Here’s what Blue Dragon did when the pandemic hit
Crisis is at the heart of Blue Dragon’s daily work.
We receive calls for help daily from people who are trapped in slavery. We find children who are sleeping rough on the streets and selling sex to survive. As an organisation, we pride ourselves on our ability to respond quickly and with compassion to the many crises we face.
This year presented us with a crisis we could never imagine: a global health pandemic right on Vietnam’s doorstep.
Blue Dragon’s work of rescuing kids in crisis and caring for them as they recover became even more urgent as the fallout from coronavirus within Vietnam grew. With family members losing jobs and schools closed, children were making their way to cities to beg or work on the streets.
Girls and women calling for help from slavery in China could not be reached because of travel restrictions. Rural communities were starting to experience hunger, as their lifeline of family members working far away in the cities were suddenly losing their jobs.
And right at the same time, Blue Dragon’s funding came under threat as our donors around the world also started experiencing serious financial stress. Just when we needed to ramp up our work, resources became less available.
So how did Blue Dragon respond?
Here’s how we kept fighting to protect children and young people through the extraordinary crisis of the coronavirus pandemic.
1. Blue Dragon’s leadership made a commitment to keep all staff. Everyone except lower-paid staff took a significant pay cut on a sliding scale, but everyone kept their job. Because, ultimately, without our staff we are nothing.
2. In the lead-up to the lockdown, 60 children from the Hanoi centre went to stay on a farm outside the city. There, they shared their time between joining games and leadership activities, and growing vegetables to send to the Blue Dragon centre and shelters. Kids were safely out of the city, and contributing to their own and their friends’ welfare.
3. When kids returned to the city and the lockdown began, Blue Dragon shelters transformed into hives of activity and learning. Staff teams were rostered on around the clock and online educational programs quickly established to keep the children constructively occupied. No easy task for three straight weeks and a challenging time for the kids, but it worked.
4. Children who live in slum areas of Hanoi, or in situations that could put them in danger during an extended lockdown, were invited to stay in the Blue Dragon shelters until the stay-at-home orders were lifted.
5. Social workers identified former street children and survivors of trafficking who had already become independent of our support, but who lost their jobs and sources of income because of the lockdown. We provided allowances and accommodation support, or offered for them to stay in our shelters to ensure they did not go hungry, or become vulnerable to re-trafficking.
6. Street outreach work ramped up throughout the entire period – and is still operating more regularly and with greater reach, because the numbers of children on Hanoi’s streets are still much higher than usual. As well as going out at night to look for homeless children, teams went out in the daytime.
7. We expanded the scope of our street outreach to deliver food to homeless people of any age, because other groups who might normally do so were unable to. In partnership with Bon Chon restaurant, up to 50 people were receiving free meals each night out on the street.
8. Rescues in China were very difficult, but calls for help kept coming. The rescue team worked their phones day and night to communicate with trafficked girls and women who had called for help; as we couldn’t reach them, we needed to provide advice and comfort.
9. Despite the challenges, from February to mid-May we rescued nine trafficking victims and assisted 20 more who were rescued by Chinese police, including two women with infant children. On those occasions, our staff worked in full protective clothing and took the survivors directly to quarantine centres once back in the country.
10. Thanks to some well-timed donations of second-hand ipads and laptops, we equipped our tertiary scholars and high-school students to study online. And then some volunteers in Vietnam and around the world offered to provide online English lessons and extra tuition, which was a great help. Children with disabilities were prioritised so that Blue Dragon could continue key activities such as teaching sign language to deaf children.
11. Any families we knew in need of food received either cash to buy locally, or bags of rice and condiments that were donated at the Blue Dragon centre. (Huge thanks to those amazing donors – we were even able to share mattresses with people who needed them!)
12. We launched an Emergency Appeal, which is still running, to ask the world to give – and so far over 1,000 people have donated to help Vietnamese children and families.
13. And finally, to make sure our work could be responsive and reach those who needed it most, Blue Dragon staff stayed in phone contact with partners, government agencies, community leaders and families around the country. We kept checking in to see how people and communities were doing, find out who needed help, and then either provided that help ourselves or advised on how to access government support.
Vietnam has successfully contained the spread of the virus and today, only a few cases remain active across the country. However, there are still many children and families throughout Vietnam who are struggling because of the impact of the pandemic. Blue Dragon is continuing to provide emergency assistance, and at the same time we are looking to the next stage: rebuilding after the pandemic to get people back on their feet.
Our plans for this will follow in Part 2: Time to rebuild.