Phi ran away from home as soon as he could.
For 3 weeks, during Vietnam’s pandemic lockdown, he was inside his family’s timber shack with its dirt floor and asbestos roof, high up in the mountains of northern Vietnam.
Phi’s family is desperately poor, and what little money they have his father likes to spend on rice wine.
Within hours of Vietnam’s social distancing measures being lifted, Phi was out the door, down the muddy track, and on his way to Hanoi – a journey of almost 12 hours.
Aged 14, Phi had never been alone before. He was exhausted and hungry after weeks of not having enough to eat, but believed life would be better if only he could make it to the city.
Many kids come to the city thinking everything will be just great. It never is.
Phi spent almost 2 months begging and sleeping on the city streets before a Blue Dragon social worker met him. He lost count of how many times he was approached by pimps and pedophiles offering to ‘help’, but despite his desperation he was determined to stay safe.
After a few days in a Blue Dragon shelter, Phi trusted us to take him home. One of the social workers made the long journey with him back to his village; by bus, motorbike, and sometimes on foot when the road turned into nothing but mud.
With their son missing for two months, Phi’s parents had been beside themselves with worry. They reported to the police but had no information or idea where their son could be. They feared the worst.
Blue Dragon does offer homes to young people, boys and girls, who cannot stay with their families, but in the vast majority of cases, children and their parents are better off together, so long as they get some support to make it work.
For Phi, that means helping his parents understand how to better show their love for their son, and some practical help with basic needs as they continue to recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
It also meant a trip to Phi’s school, along with Phi and his mother, to make sure he could re-enroll and return to class immediately. Because his home is so remote, Phi studies in a boarding school, so he will live there during the week and go home for weekends.
The teachers have promised to look out for Phi and to check on him if he stops turning up to class. They didn’t know he was having such difficulty at home; now they do, and they’ve committed to making sure he’s OK.
Our experience is that once we have taken a child home and spoken with the family and community, home life almost always becomes much more tolerable for kids like Phi. Their suffering and their struggle becomes visible; the people around them wake up to their needs and take on the responsibility to care for them.
At a time when our world is bleeding, there’s such an enormous need for healing and care. Child by child, family by family, we have an obligation to help those around us who haven’t been given a fair chance in life.
Phi never asked to be born into extreme poverty, or to have an alcoholic father. He deserves the chance to make something of his life, so that his generation can leave behind a world that’s much fairer and just than the one they have inherited.
Phi is now safe and will continue receiving support from Blue Dragon for as long as he needs it. He sees that life has the possibility of something better. And Blue Dragon is back out on the streets looking for more children just like him, who are yet to get the chance that they need to turn their lives around.