Niu is the oldest of five brothers and sisters. He grew up with his family in northern Dien Bien province, where breathtaking landscapes are as widespread as grinding poverty.
Like most in his H’mong community, Niu and his family’s livelihoods revolve around agriculture, which means their income depends greatly on the weather conditions. A single hailstorm could mean losing their earnings for months.
Feeding and raising their five children was a daily struggle for Niu’s parents. And for Niu, the challenge was even greater: born with a mobility impairment, he has never been able to walk. Getting around the winding, unpaved, muddy roads of Dien Bien was anything but easy for him.
For all of these reasons, Nieu and his siblings were at very high risk of dropping out of school.
Realizing his own potential
When Blue Dragon first met Niu four years ago, he barely talked to other people. Growing up with a disability in a remote, rural area where he often felt discriminated against had caused him to develop an inferiority complex. To protect himself and shut people out, Niu built a shell around himself.
Little by little, the Blue Dragon social workers earned Niu’s trust and the teenager started to come out of that shell. Over time, he began realizing that he too had potential to achieve great things.
Blue Dragon sponsored Niu’s education and provided him with a living allowance all the way through high school so he could focus on learning.
And he did. Niu worked hard and graduated from high school, and through Blue Dragon’s career preparation workshops in Dien Bien he was able to identify his true passion.
Finding his passion
Since starting Grade 10, Niu had regular meetings with social workers and career counsellors so he could learn about the different vocations available to him and visit companies where he could potentially work.
Blue Dragon created a community youth group in Niu’s little commune. This was an open space for young people to spend time together, learn new skills, and share their concerns, future goals and career options. During the group’s monthly meetings, the teens would also learn critical soft skills like communication and teamwork. In those meetings, for the first time, Niu felt treated like an equal. In two years, he didn’t miss a single gathering.
Through all these activities, Niu decided he wanted to focus his career on something he was really passionate about: technology.
Building a career
Niu was particularly interested in IT, and decided he wanted to get training in this field. So he took a very courageous step: with support from Blue Dragon, Niu left the beautiful mountains of Dien Bien where he’d grown up and moved to the city to pursue a vocational training course in 2D editing.
Niu arrived in Hanoi filled with enthusiasm. He worked hard to learn new skills, asked questions in class, joined extra activities in his free time and even worked as an IT intern at Blue Dragon to learn from professionals already working in the field.
After a few months, Niu graduated from the course and landed a job at a technology company in Hanoi.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Niu’s wonderful progress hit a great obstacle: his job ended with the arrival of social distancing measures, and Niu returned to his home in the mountains.
But he didn’t give up. Nie used the experience and skills he had learned in Hanoi to get a job at a photography and design company in his area, where he continues to work hard to improve his skills and support his family.
“I want to learn more about how to use Photoshop and design software so I can develop the products myself, because I am the oldest brother and I need to look after my family.”
Giving youth a brighter future
The coronavirus pandemic has brought hardship for many young people in Vietnam who have lost their jobs, been furloughed or seen their incomes reduced.
This scenario is particularly damaging for youth who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, which make them less likely to have access to education and training.
You can help change this.
The Blue Dragon Marathon Walk on September 13 is raising funds to send 500 disadvantaged young people to training and prepare them for jobs, so they can break the cycle of poverty and build a future for themselves – just as Niu did.
You can sign up to participate in this global event solo or in a team, and ask your friends and family to sponsor your walk. Or if you can’t join the Walk, you can sponsor Blue Dragon social worker Vi Do, who will be walking with some of the Blue Dragon children!