Up on the stage, Ty is just like any other little girl.
She beams with pride to be standing with the bigger kids, arms stretched out to receive her certificate.
She’s 8, but this is the first time she’s ever received an award. For anything! And her first time on a stage, too. The huge grin on her face tells the whole story.
Ty’s certificate is for the effort that she’s made over the past year. Because her big achievement in 2022 was not coming top of the class; it was for being in class at all. This is the first year she’s attended school every day and completed all of her lessons. A major achievement for this little girl, and a milestone worth acknowledging.
This is the annual ‘Blue Dragon Tet Awards’, an evening of laughter, performances and certificates to celebrate the wonderful girls and boys of Blue Dragon.
Ty was one of 300 kids who came along for the party. And there were many people there who are no longer ‘kids’, but who once were up on that stage just like Ty.
There was Yen, one of our ‘old girls’ who lives in Finland now, where she works as an engineer. And Linh, who works in New Zealand in the IT field. He’s back in Hanoi at the moment for his wedding, which all the Blue Dragon staff will be attending.
Tinh, who owns a mobile phone shop, came along; and Thanh, who was recently released from prison and has started a job as a carpenter; and Hien, who manages a cafe in Hanoi. Another young woman, Trinh, is now the president of the Association for Blind People in her district of a rural province.
Two of the young men at Tet Awards work as 3D graphics animators. Nam owns his own restaurant. A few work in informal ‘money lending’ businesses, which we wish they didn’t but we accept that as young adults they have to make their own choices. Many have their own families now, so quite a few brought their own children along to join the fun.
These are all young men and women who grew up in terrible hardship. Some were street kids; some were trafficked; all have experienced extreme poverty.
But at the Tet Awards, there’s no evidence of that. Everyone dresses up in their best outfits and the focus is totally on the good in our lives. We don’t pretend that life is easy; it’s just that for the evening, we find what there is to celebrate in life.
And that’s the real success of Blue Dragon. Every child we meet, like Ty, faces complex, grinding problems. We work with them over the years – not just a day, and not even for months. Often it’s years.
When they’re ready, they move out into the world to lead their own amazing lives. Even then, they remain a part of Blue Dragon. If they face some troubles they’ll often come back for a chat or to ask for some assistance; but they also come back just to catch up over a coffee, or to introduce their own families to us.
Tet Awards is only one night of the year, but it’s years in the making. And by far, the best thing about the evening is to see the kids shining.
Whether they’re 8 year old Ty, or Yen visiting from Finland, they know that they are loved, that they are welcome, and that they matter to somebody.
You can support Blue Dragon’s life-changing work at: www.bluedragon.org/donate.