A group of teens gathers every Sunday at Dragon House to spend the day in intense learning. We call them our Junior Social Workers.
The girls and boys have signed up to a 10 week basic course in what it means to be a Social Worker. Some may well become Social Workers one day; most will not. Their driving desire is a passion to learn how to care for others.
This Sunday I was invited to go along and share my own experiences with the group. I’m not a Social Worker – my background is in Education – but I went to talk about the mission and history of Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation.
I opened by asking what everyone wanted me to talk about. One of the teen girls immediately called out, “Tell us how and why you started Blue Dragon.”
And so I began: “Before I was 12 years old, I grew up in Sydney, Australia…”
At first the group didn’t understand why I was recounting this chapter of ancient history. I told stories of growing up in the suburbs, where my parents worked in factories and came home every night smelling of chemicals; then of packing up and leaving the city before I started Grade 7, and moving to a remote patch of dirt 30km (18 miles) from the nearest village and school. I’m not sure they believed me when I told them that I lived in a trailer (or a caravan, as we Aussies call them) and my final two years of school involved driving 60km each way, morning and night!
I talked about my dream of becoming a teacher, and then my deep dissatisfaction with life once I had a stable job and a decent income. I told the story of leaving my school to work elsewhere, and finding myself in a struggle for justice when one of my co-workers died – only to fail and to doubt that I could ever do any good in the world.
And finally I talked about moving to Vietnam to work as a teacher, encountering street children who were hungry for education, and finding my place in the world by not only helping others, but by bringing together many people who also wanted to do some good.
By the time I had told this story, the group understood why such a long answer was needed for such a simple question.
Our motivations are never simple. Getting to the heart of why we choose to do something ultimately relates to our past: the events and the people who have shaped us. The successes and failures that make up our story become more than unrelated parts; they eventually become a whole, and those awful lows and dizzy highs one day make sense in retrospect.
As for me, so for the teens here at Blue Dragon. In joining the Junior Social Worker course, they hope to learn ideas and tactics for helping others, and for sure they will.
But far more critically, they are learning about themselves. They are putting their own stories together, making sense of what has happened to them and what they have done so far in their own lives. These kids may still be young, but most already have life experiences that go way beyond those of many adults.
It was wonderful watching as the group came to this realisation: they cannot separate who they are from what they are doing. They joined the course looking outward, wanting to help other people, but what they are really learning is to look within and understand themselves.
My life story had the kids entertained for a little while, and I am sure they’ll remember a couple of the crazier tales I told. But I hope that what stays with them is the lesson that changing the world is a journey that begins in our own hearts.
If you’re inspired by the work of Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, please consider making a donation to our annual appeal. All funds raised will go toward rescuing kids in crisis.