Boi is a pretty cool dude.
He’s wearing his hair long today, but every other time you see him he has a new style. He’s grown quite tall in the past 2 years and walks with a confident, sometimes cocky, stride. He’s no longer the skinny little kid we met 5 years ago, homeless on the streets of Hanoi and so deeply drawn into himself.
Back then, Hanoi was a different city and Boi was a different person.
He had come to the city to escape an abusive family, and had found even more abuse on the streets. At that time, Hanoi was just starting to experience a wave of child abuse, mostly against young boys who, like Boi, were homeless.
Word had gotten around that the kids in Hanoi were easy prey. A few foreigners living here, and quite a few local men, became bold in approaching underage boys around the lakes and in the parks. They organised pick-up spots in public places at night, set up online chat groups to exchange information and arrange meetings, and abused the boys sometimes right there in the parks and internet cafes – they were completely unafraid of getting caught.
Vietnamese law did not recognise the sexual abuse of males (it does now) so it was incredibly difficult for police to stop this – but not impossible. Blue Dragon’s lawyers identified a loophole under which people could be arrested for abusing underage boys, and so people started getting caught and charged, and gradually the tide of unfettered sexual abuse receded.
For Boi, it was too late.
He had already been through it all. How he survived, I cannot imagine. But he did. It took several years for him to learn to trust again and to be able to share his feelings. At Blue Dragon he found love and acceptance – care without any strings attached – and he started to thrive.
Early this year, it came time for Boi to move on. He had turned 18 and was itching for independence and his own income. So he moved away from Blue Dragon, way across the other side of the city, and started in a new job.
Boi doesn’t get to come back and visit very often as his work takes him out of town most days. We stay in touch all the time, and just recently he took a few days to come back and see us.
Chatting over a coffee, Boi told me that he loves his new job and he’s learning lots – but in another year or two, he wants to come back and work at Blue Dragon.
Secretly I’m thrilled. About 10% of our staff are young adults who we once helped, and they play roles across the organisation, from administrative jobs to social workers to formal leadership positions. Boi would be a brilliant addition to the team. He’s quirky and clever, hard working, and the most loyal guy you could ever meet. His experiences on the streets mean he has a deep personal understanding of what the Blue Dragon kids face.
But I need Boi to have time away from us, finding his own way and coming back when he can truly say he’s independent and has succeeded on his own.
So I told him that I thought his idea of coming to work with us was great, but asked him why he would want to do so. He is happy in his new job, he has many friends where he works, and he has already proven to himself that he no longer needs Blue Dragon to stand tall in the world. He’s building a great life for himself – so why come back?
Boi just shrugged, in the way teens do, pretending to be nonchalant. But when he answered, he kept his eyes on the floor, trying to hide his emotion.
“Because,” he said, “Blue Dragon is my family.”
Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.