Years in the making

For Blue Dragon kids, one night of the year holds a special significance. But it’s not the night itself that matters most; it’s why they are there.

Up on the stage, Ty is just like any other little girl.

She beams with pride to be standing with the bigger kids, arms stretched out to receive her certificate.

She’s 8, but this is the first time she’s ever received an award. For anything! And her first time on a stage, too. The huge grin on her face tells the whole story.

Ty’s certificate is for the effort that she’s made over the past year. Because her big achievement in 2022 was not coming top of the class; it was for being in class at all. This is the first year she’s attended school every day and completed all of her lessons. A major achievement for this little girl, and a milestone worth acknowledging.

This is the annual ‘Blue Dragon Tet Awards’, an evening of laughter, performances and certificates to celebrate the wonderful girls and boys of Blue Dragon.

Kids showing off their certificates (and some staff, too).

Ty was one of 300 kids who came along for the party. And many more people came along who are no longer ‘kids’, but once were up on that stage just like Ty.

There was Yen, one of our ‘old girls’ who lives in Finland now, where she works as an engineer. And Linh, who works in New Zealand in the IT field. He’s back in Hanoi at the moment for his wedding, which all the Blue Dragon staff will be attending.

Tinh, who owns a mobile phone shop, came along; and Thanh, who was recently released from prison and has started a job as a carpenter; and Hien, who manages a cafe in Hanoi. Another young woman, Trinh, is now the president of the Association for Blind People in her district of a rural province.

Two of the young men at Tet Awards work as 3D graphics animators. Nam owns his own restaurant. A few work in informal ‘money lending’ businesses, which we wish they didn’t but we accept that as young adults they have to make their own choices. Many have their own families now, so quite a few brought their own children along to join the fun.

Enjoying the performances.

These are all young men and women who grew up in terrible hardship. Some were street kids; some were trafficked; all have experienced extreme poverty.

But at the Tet Awards, there’s no evidence of that. Everyone dresses up in their best outfits and the focus is totally on the good in our lives. We don’t pretend that life is easy; it’s just that for the evening, we find what there is to celebrate in life.

The Blue Dragon Hip Hop Crew rocks the stage.

And that’s the real success of Blue Dragon. Every child we meet, like Ty, faces complex, grinding problems. We work with them over the years – not just for a day, and not even for months. Often it’s years.

When they’re ready, they move out into the world to lead their own amazing lives. Even then, they remain a part of Blue Dragon. If they face some troubles they’ll often come back for a chat or to ask for some assistance; but they also come back just to catch up over a coffee, or to introduce their own families to us.

Tet Awards is only one night of the year, but it’s years in the making. And by far, the best thing about the evening is to see the kids shining.

Whether they’re 8 year old Ty, or Yen visiting from Finland, they know that they are loved, that they are welcome, and that they matter to somebody.

You can support Blue Dragon’s life-changing work at:

A single wish

If you could change the world by making a single wish, what would you do?

There was once an episode of The X Files in which Agent Mulder found a genie rolled up in a carpet.

And strange as it may seem, that episode of old-school sci-fi television has a lot to do with my wish for the world in 2023.

Whatever he wanted, all he had to do was ask. Three wishes were Mulder’s for the taking!

There was no catch, but there was a “but.” He could have whatever he asked for, but the genie was not generous in her interpretation of wishes.

You see, she hated what she was. She had been born a regular girl in the 1500s; a French peasant who by chance happened upon a genie in a bottle. Her own wish – after receiving turnips and a mule – was for great power and long life.

And so she was transformed into a magical being, destined to live three wishes at a time. A gemstone embedded in her nose marked her as a genie.

Her whole existence became centered around granting small-minded people obscene riches – and sometimes extended body parts – that inevitably hastened their demise. Her beneficiaries had very short life expectancies.

So what would Mulder wish for?

Fans of the show will know that Mulder’s life was all about finding “the truth.” What was the alien conspiracy threatening the planet? Who was behind the abduction of his sister and the murder of his father? What was the government covering up?

Given that history, it’s no surprise that his first wish was: Peace on earth.

It was granted with a nod of the genie’s head… at which moment, every person other than Mulder vanished.

For the first time ever, the planet was at peace. But this was not what Mulder had intended.

His second wish: Bring everybody back. (Incidentally, this was one of the very few times in the show’s long history that Mulder ever swore at anybody).

Mulder and the genie

And now, with a single wish left, Mulder had the opportunity to change the world for good, once and for all. Such an opportunity would never come again. Everything hinged on his next words.

What was Mulder’s third wish?

The audience never heard his words, but we did see the results. The episode’s final scene was of the young woman sitting in a cafe, watching the world go by. She wore a smile on her face, but no gemstone on her nose. Mulder’s final wish was the she could have her life back as she wanted.

Did Mulder change the world? Or did he waste his most precious opportunity?

I think that Mulder realised that changing the whole world with a single wish was simply impossible. And I think that he’s right.

Nothing that you or I can do will alleviate all the world’s problems.

There’s no amount of money that will end suffering or bring that elusive “peace on earth.” There’s no “silver bullet” to end poverty or human trafficking, and there will always be war.

What we can do is change the world of another human being.

Even if we cannot end hunger and malnutrition for everyone, we can still provide meals for a family, or even for a community.

We can’t end homelessness, but we can open our own home to someone who needs a roof over their head.

This doesn’t mean we should “think small.” In fact, I strongly believe in being bold in our dreams; we should set out to create a better world for all.

But it starts with just one person. There’s no “systemic change” without an individual life transformed.

So, start with one person. Just don’t stop there.

Our world could be a fantastic place – if we make it so.

In 2023, let’s all set that as our new year’s resolution. A wonderful world. Starting, right now, with the people who we have the power to help.

First Christmas

As we celebrate the season of Christmas, Blue Dragon reaches a special milestone…

It’s Christmas!

To all Blue Dragon’s friends who celebrate Christmas, the kids and staff send you our warmest wishes.

And as a special gift… here’s a look back at the very first “Blue Dragon Christmas” 20 years ago. Christmas 2002.

At that time, we weren’t yet an official organisation. We were just some volunteers helping a few street kids who wanted to change their lives. None of us had any sense of what was to come!

(Digital photography was not what it is today, either).

And that was 20 Christmases ago! All the kids are grown up now and have gone on to raise their own families, start their own businesses, and find their own way in life. We’re still in touch with most and it’s been wonderful watching them become independent, happy young adults.

So now, here’s to the next 20 years!

Happy Christmas, one and all.

Cardboard. Neighborhood.

It’s easy to think of street kids as helpless urchins wanting to receive help. This touching story turns that stereotype on its head.




Society has lots of ways to describe street kids. Most of them are in the negative.

With Christmas coming, Blue Dragon is proud to share a story that challenges that negative view; a story that sees street kids for who they really are.




Vivian Pham, the Australian Vietnamese author of award-winning novel The Coconut Children, has written this short story as a gift to Blue Dragon’s friends. And artist Alaa Alfaraon has added beautiful illustrations to make this ebook even more special.

Please download and enjoy this gift to you for being a part of Blue Dragon in 2022.

Life really is a long story. At times we all need to take a moment to pause and treasure it.

You can download the story here.

Instrument of joy

Life is tough for kids who are homeless or working in jobs far from home. It can take a special effort to show them that they are cared for.

Son is a Street Outreach Worker for Blue Dragon.

When he was a child, he was a street kid himself. Blue Dragon’s Street Outreach team helped Son get off the streets and find a new path. Now he works full time in that same team that changed his life. It’s his way of giving back, and he’s great at it.

Most of the kids he meets are homeless. Many have come to Hanoi from the mountains in search of a job and instead find themselves destitute on the city streets.

But some of the kids he meets do have jobs. They might be working in factories or in restaurants. Out of work hours they gather in a park or by the side of the road where they eat, play and watch the world go by.

There’s one group of kids Son meets regularly. They’re from a province of southern Vietnam and migrated north to work in a factory. The kids are all boys, all young teens, and all from an ethnic minority community. Sometimes Son has difficulty talking with them because their mother tongue is a language different to his.

Far from their home in a remote village, where the food and culture are familiar and they have family to care for them, the boys feel like outsiders. Their skin is dark and their facial features look different to those of most Hanoians. They sense very strongly that they do not belong.

So Son makes a point of going to see them whenever he can. He wants to build trust with them; wants them to share with him their struggles and their dreams. Eventually he hopes he can help them return to their village where they will be much safer and find jobs closer to home. These kids don’t know him well enough yet, so despite his many efforts they remain guarded. But slowly they are opening up.

Recently, one of the boys told Son how much they miss music. Several of them play the guitar and they love to sing… but of course, the factory where they work and live has no guitar.

And so Son set out to find one. The Blue Dragon centre had an old guitar that nobody was using, so he took it for the factory kids and delivered it to them on Sunday night.

They were gathered on some grass by the road, where nobody bothers them, smoking cigarettes and eating rice. Son’s arrival – with a guitar! – was a cause of great excitement.

What brought such joy to the boys wasn’t just the guitar. It wasn’t just the chance to sing some songs from home and to be totally distracted from the hardships of life.

It was that Son cared so much for them that he listened to them, went in search of something that they wanted – something valuable! – and gave them, as their own possession, an instrument of real happiness.

They sat by the road playing and singing, ignoring the cold. Son eventually had to leave them, to carry on his nightly job of looking for homeless kids. But he left them with such smiles and pleasure.

Tonight, they have a reason to believe that life can be something better.

Thanks for being part of the Life Is A Long Story blog. It’s great to be back and I look forward to sharing more stories.

Aaand we’re back. Almost.

After a year-long hiatus, the Blue Dragon blog is returning soon.

It’s time to start blogging again!

Back in March, I took a break from the weekly posts. I’ve been blogging on and off for about 15 years and was no longer feeling ‘the vibe.’

Now the vibe is back and I will soon start blogging regularly. This time, the stories will be more varied and I’ll also share some personal and professional insights.

Be sure to subscribe and share!


Far from their families, faced with danger and hunger, two boys feared they would never see home again.

Vinh and Tien had often dreamt about life beyond their mountain village.

The two boys, aged 15 and 16, grew up together, best friends at school despite being in different classes.

When COVID hit and their families lost their jobs, Vinh and Tien decided it was time to step out into the world. They felt an obligation to help their parents and saw an opportunity to travel far from home for the first time in their lives. It would be an adventure, and they could send money back for their families.

As happens so often, the teens quickly found that reality was very different to their dreams.

Once they arrived in Hanoi, after a long overnight bus ride, there were simply no jobs for them. Businesses were closed and nobody was hiring – and besides, the boys were still so young.

The following days became a nightmare. Vinh and Tien were hungry and homeless. They quickly became the victims of scammers who took their identity documents and left them with nothing.

By the time Blue Dragon’s outreach workers saw them in an abandoned construction site, they were exhausted and distrustful. Everyone who had offered to help them so far had only robbed or tricked them.

It took some time to assure the boys that they would be safe at our emergency shelter, but once they were there everything changed. A good night’s sleep, some healthy meals, and some other kids to play with made a world of difference.

A few days later, the boys were ready to go home. Blue Dragon staff traveled with them up into the northern mountains of Sa Pa to meet their family and community and offer assistance for the boys to stay safely at home.

Vinh, Tien and a Blue Dragon social worker make the journey home.

Not all of Blue Dragon’s stories end so neatly – life, after all, really is a long story. But throughout the years, we’ve helped over 2,000 young people like Vinh and Tien return to their families.

That includes kids we met homeless on the city streets as well as the many victims of human trafficking we’ve rescued from places they were held in slavery.

In this work, it can be hard to define ‘success’, because what each person needs is always unique. The way we help one person might not resemble how we have helped others.

Without a doubt, though, it’s a sure success to reunite a child with their loving family. Taking kids like Vinh and Tien home, meeting with their parents, and seeing how we can help to support them in the future is perhaps the best ending that we can hope for.

This has been the final blog post, but the work of Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation continues. Follow us on social media to see new stories and updates.

A war without glory

Ly was 19 when she was trafficked and sold into slavery. Two years later, she is finally free; but her victory is not a glorious ending to her story.

Conversations about human trafficking often use the language of war.

We’re fighting slavery. Combatting human trafficking. And anti-trafficking movements – like anti-war movements – abound.

If the fight against trafficking really is like a war, it is a war without hope of any glory.

The world is taken at present with the example of Ukrainian people, whose courage and determination to fight is inspiring. Stories like those of parents and grandparents arming themselves with molotov cocktails, or farmers stealing tanks, make us all wonder if we could be so brave should we be in the same situation.

But for victims of human trafficking, the fight for freedom does not always look so heroic.

Surviving is often a matter of waiting and looking for an opportunity – perhaps holding on for years. While many do resist, it is often safer to succumb, to submit, while secretly keeping alive the hope that one day there will be a chance for escape.

Those who do survive trafficking are likely then to find themselves blamed for their own ordeal. I wrote recently on the blog about this issue, and how even people meaning to do well may be putting survivors through renewed trauma.

Last week, Ly’s ordeal of slavery in Myanmar came to an end after two very long years. She was 19 when she was tricked into following a friend, believing they were off to find a job in a restaurant.

Her time locked into brothels in the Shan state of Myanmar was brutal. Added to the constant violence and threats was her personal shame at being deceived; her failure to provide for her family by finding a proper job; and her guilt at obeying her captors despite the horror she felt.

Blue Dragon helped Ly and two other young women to escape and return to Vietnam by traveling overland. They arrived at the border on Tuesday evening and are now reunited with their families.

But this is no glorious victory against human trafficking for Ly and her friends. It is a victory – given all that has happened, they can be proud just to be alive. Calling for help as they did was a massive risk, and they showed extraordinary bravery to undertake the long journey back to Vietnam.

However, their fight is not over. Being safely home is not the end of Ly’s war. She will live with this trauma for the rest of her life; we can help with that, through counselling and material assistance, but nobody who survives the experience of slavery can simply put it behind them and ‘move on’. The war lives with them, under their skin, for a very long time.

Our world needs peace: an end to war and a start to people living respectfully with each other. Even though the battle that Ly has fought might not have a glorious ending, she should nonetheless inspire us all – simply for surviving.

This is the penultimate blog post! After 6 years of sharing weekly inspiration, I will take a break from the end of March to find some new places and means to tell the stories of Blue Dragon. You can continue follow Blue Dragon’s social media to see more regular updates!

More than just a game

Nam joined a football team for street kids because he simply wanted a chance to play. Before long, the games had changed his life.

The headline figures are pretty exciting.

Over 1,000 people rescued from slavery. That means: children who were in sweatshops; women and girls who were forced into prostitution or sold into marriages; young men sold onto fishing boats or into gold mines.

Almost 6,000 kids back in school. That’s boys and girls from extreme poverty in every grade from pre-school through to university.

And then there’s more than 600 homeless children reunited with their families. That means children who ran away from home or went in search for work but ended up destitute, now back with their parents and communities.

Blue Dragon’s work is best known for these serious, life changing acts of charity that have the power to transform lives.

But there’s another figure that’s equally important. Since we began, Blue Dragon has played over 3,000 games of football.

This can seem a little out of place. If we’re rescuing kids from such terrible situations and helping them find sustainable, long-term solutions to their problems, where do these games fit in to the big picture?

In fact, football has always been a part of our organisation. We began playing football with street kids even before Blue Dragon was officially registered. It was a way to meet street kids on their own turf. From there, they could access our help and services.

Nam was one of those kids who came to Blue Dragon in our early days. He didn’t want help to go back to school because he needed to earn money. Everything he earned was for his mother and younger brothers in the countryside. But he was a passionate football player and agreed to come to our weekly games.

It was his only leisure activity each week and he never, ever missed it.

The Sunday games that Nam attended allowed him to make new friends and build trust with those of us who were starting Blue Dragon. When we offered to help him have surgery to fix a problem with his throat, he was thrilled. His mother came to the city and sat by his hospital bedside as he recovered. She was immensely grateful that her son was finally receiving medical attention.

After a year of playing football, Nam trusted us enough to seek our help. He still needed to earn money so he wanted to find a job rather than a training program. We introduced him to a man named Donald Berger, one of Hanoi’s best restauranters, and Nam’s life changed forever.

Nam went on to win awards as a chef, and for a few years he worked part time for Blue Dragon, cooking up the meals we serve to the kids every day. These days he’s the head chef for a company that has 7 restaurants, so his hands are quite full.

He did, however, introduce us to another great chef to take his place: a woman named Trang, who just happens to be his wife. She’s as passionate about serving up meals to homeless children and survivors of trafficking as Nam. She’s also an award-winning chef in her own right.

Nam and Trang at work in the kitchen

Looking back at Nam’s story, we can see how much his life has changed. And it all started with a game of football.

There are many kids like Nam once was: not yet ready to take the plunge and commit to changing their lives, but glad of the chance to play some football.

Blue Dragon United, as the team is known, has an important place in our work. It doesn’t grab the headlines like a rescue from a brothel or a child trafficker arrested and imprisoned, but for the children who play, these games mean so much.

They’re more than just a game. They’re a chance to be a child, to laugh and play despite everything else that’s happening in the world. And that game of football might be the moment that changes a life forever.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.

Real freedom

Sẻng’s rescue from slavery should have marked the beginning of her freedom. But a fear of what was yet to come meant that she could not truly be free.

The rescue operation went exactly to plan.

We located Sẻng in China, about 500km from the border from Vietnam. A team was able to get her back to an official checkpoint within 24 hours. Shortly after, she was safely back in Vietnam.

Sẻng’s terrifying 4 months in slavery as a forced bride were over.

But what happened next was a little unusual.

Once across the border, Sẻng asked if it was ok to NOT give a statement to the police.

Normally we accompany trafficking survivors to meet the police and make a formal report, so that their traffickers can be caught. Under Vietnamese law, victims of crime have the right to refuse to make a statement, but usually survivors are eager to report the crime.

When asked why she was reluctant, Sẻng explained that she wanted nothing more than to be at home with her family. She feared that if they knew what had happened to her, she would be judged and cast out of the community.

Sẻng thanked us for responding to her call for help and bringing her back to Vietnam. But, in a quiet, nervous, voice, she asked us to now let her go home alone and to not contact her again.

Sẻng knew that we could offer legal representation, emergency shelter, counselling, and assistance to go back to school or get a job… but all she wanted was to forget the nightmare she had just escaped and return to her home. She had already planned in detail how she would explain her absence to her family; they would never know that she had been trafficked and sold, or that she had ever stepped foot in China.

Respecting her wishes, we handed Sẻng the bus fare back to her home town. With a little extra cash to buy new clothes and some food, Sẻng stepped onto the bus and said farewell. With our number programmed into her phone, she was welcome to call any time should she change her mind. The decision was hers.

Sẻng’s desire for total anonymity – her desire to put the experience of slavery completely behind her as though it never happened – is a little unusual, but it isn’t surprising.

Sadly, Sẻng feared that her return home after trafficking would be marred by the weight of expectations heaped upon her.

It doesn’t happen to everyone we rescue, but it is common. Neighbours, relatives, and even complete strangers feel they have the right to weigh in with their opinion.

“She should have been more careful.”

“Maybe she wanted to marry a Chinese man and then changed her mind.”

“Such a stupid girl.”

Some people will quickly blame her family: “They must have sold her.” This myth is one that media and even some international NGOs often perpetuate. It’s rarely true.

Still others, often with good intentions, will lay their own expectations on her: “She should speak up and be an advocate for survivors.”

“She should share her story to help other girls avoid being trafficked.”

Women and girls who survive the ordeal of human trafficking have so much to deal with. It’s common that their trafficker makes them feel responsible for what has happened; they may blame themselves for being the victim of a crime.

Having friends, family, and everybody else chime in to add to this burden is more than some can bear. Sẻng knew this, and just wanted to be free. Even though that would mean she was denied any help to recover from her ordeal.

Every year when International Women’s Day rolls around, a theme is chosen to highlight a particular issue. This year, that theme is “Break the Bias.”

Sẻng’s story reminds us of how important it is to listen to women and girls who survive the experience of human trafficking – and not to listen to the biases we’ve learned over the years.

The experience that each survivor has had, and the assistance that they need to recover, is very individual and very personal. No two people are the same.

Whatever story we once read online, or whatever anecdote we heard a friend share, shouldn’t shape our judgement of women who have been trafficked. We have no right to ask them to meet our expectations.

Sẻng made the decision that she believed was best for her. She has every right to do so; but she should never have had to fear as she did.

To be truly free from slavery, women and girls also need to be free from the biases and judgement that are so frequently cast upon them.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is working to end human trafficking.