Boi holds the plastic brick in his tiny hands like it is a thing of wonder.
At first he looks curious and then baffled. Finally, a huge smile breaks across his face.
This is the first time that Boi has ever seen toys with his own eyes. At 6 years old, he spends plenty of time playing. He is often to be seen running around the field with sticks and he loves to chase after the chickens that peck around beneath his stilt house.
But he’s never held something so bright and colourful like this before.
Boi is typical of the children in his H’mong village. All of the families in his district, high up in the mountains of north-west Vietnam, put their energy and resources into survival. They don’t have time or money for luxuries like toys and games.
Instead, children grow up learning to raise crops and care for livestock. Everything is precious and valuable; there’s no waste and few simple pleasures.
Compared to the lives that many of us lead, children like Boi have it tough. Perhaps the hardest of all about this upbringing is that it places such limits on their futures. Toys are not just an indulgence for children; they spark curiosity and help children’s minds develop. They let the mind wander beyond the here and now, and into the possible.
Blue Dragon came to Boi’s village several years ago to help families improve their income. More earnings mean less risk of human trafficking, because when people are desperate to survive, they’ll accept risky offers of jobs far from home. When they are safe and satisfied, they are more likely to stay with their community and keep their children at school.
As we helped families to buy chickens and pigs we could see that the children needed something more. They had few opportunities to learn or develop… or to just be kids.
And so began the idea for a Toy Library.
In Boi’s village, and in others around the district, we supplied the community with a range of games and toys for children at all stages of development to enjoy. A group of mothers are responsible for keeping the items safe. Several times a week, the toys are set up in communal areas where any of the children are welcome to come.
Every other month, volunteers come to exchange the items with other Toy Libraries so there’s always something new. Eventually, we hand each library over to full community management and then open a new Toy Library in a new village, to reach even more families.
Children like Boi now have much to look forward to. And while Boi plays with his plastic bricks, he is also learning and improving his motor skills.
The simple act of playing with toys should not only be for children who have plenty. Every child needs a chance to play, to let their imaginations soar. And the introduction of something as cheap and convenient as a Toy Library means that kids like Boi now have the same chance as any other child.