Thuan has a new piercing this week. He saved up money from his part time job and went down to the parlour around the corner from Blue Dragon.
Like some other teens from our Hanoi centre, he now has multiple earrings, a few tattoos, and his hair is dyed another colour every other day. It’s all very inexpensive – the kids do much of this “self renovation” work themselves – but the result is incredibly cool.
Trang doesn’t have any piercings, but she has defined herself through movement. In just a few short years, she has transformed from a girl who hung out on the city’s streets playing and fighting every night, to a dancer with a particular focus on hip hop. On the stage, she has a gleam of determination in her eyes and a massive smile that lights up the room.
Thuan and Trang are typical at Blue Dragon; at least, ‘typical’ insofar as they have cultivated their own identity and found their own special place to be. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that they are as different as everyone else.
Kids come to Blue Dragon because of trauma. The first time they walk through our gates, they are entering with fear and pain and trepidation. It’s not the lucky kids who come to us; it’s the kids whose lives have fallen apart.
Some have been sold into slavery. Some have been abandoned by their families and left to fend for themselves. Some have run away from homes where nobody loved them or knew how to care for them.
But visitors to our centre don’t see poor, miserable little children with puppy dog eyes. They see kids who are into dance, or theatre, or art, or music. Some of our kids just want to study – we have about 70 young people in college or university right at the moment. Some just want to play. Lots have no idea what they want, and need time to figure it out.
This is something I love about working with the Blue Dragon kids: where ever they come from and whatever has happened in their lives before we meet them, they are not defined by that. While their past may always impact on their future, it doesn’t have to hold them down. With someone to care for them, and a place where they can explore and be safe, they can be the cool kids too.
I may not always like the kids’ decisions to get another piercing or another tattoo, but I understand their need to control their own destinies and make their own choices. Watching them grow from tired, frightened victims into empowered, confident young men and women reminds me every day of all the good there is in our world.