At the end of the discussion, six boys had their hands raised.
It was early 2003. A few friends and I had been volunteering our spare time to run classes for Hanoi’s street kids.
We could see that they needed more than the weekly classes, activities and meals that we offered. They needed a chance to get off the street.
So we gathered them together – about 15 street boys in total – and asked who would like to change their life. Most of them put up their hand.
Then we asked who would like to go back to school. About 10 hands remained.
Finally we asked: Who would be willing to give up working on the street forever; to have a home and go back to school, then find a job?
That left us with six raised hands. So now we needed to work out how to make this happen.
We drew up plans to rent a house where the boys would live under the care and supervision of one of their mothers, who also had been working on the street.
The cost of paying rent, providing food, and covering school fees would amount to $5,200 annually. A modest sum for such high impact, but that amount was beyond us. We didn’t even have a bank account!
However, we’d made a commitment to the kids. Money or not, we had to do it so we set ourselves a deadline: June 2003. With this in mind, we steamed ahead, believing that somehow we would figure out how to pay for it.
Within a few weeks, I received a phone call. Two foreign women living in Hanoi had raised money for a project that had hit a roadblock and couldn’t go ahead. They asked me if I needed some funding for any specific need.
The sum of money they offered was $5,200. Exactly the amount we needed.
The hard way
You might call this an incredible stroke of luck. Or perhaps it was destiny. Serendipity, at least.
With this money, Blue Dragon’s first shelter for street kids opened on June 2, 2003 and continued running until the residents all had jobs and took over the lease, making it their very own home.
Sometimes, beautiful things fall into our lap at the moment we need it most.
And sometimes we have to work hard for that ‘good luck’ to come.
At the same time we were preparing to open that first shelter for six street kids, we were growing our weekly soccer games.
These games were more than ‘just’ a fun time for the children. They were a safe place that homeless young people could come to connect, receive help, and even have a meal.
Our very first game had only three teens show up. The next week there were 10. And soon 30…
And then the managers of the football field decided that they didn’t like street kids using their facilities, so they told us the field was “under repairs.”
With that, we were out. No more field. The only other options were miles away and the kids simply couldn’t get that far. (When you’re offering a service to people who are homeless, location is important!).
The weekly Blue Dragon football club, which had such a promising start, was over.
Or was it?
Every week, the children still gathered at the same time in a small park not far from the field. Even though we couldn’t play football, we met and had some snacks.
A few of us would get on our motorbikes and ride over to the field to ask how the “repairs” were going. (There were clearly no repairs, and other teams were using the fields).
The managers were never happy to see us and tried to brush us off. So week after week, for about three months, we kept going back every Sunday morning.
Over time, their attitude softened. Eventually they agreed that maybe the repairs to the field weren’t going to happen after all. Would we like to get our field back?
When we were opening the shelter for six boys, everything fell into place perfectly.
Getting an open soccer team for street kids up and running was very different. We had to push, and wait, and refuse to give in.
Both endeavours were great successes in the end.
This weekend, some of the original six boys – all now young men in their 30s – returned to Blue Dragon for a 20-year reunion. Some couldn’t make it, while others who moved into the house in later years also came along.
Overall they’ve been tremendously successful in their lives. Most are business owners – bakeries, a mobile phone shop, a motorcycle repair shop, factories, restaurants. All expressed a deep gratitude for the chance they were given as children to turn their lives around.
Blue Dragon United, meanwhile, continues to play weekly games of football – a total of 3,400 and climbing! Up to 80 children play every weekend.
Through this Sunday morning outreach, we meet children who need a helping hand or are just looking for a break from their daily lives and want to hang out with friends.
Two very successful initiatives, but to get there we had to take very different roads.
Not everything that is “meant to be” starts easily. Sometimes beautiful things happen spontaneously; sometimes we have to persist and work hard to bring them to life.
While Blue Dragon’s official 20-year anniversary is in 2024, several key activities started in 2003. So throughout this year we are taking time to reflect on important occasions, like 20 years since the opening of our first shelter.
Over these two decades, there have been moments of serendipity and times we’ve had to put in double the effort for things to work.
Looking back, it doesn’t matter. Easy or difficult, it’s all been worthwhile when we see the thousands of lives we have changed.
Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation protects children from trafficking and exploitation. Thank you to all who have made this possible over the years!