Trong: An Unflappable, Hip Hop Dancing Social Worker

With no home and no money, Trong found his calling through hip hop and helping others.

DEPARTURES

Trong’s friends know him as Blue Dragon’s easy-going, hip hop dancing social worker. But he has been through a lot to get to where he is now.

Trong grew up in a remote village in the north of Vietnam. He was very close to his mother; a strong, loving woman who earned most of the family income. 

She passed away when Trong was seven.

Although Trong’s father did his best to support him through school, life was a constant struggle. They had no home of their own and alternated their days between houses owned by friends and relatives.

“Lots of different beds. And I was always so worried about how to be a good boy in case whoever was letting us stay would kick me and my father out.”

Trong was a very well-behaved child, but that couldn’t stop his father getting older, weaker and finally unable to earn money through odd construction jobs.

It all forced Trong into some heavy realisations for someone so young. “I knew I didn’t want to be a person who always works hard but stays poor. I wanted something more. I wanted to be someone who could change their life.”

Not wanting to be a burden on his father, Trong felt he had no choice but to leave school and travel to Hanoi in search of work.

 

BATTERY-POWERED FARM

Trong stepped off the bus and into the lonely, sprawling streets of Hanoi. He soon met a man who offered him food and shelter in exchange for farmwork; gruelling work that wore Trong ragged day in, day out.

Trong and the farmer lived in a tiny wooden shack beneath the iconic Long Bien bridge. They used a car battery for power, and when it ran out Trong had to carry it to the charging station at the market along with hauls of vegetables from the farm.

The loads were heavy, and Trong often slipped and fell as he climbed the steep ramp leading onto the bridge. 

When the farmer noticed that Trong was struggling, he decided that it was time to let him go. But he did do one vital kindness: he introduced Trong to Blue Dragon. 

With no job, no home and no money, Trong knew a place where he would be safe and cared for.

ABSOLUTELY UNFLAPPABLE

When Blue Dragon offered Trong the chance to go back to school, he grabbed it with both hands. He studied diligently while trying out as many activities as he could at Blue Dragon. 

The hip hop teacher at that time was a man called Jerry Snell. Trong was very close to Jerry and loved his lessons.

“Jerry was really funny. He always made everyone laugh by doing a lot of robot moves.”

Trong also acknowledges Jerry’s classes as a major influence on his personal growth.

“Hip hop taught me how to become a leader, how to work in a team, to be confident and express myself.”

One day, however, Trong turned up at Blue Dragon to learn that Jerry had passed away. Trong was devastated.

In spite of his grief, Trong rallied the other kids. “He really stepped up and kept the lessons alive,” says one Blue Dragon staff member who knows Trong well. “He’s absolutely unflappable.”

Trong and a few other kids suggested painting a picture of Jerry on one of the walls at Blue Dragon. “I think it was a kind of healing process for us,” says Trong, looking back and adding that he gets goosebumps whenever he thinks of how much Jerry helped people.

In the face of adversity, Trong’s natural leadership abilities shone through. But it would still be some time before Trong realised just how big a role helping kids would play in his future.

HOME

After Trong finished high school, he earned a one-year English language scholarship at Langports College in Australia. His new language skills opened up exciting avenues, and he thought about what direction he wanted his life to take. 

Trong knew that he loved hip hop and that he wanted to use his skills to help people. When he told this to Blue Dragon, we introduced him to a volunteer hip-hop dance instructor position for disadvantaged children in Cambodia. It turned out to be a life-changing experience that confirmed all of Trong’s natural leadership abilities.

“I used English to connect with people and I used my skills to teach them. I could see the kids were the same as me when I arrived at Blue Dragon – when you’re doing an activity you love, you’re just trying to learn, feeling happy and forgetting about survival.”

When Trong got back to Hanoi, he saw a job advertisement that brought everything he’d learnt about life and himself into focus: Blue Dragon was looking for a new social worker.

Trong applied, and after a series of challenging interviews received the news that the job was his. After years of hardship and soul-searching, Trong had finally found his place in the world:

“It felt like coming home.”

CYCLE OF GROWTH

“Just think about what you want to do with your life and try your best to be good at it. Just by doing that, you will help people more than you know.”

With Blue Dragon’s support, Trong escaped the cycle of poverty and forged a new cycle of growth. 

According to his colleagues, Trong is “caring and professional” and a “big brother” to the kids. But he believes that people from any walk of life can foster the same chains of positivity that he does.

“It doesn’t matter who you are,” says Trong. “Anybody can help people just by being good at what they do. Maybe you’re great at IT, maybe you’re a counsellor or you’re good at cleaning. It doesn’t matter. Just think about what you want to do with your life and try your best to be good at it. Just by doing that, you will help people more than you know.”

Trong embodies this simple philosophy. When he first arrived at Blue Dragon, he threw himself into fresh challenges that enhanced his skills and built his confidence. Now, working as a Blue Dragon social worker, he is passing on that same gift to a new generation of children. 

Under Trong’s guidance, Blue Dragon’s young hip hop enthusiasts have a better chance to rise above their hardships and find what they want to do in life – just like Trong has.  

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