Perfectly imperfect

Blue Dragon rescued Tan from slavery. A year later, he was on his way to prison for a serious crime.

One question I’m often asked about our work with young people: What is Blue Dragon’s success rate?

Here on the blog and in Blue Dragon’s public communications, we want to share inspiring stories.

Stories of kids we met in extreme circumstances like slavery or homelessness, but who are now thriving. There are plenty of such tales to tell.

But do all the kids ‘make it’? Are we cherry picking our stories? Or worse still, are we cherry picking the kids we will help based on those we think have the most potential?

Part of the answer to these questions lies in the name of my blog. Life is a long story. It’s never smooth or easy, and there’s no true story without major challenges along the way.

And not every story has a happy ending.

Something I’m proud of at Blue Dragon is that we embrace the nuance. We accept that things don’t always turn out as we would wish. After all, that’s life.

One of my colleagues recently commented to me that our work is “perfectly imperfect” and I’ve been thinking a lot about what she means.

About 12 years ago, we rescued a little boy named Tan from a sweatshop. He had been trafficked by a gang that preyed on extremely poor families, promising them free vocational training for the kids and a chance to earn good money. It was all lies. But these families were desperate, living in plastic and bamboo shacks and hadn’t been to school themselves.

So after Blue Dragon brought Tan home, we helped his family to turn things around. We built them a new house and paid for all the kids to go to school. We even helped Tan’s mother start a small business raising fish in a nearby lagoon.

For the first time in their lives, everything was going great.

And then Tan burnt down his school.

As he tells the story, it was something of an accident. He’d actually just intended to burn some of his teacher’s files. Having failed an exam, he wanted to get rid of the ‘evidence’ so he broke in with a friend at night and started a small fire.

But whether or not he meant to, Tan caused major damage to the village school. He was arrested and sent to prison, and his family felt a terrible shame for what their son had done.

So – a success story?

If you’d asked me then, I certainly couldn’t have agreed. That a boy we had rescued from slavery then went and burnt down his school wasn’t exactly something we were keen to promote.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Several years later, when Tan was released from prison, he knew he had to make amends. He could never repay the school or the community. And there was nothing he could do to erase his family’s shame.

What he could do, though, was turn his own life around. So he travelled away from home in search of a pagoda where he could live, study and work.

Tan is almost 30 now, and just a few months ago he completed his high school studies. He lives in the pagoda and wears the traditional brown garb along with his shaved head. His whole life now is devoted to the service of others. And he loves it.

Each year, Tan calls me and asks to meet. When we’ve finished our tea, he hands me an envelope with a donation for Blue Dragon: usually $50 or $100. I don’t know how he can even earn that much, but he insists that I take it and he is delighted to be contributing.

So, again – a success story?

Well, now it’s easier to say ‘yes’. But far from perfect. And who knows what might be next in Tan’s journey?

As an organisation, Blue Dragon can only take credit for the good that Tan does now if we also take the blame for his arson over a decade ago.

Which brings us right back to the question: What’s our success rate in working with kids?

I can’t help but think it’s a meaningless question. However, I do have something of an answer.

Blue Dragon can’t change anyone’s future. All we can do is offer. We can hold our hand open with the treasure of a lifetime sitting on our palm for anyone to take. All they have to do in return is accept it.

We’re successful if we make that offer. If we do all we can to encourage a child to choose the right path; if we go the extra mile to make it possible for them to change. If we’re prepared to wait until they’re ready, in their own time, to truly want that treasure.

And we’re a failure if we hold this treasure too high for a child to reach; or give it away too easily, before the child sincerely accepts it. Every child is different and needs a unique level of challenge, as well as a unique level of support to attain it.

Our success is in being there for kids when they need us, without judgement, meeting them at their level.

Over the years, there have been kids who have broken into our offices. Stolen staff’s personal belongings. Joined skinhead gangs. Even committed violent crimes. Unlike Tan, not so many then have an epiphany and commit their lives to the service of others.

Even if we could see into their future and know what they would one day do, we would still care for them in their moment of need.

Blue Dragon’s work isn’t about helping just the kids who will one day be ‘highfliers’. It’s about giving everyone a chance.

And if we do that, then we’ve succeeded – no matter what happens next.

Thanks for reading! If you share our vision of a world where every child has the chance to thrive, be sure to visit Blue Dragon’s website to learn more about what we do.

7 thoughts on “Perfectly imperfect”

  1. michael, thank you so much for your continued support for these young souls who need so much- I know some have broken your heart, but I know so ma many more have made you proud as you continue to change the lives of so many-
    So proud to call you my friend!!
    Keep up the good work .
    Lori Daniel

  2. Hi Michael,
    Such amazing work you guys do. There is never a failure in my mind because everyone you teach out to knows you have offered help unconditionally. So somewhere in the most damage soul you have reached out to is the knowledge the someone cares

  3. Well said, Michael! I view your “success rate” much as I do our family’s garden: We tend the soil and plant the seeds, but what results is not always what we expected! Weeds…sun-wilted plants…nasty bugs and beetles…even our precious border collie Rosie has taken to eating those plump, juicy cherry tomatoes.

    Yes, our gardening failures are many. But we keep on tending the land and planting those seeds, hoping they’ll come to fruition. Occasionally this happens, and there is great rejoicing–well worth what we invested in it.

    I appreciate all the seeds that Blue Dragon has planted, and am grateful for you and all on your staff who care so deeply for those who many in our world would deem “the last, the least, and the lost.” May you all be blessed as you continue to care for your garden there….

  4. Hi,
    I think this story is very interesting and worth reading. Many kids in the world deserve a bright future!

    Thank you so much for making these children’s lives better.


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