A leader in the making

There’s really only one good thing about a crisis. It shows us who we really are.

Do we rise to the occasion, or fall into a heap? Do we keep smiling and working toward better days, or do we give up and expect the worst?

For 19 year-old Viet, this global crisis has been his turn to shine.

Not that he knows it. Not that he was looking for it. But a teenager who was living under a bridge just a few months ago, with a metal bar tucked away for protection, is now playing an important role in how Blue Dragon faces the COVID-19 pandemic.

Late in 2019, Australian Masterchef Adam Liaw met Viet under a bridge in Hanoi. Liaw was with SBS Dateline, learning about what life is like for homeless young people in Vietnam. This short clip shows the extraordinary hardship of Viet’s life at that time. And yet, he was stoic and accepting.

The survival of Vietnam's street kids

"I think they have a metal bar…a weapon:" Adam Liaw meets kids living on Vietnam's streets.Watch the full story when Dateline returns 9.30pm Tuesday SBS.

Posted by SBS Dateline on Sunday, 23 February 2020

Viet has long known Blue Dragon. Sometimes he lives with us, and sometimes he wanders back to the streets when he needs the open sky and the space to be alone.

Shortly after filming, Blue Dragon helped Viet find work on a farm outside the city, where he loved getting his hands dirty, building with stone and bamboo and farming the fields. It was not only great for Viet: most of that food ended up on the plates of children back at the Blue Dragon centre in Hanoi.

Blue Dragon kids on the farm

Viet at work on the farm

And then the coronavirus started making headlines. As it spread through China and then the world, a crisis enveloped us all.

Blue Dragon has continued working through these months. The children and families in our care are reliant on us at a time like this. They are girls and boys who have been trafficked and sold; children who have escaped violence at home and made their way to the city, only to face exploitation and further abuse.

Caring for so many children is a challenge while schools are closed, public events cancelled, and now all non-essential businesses shut. At the very same time that Blue Dragon’s work has become even more critical for the welfare of children, the nature of this global crisis has meant that donations are drying up and resources are more limited.

And so, many of the Blue Dragon children from our Hanoi centre have moved out to the farm with Viet to be in a safe and healthy environment. They’re helping in the fields a few hours and in their free time they enjoy swimming in the dam or just being in nature. In the evening the kids do their school study online and group activities.

In this way, they’re safe from the spread of the virus in Hanoi, and able to contribute to Blue Dragon and their own wellbeing at the same time. Had they stayed in Hanoi, they would be largely locked into homes with little to do all day or at high risk of being exposed to the virus if still on the streets with no safe place to stay.

Suddenly, Viet’s knowledge and experience is tremendously valuable. As the number of other teens on the farm has grown, Viet has quietly stepped into a role of supporting everyone to know their way around, to know what needs to be done, and to know how to cope with the inevitable challenges.

Viet has taken on the special role of being responsible for keeping the farm equipment. Every evening his job is to make sure the hoes and the shovels are back in place; the wheelbarrows are clean; and all the gloves are dry and dirt-free.

What Viet is doing is important. He has a purpose, and he’s passionate about farming. He has the respect of everyone around him.

Has he blossomed into a flawless leader? Of course not. This is no fairytale. Viet is still struggling with his own past trauma and has much to learn in his new leadership role.

But he is learning, and he’s making the most of a very bad situation. Right now, Viet is needed as a leader: and a leader he has become.

Your help is needed to keep essential services going for Viet and children like him. If you can donate the cost of a couple of cups of coffee a month, please consider joining Dragon Wings, an online community of people giving monthly for this important work. Thank you!

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