Ready to receive

Nam was in danger on the city streets. But the offer of help led to some unintended consequences and even greater danger.

I knew he was in danger the first time I saw him.

Nam was begging by the road, in the shadow of a giant statue overlooking one of Hanoi’s many lakes. He was 16 but looked much younger. Many passersby on motorbikes, stopped at the traffic lights, took pity on him and threw money into his outheld cap.

In the blistering heat, dressed in dirty rags, Nam looked pitiful. And his reason for being there was tragic. His mother had died many years ago and his father was brutally violent.

As a beggar, Nam could make good money each day. Even though it was boring and repetitive – and his daily income was dependent on the weather – he felt free. He didn’t have to care about following anybody else’s rules. If things ever got difficult at his begging spot, he could simply go elsewhere and start again.

Nam felt safe, but I knew that he wasn’t.

As a boy out begging on the street, he was extremely vulnerable to gangs, pimps, and traffickers. Many kids just like him had been taken advantage of: used, abused and spat out. Often left with drug addictions, sexually transmitted diseases and physical injuries.

A boy begging on the city streets. Children working like this are highly vulnerable to harm and exploitation.

And so I did what I could to help. Over time, I got to know Nam and urged him to accept Blue Dragon’s offer of help.

I persuaded and cajoled. I wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

Until finally, Nam relented. He agreed to stay in a Blue Dragon shelter while we helped him move on to training and employment.

Getting Nam to leave the streets was a great success. But it soon turned to disaster.

Nam fought with other kids at the shelter. He stayed out overnight whenever he felt like it and nobody knew when he might return. He sat in the bedroom smoking and swore at the staff when they told him to stop. Nam missed the freedom of the streets and he had never been in a home with clear rules and expectations before.

Nam was safe, but this wasn’t his decision. He had agreed to join the safe house because of my persuasion, not because it was what he really wanted.

A hard lesson

My mistake was one that many of us make at some time.

When you know that someone is endangering themselves… when you can see that they’re going to come to harm but you have no power to intervene… what should you do?

After a few weeks, Nam left the shelter and went back to the streets. As predicted, he met with a lot of trouble and ended up involved in some petty crime. He was lucky that he didn’t go to prison.

Only much later, when he saw for himself the danger he was in, did Nam come back to Blue Dragon. This time, he asked for help. And of course, it was freely given.

This was a powerful learning moment both for Nam and for myself. 

Pushing someone to accept help is rarely successful. Helping them see how it might change their life, and keeping the offer open for when they are ready, is sometimes the only way.

But it’s a hard lesson to learn.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is on a mission to end human trafficking.

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