I lived on a farm in the outback of Australia for 6 years as a teenager.
I hated it, and they were the best years of my life.
At the time, I hated the isolation. We were 30km from the nearest village; to get a haircut was a 120km round trip. There was nobody my age nearby – no other houses in sight of our own – and for some years we were off the grid, with no electricity connection and our water was collected from a nearby stream.
As a teenager, I dreamt of being elsewhere.
But in hindsight, it was an amazing experience. I had the freedom of the outdoors, I could walk where ever I wanted, I could ride motorbikes up and down dirt tracks.
And I learned the value of hard work. If we didn’t get out in the garden, or feed the chickens, or build the goat pens, then we didn’t eat. I learned where our food comes from, learned to be self reliant.
I’m thankful that I had this incredible experience as a teenager.
Living and working in Hanoi now, I am in a bustling, noisy city where construction work never ends. At Dragon House, I work with teens and young people who have mostly come from rural parts of Vietnam but are now in the capital city, living in internet cafes or under bridges or in drain pipes. Their lives are all about survival – and not in a healthy sense.
So in recent months, Blue Dragon has been giving these kids opportunities to get out of the city and reconnect with nature.
Girls who have been rescued from sexual slavery, and boys who have spent years living rough on the streets, have had opportunities to spend time in the countryside doing treks, fishing, gardening, and – well, getting their hands dirty.
It’s been wonderful to see their shining faces after a day of being out in nature. They’re certainly not just having holidays; when our young people go out to the countryside, they have responsibilities to help. Some have been gardening; some have been cleaning up paddocks; some have been hauling scrap from a dam. Others have been in charge of preparing meals, which includes catching fish or killing a chicken!
Without exception, the kids are loving it. Being in nature is somehow more ‘real’: when our hands are in the earth, we have a sense of connection.
And it’s this connection that the Blue Dragon kids need most in their lives. Working in a team to make one little part of our world cleaner, and to put food on the table, is teaching them some valuable lessons that they will never forget.