Crossing the road

 They come hoping that it will be better living than poverty in the countryside but often things are much worse for them.

To date the BDF has sent 2621 kids back to school and training. Their job is to make sure kids are safe and protected and once they are, make sure they are working towards something such as education, a job or health.

The biggest challenge is to stop the kids from accepting that fate, to fight their own fate and make their own future.

On the streets these children are susceptible to gang violence, bullying, child trafficking and the life of the booming heroin trade.

The BDF gives safe housing, food subsidies, school sponsorship, job training and medical attention. Child trafficking is a huge problem and the Blue Dragon has so far rescued 272 children. So prevalent has trafficking become it is now the 3rd most profitable criminal activity after illegal drugs and arms dealing, worth around $10 billion US. As with many countries many of the most venerable in Vietnam fall victim to people trafficking each year.

Most children come from villages or communities in the poor Hue area. Once the Blue Dragon have written permission from their parents who want their children returned, they have to move quickly before word spreads and the kids will be move yet again.

When the girls are returned home it can be an uphill battle to reintegrate them in to the community, they have been traumatized by their experience and have both physical and psychological injuries, there are many scars and mental trauma.

At the centre there is food, clothing, classrooms and library play space, computer lab and thanks to the sponsorship of ANZ BANK a fully equipped gym.

Each child is provided with a dedicated social worker and has access to psychologist, counsellors, teachers and lawyers.

Child by child they work out what to do and if the child has a family involve as much as possible.

The staff at the BDF notice 3 phases when children enter the foundation programme of security and compassion.

Phase One

 The become younger, years drop away from their faces and they go through a transformation, the streetwise, hard living attitude is replaced by children acting half their age wanting to play and cuddle toys. This can last weeks or months.

Phase Two

This is a time for reflection, for many of them they experience love and kindness from staff members, they wonder why their own families have not shown them this. It can be very upsetting for them and this can cause a period of self-destruction where self-harm such as burns and swear words cut into their arms.

Phase Three

My Time at the Blue Dragon Centre

Toan and I

It truly has been both a very humbling and rewarding week for me. On my first day I was lead on a tour of their new 7 story building and then at 11.30am had lunch with the street kids. They have a fully equipped kitchen and provide lunch each day just like our Soup Kitchen back home.

On my first day we had Pork legs, spinach, rice, peanuts, a banana and cup of milk. They provide great nutrition for a malnourished child coming in to the centre. I gave everything a sample except the pork legs!

I met boys ranging in ages from 9 -15, one young boy stood out, he was clearly upset and I asked the outreach worker if he was ok.

I wanted to put my arms around him and give him a reassuring hug, he did come over to our table and through his outreach worker I ask his name, age, and what he enjoyed doing. He came and sat next to me and I gave his back a little rub, he was finally smiling. I showed him the world map on an iPhone and pointed out where New Zealand was.

Every staff member was constantly smiling and showing these kids affection and compassion and this little boy was finally understanding what it was like to be respected, loved and to feel safe. It was such a heart- warming sight to witness.

After lunch I went down to the drop in centre, a place for the kids to hang out, play cards, chess, table tennis and some of them to sleep in a safe environment after a night on/under the red river bridge.

The Blue Dragon Foundation also supports poorer families with disabled children and my main role was to provide some massage therapy for a girl called Anh who had Cerebral Palsy.

Toan would take me on the back of his motorbke, he is one of the success stories of Blue Dragon and was one of the first kids to enter the programme 10 years ago. He was a run away from the rural area seeking a better life in the city only to struggle when he arrived.

What a delightful young man who aspires to become a social worker when he finishes his studies. 

We managed to run over a rat as big as a small dog when it ran out in front of us during our ride, ok perhaps not quite as big as a dog but put it this way it was certainly the biggest rat I have ever seen.


Anh and family

My week with Ahn

In a country of 89 million Vietnam have some of the highest rates of child disabilities in the world. The legacy of decades of war, including the defoliant agent orange used by the US army where up to 3 million Vietnamese people were exposed to dioxin in Agent Orange.  1 million suffered grave health repercussions today including 150,000 children born with birth defects.

When visiting a Vietnamese family they say it is polite to take sweets, flowers, fruit or incense. Do not take handkerchiefs, anything black or yellow flowers. I took the good old kiwi pineapple lumps!

She and her grandmother sleep on the floor in this room, no mattress, no bed and so the massage would also have to be from the floor. I tried to make it as comfortable as I could for her.

Anh cannot walk, or talk and at 15 years of age probably has the cognitive ability of a 5 year old. Over the days I was with her I concluded with the right therapy and stimulus this cognitive age could be dramatically increased.

I never focus on the limits of a disability but the huge potential in people like Anh. She has a wonderfully kind mother who is doing her best for her daughter but is limited by money and resources.

One of the first things I noticed were the many scars on her legs caused by Anh scratching herself raw when her frustration levels increased and becoming a teenager has added to her frustrations. There are aspects of her intelligence and personality that are typically that of a teenage such as her love of watching music videos on TV.

The aim of massage was to work on her parasympathetic nervous system to facilitate a level of calmness, so off went the TV and on came some soothing massage music.

Her mother was a good student and Anh responded so well to the massage. On my return over the next few days her mother commented that she had never seen Anh sleep so peacefully and it was a thrill for me to see the wounds on her legs start to heal and no fresh wounds during my time with her.

Anh wanted to learn and we practiced some hand-eye co-ordination techniques like putting on a watch and changing the time. I was so impressed with her determination to not give up until she had achieved the task. She thrived on the positive reinforcement and being able to accomplish the task.

Gabby has a heart as big as Texas and gave me $100 to put towards my time in Vietnam. I always knew it would go to some aspect of the Blue Dragon Foundation and it seemed absolutely fitting for this family to receive this money.

I also left Anh with a piece of paua shell and a connection to New Zealand and an on-going association I am sure to have with both this family and the Blue Dragon Foundation.