A social worker’s wedding on the weekend gave me a great opportunity to spend time with both staff and kids away from Dragon House. The wedding was just outside the city, so we had a lovely drive through rice fields on a sunny Spring afternoon.
Along the way I sat with one of our newer family members, a boy named Ti who is about 14 years old. I say “about” because he’s not exactly sure, even though he has grown up with his family.
Ti first met Blue Dragon’s Outreach team over a year ago, and he was always happy to meet and talk but feared giving up his independence. At times he would come to us, and then return to living under bridges or in internet cafes.
Living rough like that is hard on anyone. Ti is glad to be back at Blue Dragon now, and this time he plans to stay.
Until the weekend bus ride, I just had a few impressions of Ti. He’s a skinny little guy who seems to always be bouncing about; he speaks so fast that I have terrible difficulty understanding him much of the time, and I don’t have the heart to ask him to slow down and repeat himself because everything he says is delivered with unquenchable enthusiasm.
He’s the sort of kid whose whole face and demeanour light up when he smiles – and he smiles pretty much all the time. His joy beams around the room, and is undeniably infectious.
But life has been incredibly harsh on him.
As we drove along the narrow road out of town, Ti told me about the first time he ran away from home, aged 9. He was scared, but his fear of what might happen on the streets of Hanoi was less than his fear of what was happening at home.
Despite love from his parents, another family member has terrorised Ti since he was a child. Constant brutal attacks, at any time for any reason, have had Ti living in constant fear. When swimming, the relative would grab him and hold him under water until he almost passed out. At home, Ti would be savagely beaten. And somehow his parents found themselves helpless to intervene, perhaps also in fear of what would happen to them.
So Ti took his life in his own hands, and left.
He told me about surviving by selling fruit. He would wander the outer suburbs of Hanoi looking for fruit trees, and climb them when nobody was around to yell at him and drive him away. He’d pluck all the fruit he could, and sell it by the side of the road.
However, his enterprise came to an end the day he fell from a tree, breaking both legs. He showed me his scars, just above his ankles. On the day of the accident, he lay on the tarmac road in agony with nobody to help, and finally dragged himself off to a hospital.
Another time, Ti was at home and fell ill with a fever and pain throughout his body. The family had no money at all to take him to a doctor or buy medicine, so he simply lay on a bed, drifting in and out of consciousness. He has no idea how long he was like that but recalls being unconscious for days at a time. He knows he’s just lucky he didn’t die.
Ti told me these stories, wanting me to understand these hard times in his life. But what was most memorable about our talk was the questions that he asked.
Here at Blue Dragon, several of our staff used to be the kids we were helping. Some were street kids. Some have disabilities. Some were trafficked. Now they work with us, and kids like Ti look up to them with a very particular respect.
Ti peppered me with questions about a few of the social workers who care for him and who used to be street kids themselves. He wanted to know how I met them, what they were like as children. And then he wanted to know about me – where is my own family? What was my life like growing up?
Our bus ride showed me that beneath Ti’s bubbly exterior there’s an incredible depth of empathy and intelligence. Here’s a child who could easily be absorbed in his own misery and struggle – who could blame him? – but who wants to understand others, wants to know what he might become.
There are so many kids like Ti at Blue Dragon – so many in our world. Boys and girls who have been wronged, through absolutely no fault of their own, and who long for a chance to put things right.
Ti has a chance to do it, too. He may well be one of our social workers one day. Or maybe a lawyer, or a teacher.
All he needs is a chance, and the support to get him there.
Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.