The social workers at Blue Dragon have some very polite expressions to deal with the daily horrors they encounter.
Chief among them: “Complicated.”
When I hear a social worker saying that a family is “complicated,” I understand the meaning to be: “You’ve never seen a horror movie like you’re about to see.”
Thoan is from a “complicated” family. This doesn’t mean his parents don’t love him, but it does mean he has endured neglect and abuse at home, and he carries the burden of guilt for whatever terrible things have happened in his home ever since he was born.
Most young children growing up in such a family somehow put up with it, more because they’re too afraid to run away than because they’re resilient. The kids that Blue Dragon meets on the streets of Hanoi tend to be in their mid teens: they are no longer afraid to run away, and can no longer tolerate life at home.
We all have certain very basic needs that must be met, and we expect them to be met by our families. The need to be loved, no matter what. The need to be cared for.
And the need to be important – to have significance.
Thoan has never felt important. He’s never been anything or anyone. So at age 15 when he arrived on the streets of Hanoi, far from his village and his past, he was an easy target for people who exploit children. All they had to do was make him feel wanted and give him the money he needed to survive, and he was theirs.
It’s about 2 years since Thoan got to the city. He now spends almost every waking moment in internet cafes, playing online games where he can be the hero. He’s the one in charge. He can wipe out the enemy, lead a team, win the admiration of many, and receive instant feedback on his every move. And failure is only temporary; starting over is just a click away.
Thoan has immersed himself in online gaming. And it’s not only to forget the past; forgetting the present has become equally important.
To survive, Thoan sells himself for sex. He hates the men he goes with, but they give him the cash he needs to then lose himself in the world of internet games.
They’ve also given him HIV.
Thoan knows this, but he can’t face reality. He refuses to take the medication that will keep him alive, and he continues to go with men even knowing that he is likely spreading his illness.
Instead, he loses himself online, making himself a hero of nothing real, but hiding from the real world of pain and ugliness.
The Blue Dragon social workers have known Thoan for well over a year, and so far all we can do is show him care, help him think about his future, and let him know he matters.
When he’s ready, we’ll still be here for him. We hope that day will come soon.
Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.