Some countries have called it “Freedom Day”: the day that lockdowns are ended and COVID restrictions are lifted.
For all of us who have been through extended lockdowns – or are still going through them now – we know the hardship of being forced to stay home.
Here in Vietnam, lockdowns have been particularly difficult for kids living in poverty. Without the luxuries that many of us consider necessities – our own private spaces, a fridge, an internet connection – isolating at home is exceptionally tough.
And when there’s a shortage of food as well, lockdowns aren’t just frustrating. They are perilous.
So when Hanoi and some northern provinces started easing the rules on social distancing last week, Blue Dragon straight away saw an increase in children sleeping rough on the streets.
Dinh is one of those kids.
He’s 13, and from a town up in the mountains. When lockdown came to his area, Dinh was happy at first when he heard that school would be closed. But as the days turned into weeks and then months, home life became strained.
And when school started up online… he just couldn’t cope.
As soon as he was able to leave the house unnoticed, Dinh decided to have his own “Freedom Day”.
He took the family motorbike and rode 150 km to Hanoi – totally unaware of the enormity of what he was doing.
Dinh’s idea was that he could find a job in the big city. Then he wouldn’t have to study online. He could do as he pleased and would have plenty of money to eat.
The reality, of course, was totally different. Dinh was shocked to find that Hanoi, too, is in serious hardship. Businesses are closed and people everywhere out of work.
Dinh’s naive dream very quickly turned into a nightmare. He found shelter under a bridge, sleeping on a timber board to keep from the dirt. The only way to get food was to beg.
Fortunately a Blue Dragon outreach worker spotted him soon after he arrived in the city. Dinh had only been here a few days and already he was desperate to go home.
We gave him a good meal and a place to stay the night, and Dinh slept like he’d never slept before.
Despite everything, all he wanted to do was be back with his mother and father. So we made the call, and his parents came straight to Hanoi to pick him – and their motorbike – up.
This family is in need of some healing. They love each other, but haven’t coped well with the hardships of lockdowns. Already living in poverty, the strain has been too much.
Dinh wanted his freedom, but life on the streets is incredibly risky for a child. He had a rough few days, but much worse could have happened. There are gangs and predators who know that kids are more vulnerable right now, and they’re out looking to recruit them.
For now Dinh’s family will be better able to cope. They’re back together and Blue Dragon is making sure they won’t go hungry through the coming weeks. When we’re able, we’ll head up to the mountains to visit and see how else we can help, to make sure they’re OK in the long term.
With Dinh safely home, we’ll continue searching for more boys and girls who have made the journey to the city in hope of something better. It’s a job that never ends, and never ceases to be critically important.