The Year That Made Me

This week I was asked to nominate a point in time that made me who I am today. My choice was easy – but for complicated reasons.

Sometimes, great things happen because of good planning and lots of hard work.

Other times, we look back with surprise and wonder how they happened at all.

This week I was delighted to be featured on an ABC Radio program called “The Year That Made Me.” You can listen to the episode here.

The premise of the interview is to explore the events of a single year that stands out as being pivotal in someone’s life. For me, that year was 2002.

The plan that was not to be

It was in 2002 that I left Australia with a few clothes and books, believing that I would set up in Ho Chi Minh City as an English teacher.

By the end of the year, I was living in Hanoi helping street kids get back to school; and in collaboration with some friends the idea for creating Blue Dragon was born.

Blue Dragon’s first shelter for street kids opened in 2003.

Since then, every year has been significant. I can’t think of a single year when “nothing much happened.” 2003 was the year we started our first shelter for homeless teens. In 2004, Blue Dragon officially registered as a charity. In 2005, we rescued the very first child from human trafficking.

And so on…

But none of this was planned. At least, not in the beginning.

In those early days when some friends and I went out onto the streets offering help to ‘shoeshine boys’, we didn’t know that our efforts would lead to something much bigger.

I recall the day that I counted how many children we were assisting in one way or another. The total: 30. I thought to myself: “Well, this is probably the limit of how many kids we can help.”

Today Blue Dragon is reaching about 20,000 people around Vietnam.

Similarly, I thought that our first rescue of a child from trafficking would be a one-time event. The boy, Ngoc, was 13 years old and had been trafficked to work as a flower seller on the city streets. I just wanted to help him go home.

Since that “one-time event,” we’ve rescued 1,550 people from slavery.

And it has all happened because, in 2002, my plan to start a simple new life fell apart.

A better plan

As Blue Dragon grows, planning becomes more important. After all, there are children and families who depend on us. Rescuing someone from a brothel or forced labor can’t be left to chance.

But the plan is never the master. It never has been. The plan is there to serve us; and when it no longer serves us, we make a new plan.

Because the needs of people must come first. Always. That’s the plan.

Taking part in the radio interview was a great opportunity to reflect on my personal journey as well as Blue Dragon’s growth.

As we mark Blue Dragon’s official 20th birthday, there’s much to celebrate.

I’m just glad that I didn’t stick to my original plan all those years ago.

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