, the family needs to know how to care for it.

Buying farm animals can transform a family’s chance of long-term success.

So starting a business requires much more than ‘just’ money. A family may need training, mentoring and practical assistance for many months.

Blue Dragon’s Pay It Forward campaign does all of this: from taking care of basic welfare needs in the short term, through to preparing families to succeed on their own in the long term.

And as I say, your donation will be matched.

If this is of interest, head over to the website and make a donation.

It will be one of the best investments you’ve ever made.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation protects children from trafficking and exploitation.

Beautiful things

Six kids hoping to change their lives, but with no money for a home. A football team for street kids with no field to play on. These were the earliest days of Blue Dragon.

At the end of the discussion, six boys had their hands raised.

It was early 2003. A few friends and I had been volunteering our spare time to run classes for Hanoi’s street kids.

We could see that they needed more than the weekly classes, activities and meals that we offered. They needed a chance to get off the street.

So we gathered them together – about 15 street boys in total – and asked who would like to change their life. Most of them put up their hand.

Then we asked who would like to go back to school. About 10 hands remained.

Finally we asked: Who would be willing to give up working on the street forever; to have a home and go back to school, then find a job?

That left us with six raised hands. So now we needed to work out how to make this happen.

We drew up plans to rent a house where the boys would live under the care and supervision of one of their mothers, who also had been working on the street.

The cost of paying rent, providing food, and covering school fees would amount to $5,200 annually. A modest sum for such high impact, but that amount was beyond us. We didn’t even have a bank account!

However, we’d made a commitment to the kids. Money or not, we had to do it so we set ourselves a deadline: June 2003. With this in mind, we steamed ahead, believing that somehow we would figure out how to pay for it.

Within a few weeks, I received a phone call. Two foreign women living in Hanoi had raised money for a project that had hit a roadblock and couldn’t go ahead. They asked me if I needed some funding for any specific need.

The sum of money they offered was $5,200. Exactly the amount we needed.

The hard way

You might call this an incredible stroke of luck. Or perhaps it was destiny. Serendipity, at least.

With this money, Blue Dragon’s first shelter for street kids opened on June 2, 2003 and continued running until the residents all had jobs and took over the lease, making it their very own home.

A class at the children’s home.

Sometimes, beautiful things fall into our lap at the moment we need it most.

And sometimes we have to work hard for that ‘good luck’ to come.

At the same time we were preparing to open that first shelter for six street kids, we were growing our weekly soccer games.

These games were more than ‘just’ a fun time for the children. They were a safe place that homeless young people could come to connect, receive help, and even have a meal.

Our very first game had only three teens show up. The next week there were 10. And soon 30…

And then the managers of the football field decided that they didn’t like street kids using their facilities, so they told us the field was “under repairs.”

With that, we were out. No more field. The only other options were miles away and the kids simply couldn’t get that far. (When you’re offering a service to people who are homeless, location is important!).

The weekly Blue Dragon football club, which had such a promising start, was over.

Or was it?

Every week, the children still gathered at the same time in a small park not far from the field. Even though we couldn’t play football, we met and had some snacks.

A few of us would get on our motorbikes and ride over to the field to ask how the “repairs” were going. (There were clearly no repairs, and other teams were using the fields).

The managers were never happy to see us and tried to brush us off. So week after week, for about three months, we kept going back every Sunday morning.

Over time, their attitude softened. Eventually they agreed that maybe the repairs to the field weren’t going to happen after all. Would we like to get our field back?

Different roads

When we were opening the shelter for six boys, everything fell into place perfectly.

Getting an open soccer team for street kids up and running was very different. We had to push, and wait, and refuse to give in.

Both endeavours were great successes in the end.

This weekend, some of the original six boys – all now young men in their 30s – returned to Blue Dragon for a 20-year reunion. Some couldn’t make it, while others who moved into the house in later years also came along.

Overall they’ve been tremendously successful in their lives. Most are business owners – bakeries, a mobile phone shop, a motorcycle repair shop, factories, restaurants. All expressed a deep gratitude for the chance they were given as children to turn their lives around.

Blue Dragon United, meanwhile, continues to play weekly games of football – a total of 3,400 and climbing! Up to 80 children play every weekend.

Through this Sunday morning outreach, we meet children who need a helping hand or are just looking for a break from their daily lives and want to hang out with friends.

Two very successful initiatives, but to get there we had to take very different roads.

Not everything that is “meant to be” starts easily. Sometimes beautiful things happen spontaneously; sometimes we have to persist and work hard to bring them to life.

While Blue Dragon’s official 20-year anniversary is in 2024, several key activities started in 2003. So throughout this year we are taking time to reflect on important occasions, like 20 years since the opening of our first shelter.

Over these two decades, there have been moments of serendipity and times we’ve had to put in double the effort for things to work.

Looking back, it doesn’t matter. Easy or difficult, it’s all been worthwhile when we see the thousands of lives we have changed.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation protects children from trafficking and exploitation. Thank you to all who have made this possible over the years!

Sneak home and pray

Terrified to learn they had been trafficked, two young women took their life into their own hands. But their ordeal was far from over.

It was the bravest decision they would ever make.

And also the quickest.

Trafficked from Vietnam to the lawless northern region of Myanmar, Tran and Ngo didn’t even see it as a choice.

If they stayed, they would die.

If they escaped, they might live.

The trafficker forced them to sign a ‘work contract’ stating that they owed $25,000 each and would pay it off by working in a brothel. A ridiculous sum that guaranteed they would be in slavery until their deaths.

Aged in their early 20s, the young women simply wanted to find a job. They would never have made the journey if they knew the horrifying reality that awaited them.

Within hours of being sold, they resolved that they would take any risk to regain their freedom. But that didn’t mean they could simply rush out the door and flag down a police car. To escape meant a tense two-week journey back to Vietnam with Blue Dragon’s rescue team, all the while knowing that the traffickers were searching for them.

A message went out on the traffickers’ social media offering a reward. A bounty of $4,000 each was advertised for Tran and Ngo. Should they be caught and returned to the brothel, their punishment would be so violent that they might wish for death.

The hell where youth and laughter go

On Thursday, these two brave women made it back to Vietnam. I wrote about their rescue on my LinkedIn – you can read it here.

Within hours, we completed one more rescue. This time, we brought home a 16-year-old girl who was also trafficked to a Myanmar brothel. She was not so fortunate as Tran and Ngo; she was in slavery for two years.

The youngest of the 3 victims is already back in her mother’s arms.

Speaking to the rescue team about what these young women went through, I couldn’t help but think of the words of poet Siegfried Sassoon. Writing about the horrors of World War One, his poem ‘Suicide in the trenches’ finishes with a powerful command to his readers:

Sneak home and pray you’ll never know / The hell where youth and laughter go.

Human trafficking isn’t trench warfare, but those lines could easily have been written about the fate of modern day slaves.

There’s nothing I can write, no photo I can share, that describes the daily brutality that Tran and Ngo so narrowly escaped, and that their younger peer suffered for two years.

Other futures

But even through the darkness of the past week -including other significant events which I will write about in later posts – there were also moments of hope and inspiration.

One of them was a 20th anniversary.

On June 2, 2003, Blue Dragon opened a small shelter for street kids. We weren’t even an official organisation at that time, but there was a group of kids who wanted to turn their lives around and go back to school. So we just started.

Twenty years on, those kids have led rich and fulfilling lives.

One owns a bakery. Another has an English language school for children. Still another runs a metal fabrication business… one is a hospitality executive… and so on.

And one, rather famously, is now a CEO at Blue Dragon.

As teenagers, all of the kids who went into that shelter thought they didn’t have much to live for. Everything was against them. What chance did they have for a brighter future?

Well, it turns out they had much to look forward to.

And now, as these three young women face their first days and weeks after a traumatic, life-altering crime has been committed against them, they too will be questioning what lays ahead.

None of us can see into their future and we certainly can’t promise that everything will be OK.

But there is hope. With ongoing help – everything from counseling to legal representation to financial support – they have a chance to start over.

As long as there’s a chance, we must try.

We can’t allow human trafficking to send their youth and laughter to hell. They deserve better than that; we all do.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is on a mission to end human trafficking.

The invisible chains of slavery

Mrs. Thu was 32 years old and had a young son when she was trafficked. 28 years later, Blue Dragon rescued her from slavery.

The story seems too incredible to be true.

Almost three decades in slavery, sold as a bride and forced to have children to a man she never loved.

How could any person be in slavery for so long?

Myth v. Reality

There’s a common stereotype of how human trafficking works.

A well-resourced gang of men in dark suits grabs their victim off the street, stuffing her into the back of a van. She is taken far from home and locked into a dark room, chained to a wall.

In reality, that’s rarely how it works.

Most of the time, victims are deceived by someone they trust, not grabbed in broad daylight.

And they don’t need to be chained up or locked into a room to be enslaved.

There are many ways to keep a person in slavery. Threats of violence… holding someone’s identity papers and controlling their finances… making them dependent on you for their survival… creating a ‘debt’ that they must work to pay off…

Or, as in Mrs Thu’s case, forcing them to have babies and using the bond of a mother and her child.

A degree of freedom

Mrs Thu’s world turned upside down.

A person she knew as a friend tricked her into agreeing to travel with her to China. They were meant to be gone on business just some days and then they would both be home with their families.

But Mrs Thu would not return for 28 years.

At first she fought against the man who bought her, refusing to succumb.

Hundreds of miles from home, with no way to call anyone for help, she had no choice but to eventually accept what had happened.

Despite having her own family in Vietnam, she became the wife of a Chinese man.

Once she fell pregnant, escape became even harder; and when her child was born, it became impossible.

Mrs Thu’s ‘husband’ treated her well, as long as she complied, so she learned to navigate this terrifying new reality.

In bride trafficking, forcing a woman to have a child is a common strategy to stop her from escaping. With thanks to @isaac.q.q for this image.

Before long she was learning a few words of a new language and gained some degree of freedom. She could go shopping, take her child to school, even go traveling with her new family at times.

To an outsider, Mrs. Thu looked like an ordinary mother raising a family in a small Chinese town.

She was there by force, but now she had children to care for and nobody to help her find her way back to Vietnam. For many years, Mrs. Thu thought she would never see her own home again.

Call for help

In recent years, the availability of new technology meant that she was able to contact people back in Vietnam. But who could she call?

Her son would be a grown man and she had no way to know where he might live or work… or even if he was still alive. And if she could contact him, what would he think? Did he grow up believing that his mother had abandoned him?

When the youngest of her Chinese children turned 18, Mrs Thu knew that they would be OK without her. It was time to finally make her escape.

We can’t share the details of how it unfolded, but a call for help from Mrs. Thu reached Blue Dragon and we sent a team to bring her home.

Even though it was painfully difficult to leave the children she had raised in China and come back to the unknown in Vietnam, she was absolutely determined.

Many questions, no answers

Mrs Thu is safe but her future is far from certain. Soon she will be reunited with her son, who is in his 30s now. He’s about the same age as his mother was when she vanished. After all this time, can they have a life together? What awaits Mrs. Thu back in her hometown? And what will become of her grown children in China?

Many questions but no answers. This is a story that’s far from over.

What happened to Mrs. Thu reminds us that trafficking doesn’t fit neatly into our expectations. The chains of slavery may be invisible, but their grip on innocent lives is very real.

In every form it takes, human trafficking is a crime of the worst kind.

We must do all that we can to rid our world of it.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is on a mission to end human trafficking.

Fairytale endings

Aged 14, Bac walked 150km from his home to the city, hoping to find work. Desperate to survive, his life took some unexpected turns…

Bac just wanted to find a job.

Ever since his father died, life had been hard. Really hard.

His mother struggled to feed Bac and his little sister. Every day seemed miserable.

So when he heard some neighbors talking about all the great job opportunities in Hanoi, 150km to the north, Bac started dreaming that life could be different.

Even though he was only 14, Bac thought that he could help his mother by dropping out of school and getting a job. She would only have to look after his sister and he could send home some of the money he earned in the city.

Finally he decided to do it. With just 2000 dong in his pocket – barely a few cents – he set out to follow his dream.

A country road in rural Vietnam. Street kids sometimes walk from their homes to the city, hoping to find new opportunities.

At first his journey felt like an adventure. When Bac reached the city several days later, all he could see was possibility. He met some street kids who helped set him up with his first shoeshine box and then he walked the pavements, cleaning and polishing the shoes of strangers.

It took about a week for the excitement to wear off and for the hunger and isolation to set in. Sleeping in parks, running away from angry shop owners who saw street kids as a nuisance, and dodging the police wasn’t the life that he wanted.

A change of fortunes

That’s when I met Bac.

Blue Dragon was still in its infancy. It was July 2004, and there was a handful of us volunteering our time to help street kids. It was the weekend and I was sitting at a cafe in Hanoi’s Old Quarter when Bac went by. I called him over and offered him a drink.

Bac’s life changed from that moment. Not just because he had someone to help him, but because he finally had a way to realise his potential.

One of our volunteers took Bac back to his mother’s home in the countryside. (That volunteer, Van, is now Blue Dragon’s lawyer, rescuing victims of human trafficking and representing them in court).

Once he was home, we supported Bac’s mother so that she could keep her son and daughter in school. Bac showed tremendous potential and finished Grade 12 with outstanding results.

Thanks to some wonderful friends, Bruce and Joanne, Bac received a scholarship to study IT at college… and then another friend, Isaac, sponsored him to go to New Zealand for further studies there.

It’s nearly 20 years since that day I met Bac at the cafe. He’s now settled in New Zealand, happily married and working in a great IT job.

His journey started on a summer’s day in 2004 when he decided to walk to the city in the hope of a better future. He could never have guessed it would take him through higher education and all the way to another country.

An old story?

After all these years, telling Bac’s story isn’t just a trip down memory lane.

His story has an almost fairytale-ending. Little boy lost makes it in the big world; a rags to riches (well, metaphorically) tale.

But the story isn’t over, because there’s a new ‘Bac’ every day.

Blue Dragon has outreach workers on the streets of Hanoi day and night looking for children who need a helping hand. Last week, we met 5 children who are new to the streets. The youngest is aged just 6 and the oldest is 15.

Why are they coming to the city? For exactly the same reasons as Bac. Desperate for opportunity. In need of support. Hoping for a chance to turn their lives around.

Like Bac, some have the potential to go on to higher studies, earn scholarships and pursue professional careers. Others might be destined for vocational courses, or for staying in their hometown and raising a family. They certainly don’t need to live and work abroad to be considered a ‘success story.’

But every one of the children we meet can be so much more than a street kid trying to survive. Every one of them deserves a chance to live in safety, to receive an education and to be masters of their own future.

Every one deserves the chance to have their own fairytale ending.

Thank you for reading! Life is a long story and we all have our part to play. Right now Blue Dragon is asking for donations to our emergency appeal to help young people just like Bac. If you would like to help with a gift of any amount, you can donate here.

Meeting Minh

Overwhelmed with problems, Minh was 15 when she left home and found herself alone on the city streets. A chance encounter changed her life.

Before becoming co-CEO at Blue Dragon, Vi Do had various roles within the organisation – including as an outreach worker. Every night, he would walk the streets of Hanoi looking for homeless children in need of a helping hand.

Today’s blog shares a recent post from Vi’s LinkedIn, telling the story of a girl he met on the streets seven years ago who recently returned to Blue Dragon as a final-year university student.

Read on to be inspired!

In life, we meet so many people and we never know how our interaction with them will touch their life.

Seven years ago, I met 15-year-old Minh on the streets of Hanoi. She was having a difficult time at home and didn’t know what to do. So she left home to give herself time and space to think through her problems.

As an outreach worker and former street kid, I knew how dangerous life on the streets can be. Getting Minh to safety and then reunited with her family was the most important thing I could do. And fortunately, with some counselling and support, she and her family were able to work through their problems.

Earlier this week, I was so happy to meet up with Minh once again. She’s now in the final months of a Communications and Journalism degree at university. Remembering her experience with Blue Dragon as a teenager, she wanted to write an article about us for her major final project.

Vi and Minh at Blue Dragon

It’s amazing to think that just a little help made such a difference. Without help, Minh’s life could have followed a very different path. But now she’s a happy, independent young woman setting out on an important career where she can help many others.

Something that she said when we met was really important to me:

“Blue Dragon helped me more than just giving me safe accommodation and resolving some personal problems. You gave me faith and drive to overcome difficulties. I am very grateful and will always remember those who helped me when I needed it most.”

When we care for someone in need, we never know the impact it will have on their life. Meeting Minh reminds me that we should never hesitate to help those around us.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation works in Vietnam to protect kids from trafficking and exploitation.

Raising the cost

Chu and Thuan were sold to a brothel far from home. The trafficker, a woman from their village, never imagined they could escape. She was wrong.

The trafficker thought it would be simple.

She knew Chu and Thuan from her village high up in the mountains. She was able to convince them, both women in their early 30s, that they could easily find a job if they went with her.

Chu and Thuan wanted nothing more than to support their families.

In post-Covid rural Vietnam, job opportunities are few and far between. The woman who approached them was familiar and seemed friendly; Chu and Thuan could never imagine she was a human trafficker who would sell them to brothels in Myanmar.

The two women endured two months of terror in violent brothels before Blue Dragon could find them and get them out. Their journey back to Vietnam over land was a nail-biting four days through jungle and across rivers. Now they are safe and their trafficker is in on the run.

Chu and Thuan on the 4-day journey home.

An economic strategy

I’ve written recently about Blue Dragon’s strategy to end human trafficking in Vietnam. We use a technique that we call “integrated clustering” in which we apply numerous interventions and activities all at the same time to stop trafficking from happening.

Our rescue operations are a part of those “clusters of activities.”

On their own, the rescues are powerful humanitarian acts, bringing home people from brutal and horrifying slavery so that they can start life over.

As part of our strategy, they are also a powerful tool to stop trafficking.

From the trafficker’s point of view, the whole purpose of deceiving and selling somebody is simply to make money.

When we rescue people from slavery, we raise the cost of human trafficking.

The woman who took Chu and Thuan couldn’t see any way that her victims could escape. But they did. They’re back in Vietnam now. With a Blue Dragon lawyer by their side, they’ve reported every detail to the police.

So while their trafficker is yet to be arrested, she’s already out of business. She can’t come back for more victims.

Every rescue raises the cost of trafficking, increasing the chances that traffickers will be caught and prosecuted.

In this way, our rescues are part of a strategy to hurt the traffickers economically, pushing them to finding other, safer ways to make their money.

A week of rescues

Chu and Thuan weren’t the only people to get to safety this week.

On Friday, we rescued a 24-year-old Vietnamese woman named May who was trafficked to China when she was 17 and sold as a bride.

And earlier in the week we assisted 3 young men and a 15-year-old boy who were enslaved on a fishing boat. They took a massive risk to escape on their own, diving into the sea and waiting to be found by another vessel. Their risk paid off and now Blue Dragon is providing legal representation so that their traffickers can be arrested.

The possibility ahead

All of this has been possible thanks to Blue Dragon’s amazing supporters.

A week ago, we launched an emergency appeal to ask for help. As this past week has shown, calls for help from people in slavery are at an all time high. So we have been asking our friends to donate so that we can keep up with this urgent demand.

We’ve had a really positive response so far and if this continues we’ll be in a strong position to respond to every call that reaches us.

Every call is urgent and time sensitive. We simply can’t tell people to wait until we have enough money. We must be ready to go at any time.

This is why Chu and Thuan are home now. And why May is home after 7 years in slavery. And why 4 young men are safely on land instead of being held captive at sea.

When we raise the cost of human trafficking, the traffickers must think twice. Forcing them to stop their abuse is a vital part of this effort to keep people safe.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is asking for help. Please donate to our emergency appeal so that every call for rescue can be answered.

Emergency appeal

Human trafficking is on the rise, threatening to overwhelm Blue Dragon’s resources. But this crisis is also an opportunity to change lives.

In the coming days, Blue Dragon supporters will be receiving an email asking for help. Keep an eye on your inbox.

It’s one of these things about working in a non-profit. The work that we do saves lives and transforms communities; but it’s totally dependent on the goodness of people who choose to donate.

For Blue Dragon, this is a particularly important point. We deal with people in crisis all the time. All the time.

Not a day goes by without a call for help from someone who has been trafficked, enslaved, and abused.

Not a day goes by without us meeting homeless kids on the city streets, separated from family and in considerable danger.

We’re working around the clock to keep people safe. We walk the streets and the parks at night, searching under bridges and in abandoned building sites looking for children. We arrange and execute rescue operations to get people out of brothels and forced labour camps in neighbouring countries.

A Blue Dragon staff member talks with homeless children.

There’s never a day without someone in urgent need of help.

Since we began, Blue Dragon has been rescuing people who had nobody else to turn to. If someone is in danger and there’s nobody else to help, we always say yes, no matter how difficult the situation is.

And so the idea that one day we might not be able to respond to every call is our greatest fear. That’s why we ask for support from the global community; donations mean that kids get rescued.

What would have happened?

Right now, Blue Dragon is facing a crisis.

As the world moves on from the days of Covid restrictions, human trafficking has evolved and worsened.

Before Covid, Blue Dragon was mostly rescuing people who had been trafficked to one country, China. Now we’re rescuing from five countries, and the number of calls for help are at a sustained all-time high.

Same with kids on the streets of Hanoi. We’re meeting more homeless children and often these kids are not yet even teens. Most have been driven to the city by poverty and desperation. Once here, they are targets for all sorts of exploitation.

Just this weekend, we came across two boys aged 16 sleeping out in the open. They had come to the city believing they would find work so they could support their families financially. Within a few days they had exhausted the little money they brought with them and had no way to call home for help. They were dirty, hungry and afraid.

If we hadn’t met them when we did, what would have happened to them?

But with the level of need so high, this is a real risk that we are facing. For the first time in our history, we’re struggling to keep up with the huge need that we are seeing.

A crisitunity

In a long-past episode of TV classic The Simpsons, Lisa said to Homer:

Did you know that the Chinese use the same word for “crisis” as they do for “opportunity”?

To which her father replied:

Yes. “Crisitunity”! You’re right.

I’m not sure that I agree that every crisis is an opportunity, but some certainly are.

And this current situation is definitely a crisitunity.

The need in the community is close to overwhelming us. But if we can make it through, there’s a world of good that we can achieve.

The kids who are out on the city streets can be safe.

The children, women and men who have been trafficked into slavery can be set free.

It’s all possible. Even with heightened need here in Vietnam and around the world, nobody needs to be left behind.

That’s why we’re asking for help. We’ve launched an Emergency Appeal, which you can find here on our website. We’re asking our supporters to give a donation of any amount so that we can respond to this elevated level of need that we are seeing.

A lot is at stake. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

If you’re able to help, please do. It may just save somebody’s life.

Your donation to the Blue Dragon emergency appeal will pay for rescue operations and emergency care for young people who have been trafficked or are homeless.

Still fighting

Dozens of boys were raped by a foreign doctor. Despite the clear evidence, justice is yet to be fully achieved.
WARNING: this post discusses child sexual abuse.

Ban is starting a new job this week. Again.

His family doesn’t understand why he just can’t stick with anything. He’s a young man now but doesn’t seem interested in getting married or settling down. He doesn’t have any close friends and he has no plans for the future.

Ban is drifting through life from one day to the next. He seems to live without any hope.

Ban is one of the many rape victims of Olivier Larroque, a French doctor who was living in Vietnam until his arrest in 2013.

Larroque was notorious on the streets of Hanoi. All the homeless kids knew of him.

Every night, he rode his bicycle to the lake where street kids gathered and picked out a boy to abuse.

The children were broke and hungry. Many had such low self esteem that they didn’t care for their own safety. As much as they hated Larroque, they would go with him if they were desperate enough.

Larroque would take the boy back to his apartment to rape him and film the abuse. Then he would send the boy away and often go back to the lake to choose a second victim for the night.

A street kid alone in a park.

At that time, Vietnamese law was not clear about whether a male could be the victim of a sexual crime. Blue Dragon’s work led to a change in the law in 2016, but when Larroque was abusing children there was a loophole that made it very difficult for the authorities to take action.

Larroque’s victims were so afraid that photos of their abuse would be shared online that one brave teen stole a memory card from the doctor’s camera to give us the evidence needed to stop him. Believing that the French police were in a stronger position to ensure justice, we handed it to them.

A few months later, interpol issued an arrest warrant and Larroque was extradited to France.

Despite the high number of victims and the photographic evidence, it took nine years for the case to reach court. For most of that time, Larroque was living as a free man. The victims of his abuse never heard a word from the French government about what was happening with the case – it seemed to have just been forgotten.

And then last year, news reached us that Larroque was missing. Nobody knew where he was.

The police found him two weeks later and a date for his trial was set. When the trial finally came around… Larroque was gone again. Nobody had seen fit to lock him up despite the fact that he had already absconded once.

Larroque’s court case went ahead without him present and he received the maximum penalty: 20 years in prison.

But with his whereabouts unknown, the court decision is just theoretical. And if he is found, he has the choice to appeal the decision and have the whole case heard again.

Meanwhile, the court also ruled that some compensation be paid – far below the level requested, and only some of the victims will receive it. Ban is one of the boys who will receive nothing.

There have been many other injustices along the way, too.

Like the NGO that joined the court case as a “civil party” and leaked parts of the children’s statements to the media, without the children’s consent.

And the fact that Larroque’s employer, the French Hospital of Hanoi, has never so much as expressed concern for the victims of his crimes. They have no legal responsibility for what happened, but it seems very poor form that a hospital would have no interest in the welfare of children who were raped by one of their senior doctors.

Despite Larroque’s arrest and sentencing, his victims are yet to see justice done.

Through these years, there have of course been some bright spots.

Larroque’s victims have been most fortunate to receive free legal representation from some excellent pro bono lawyers.

Emma Day of Child Redress International took a leading advocacy role from the start, along with Shireen Irani of iProbono. Christopher Mesnooh of Fieldfisher has been part of the case for years and represented the boys in court late in 2022.

There were many failings in the system, but the boys did have some wonderful support – and still do.

The case is not yet over and we are continuing to advocate for them to receive compensation.

Although the boys are all young men now, Blue Dragon is continuing to help several, like Ban, who still need counseling and material support to cope with all that has happened.

For our world to be right and for people to be whole, there must be justice. In this case, we are not there yet.

But we are still fighting for it.

You can read more about the case in this VICE article; and you can see the original news stories about Larroque’s arrest back in 2013. If you share our vision of a world where every child is free from exploitation, visit Blue Dragon’s website to learn more.