Nam was in a deep sleep on the stone bench when he heard an unfamiliar voice calling him.
At first he thought he was dreaming. When he finally opened his eyes he was startled to find someone kneeling on the grass before him.
Nam had been homeless for 2 weeks. Since leaving his family in their village west of Hanoi, he had mostly been alone as he wandered the streets looking for money or work.
He preferred to sleep during the day because at night he felt more vulnerable. On his very first night in the city, someone had tried to touch him while he slept in a drainpipe – a much older man who disappeared into the darkness when Nam woke up and yelled with fright.
The young woman sitting in front of him now looked kind and gentle. She was holding a box in her hands which Nam sensed was brimming with hot food. But his instincts warned him to be cautious. Nobody was kind without a reason.
That was the first moment that Nam met a social worker from Blue Dragon. And while he was broke, hungry and tired – a trifecta of misery – he still hesitated to accept this offer of food and a friendly smile.
Nam is like many of the kids we meet. Whether they are sleeping rough on the streets of the city or have called for help from a place of slavery, their first response is not always gratitude or relief. Most are frightened that they are about to be tricked and deceived – again.
Helping a young person escape danger or abuse begins by building trust. That may happen quickly, or it may take time. Nam didn’t leave the streets and accept a safe place to stay for months after that first meeting.
Social workers would head out to find him on the streets at night, bringing food and clothing and sometimes a comic book to read. They sat and chatted, sharing stories from their own lives and listening quietly when Nam opened up and told stories of his own.
In a way, the kids are no different to anyone else. Faced with danger and knowing they’re at risk, they protect themselves. They put up barriers to keep themselves safe. Sometimes they try to push away those who really care for them.
We all need someone we can trust. Healing never happens in isolation. To overcome grief, or hurt, or trauma, we need to know that there is someone who cares for us and understands what we’ve been through.
Nam is safe now. After he finally accepted that offer of a place to stay, he needed some months to catch up on sleep, exercise and healthy eating before he was ready to take his next steps.
He’s a bright kid – a young man, now, aged 19 – and nobody who meets him would ever guess the hardships he’s faced. He has a job and lives with some friends in a rented room. When he’s not at work, he’s listening to music or hanging out in the local cafe. Just like anyone else.
All he needed was time to build trust, know he was safe, and then the care to heal from his wounds.
Time and care. Just like we all need at some point in our lives.
Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis. A donation of $10 or any amount will go toward the care of street kids like Nam. You can donate here.