If you’ve seen the latest newsletter, then you’ll have heard the news that we’ve just passed another milestone.
Blue Dragon has successfully reunited 500 street children with their families.
Meeting homeless children and offering care and protection is where Blue Dragon started, even though we are now better known for our rescues of people from slavery.
Every city in the world has children who live or work on the streets. Hanoi is no exception.
What’s noticeable here is the lack of services for them; every now and then there are special projects to put street kids in protection centres, or to distribute information about safe sex, but Blue Dragon’s outreach to homeless young people is unique.
We have a presence on the streets every night, visiting the places where children gather and offering help whenever we are needed.
Our vision is to ensure that every homeless child in the city has someone they can call on for help. We’re not there yet, but we are growing and continually looking for new ways to reach children.
Put simply, if we don’t get to the kids, someone else will.
There are pimps hanging out at intercity bus stations looking for teen and pre-teen boys as they arrive. Overwhelmed by the noise and bustle, and their pockets empty, these children are easy prey for smooth talking pimps offering a helping hand.
There are camps within the city, on unused building sites, where pimps set up tents to accommodate the children they rent out.
Internet cafes running around the clock provide homeless children with a place to stay, but they are not safe; drugs are handed around, and pedophiles know which places to frequent to pick up kids. At times they pay children for sex right there in the internet café toilets.
When Blue Dragon first started, back in 2003, there were very few safe places for street kids. Our co-founder Chung and I, along with some enthusiastic volunteers, took to the streets to meet young people and offer English classes, football games, and a helping hand through crisis.
As word got out that we were there, the kids kept coming. We struggled to attract support for this work: people dismissed us as fly-by-nighters who had no idea what we were doing, while some held the view that the kids weren’t worth helping (and even told us as much!).
But we believed in the kids so we kept going. And I’m glad we did.
As we celebrate the success of helping 500 street kids make their way home to be with their families again, I’m reminded of our very first reunion, which was actually of 2 boys who had run away together.
Tuan and Nhi were tiny for their age, although they were both only about 12 years old. Tuan had had an argument with his father, so he called on his friend to run away with him and go to the city.
Once there, of course, they were completely lost. Their plan had only extended as far as running away… They hadn’t given any thought to what would come next!
Chung and I met them begging on the streets of the city. They were tired and dirty but still managed big smiles when we started talking to them and offered them a meal.
As most street kids still do, they kept the truth of their stories to themselves for as long as they could, ashamed to admit that they had done something wrong for fear we would punish or reject them. After some days, they opened up and explained their stories.
The next problem was that they didn’t know how to contact their families, as they had no phones at home!
Fortunately Chung worked out how to ring the school where they studied, and from there we made contact with their desperately worried fathers. Late at night we traveled across Hanoi with the boys on our motorbikes to meet their dads, who came in to the city and met us at a relative’s home.
Getting those boys back to be with their families was a powerful moment, and in hindsight it was a sign of great things to come, but at the time it was just Chung and I to quietly celebrate our little victory.
The very next day we met another homeless boy: Thang, who had an intellectual impairment, and so straight away we were back at it. No time to rest on our laurels!
500 is a great number to mark, and we’re proud of reaching this milestone. At the same time, we are conscious that each one of those 500 (mostly) boys and (some) girls is a valuable and important person, whose story is unique.
Now: On to the next 500!
Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.