Good – for poor people

When it comes to charity, why do we give people in poverty services and assistance that we would never accept ourselves?

I was sitting in a café chatting to the owner, who asked about my work.

When I told her, she pulled out a plastic bottle stuffed with discarded plastic bags. With a huge smile on her face, she proudly told me that she was involved in a project to collect discarded plastic to build houses.

Fantastic idea! But her enthusiasm gave me pause when she continued: These houses will be good for poor people.

The idea of creatively using waste rather than sending it to landfill is one that I wholeheartedly support. But I have to question why such an initiative is suitable only for poor people. Why not for those who are considered middle class or wealthy?

Would the cafe owner live in such a house herself?

Last year, Blue Dragon built 100 houses for people in extreme poverty.

An architect and a builder designed the houses, with different styles for different regions of the country. In the northern mountains, we built houses to reflect the same style as the traditional houses around them. In central Vietnam, where flooding is common, houses were built up above flooding levels with escape hatches in the rooves to prevent drowning.

Before:

After:

While we had several designs for each family to choose from, they could modify their choice according to the number of residents and their specific needs.

In other words, every family got what they needed and wanted, rather than simply what Blue Dragon decided to give them. The result is that the 100 houses are all unique and match the local conditions. There’s no noticeable difference between the houses of the “poor people” and their neighbours.

And best of all, many families have told us that they now live in their “dream house.” By having input into every stage of the process, from design to construction, their new homes are truly their own.

Building houses, building dreams

Our work with young people follows the same principles.

When Blue Dragon was beginning 20 years ago, it was common to hear people say things like: Disadvantaged boys should learn motorcycle repair. Girls should learn sewing or cooking.

Those same limits were never imposed on children from wealthier families, who had the option to go to university or take on any job they were interested in. 

Of course, some Blue Dragon kids do want to study motorbike repair. Or cooking or sewing. And we make sure they have that option.

But we also offer scholarships for school leavers to study at a tertiary level. Right now we have about 160 kids in college and university.

The point is that every child should be able to find their strengths and achieve their own dream, not just do whatever is considered “good for poor people”.

Luong’s story exemplifies this.

When we found him, he was working in a sweatshop at the age of 14. Now he’s an outstanding pastry chef and chocolatier, working in five star resorts and teaching other young people his skills.

His story features this week on the Blue Dragon website.

In the same way, we’ve had girls and boys study abroad in jobs from engineering to medicine to teaching… And also some who want to work as farmers or stay at home and raise a family.

Whatever the dream, that’s what we’re here for.

Because what’s really “good for poor people” is the same as what’s good for all of us.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation works in Vietnam to end human trafficking.

One thought on “Good – for poor people”

  1. Michael, you and the Blue Dragon team, past and present, have touched and changed so many lives. Thank you.

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