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.

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