Monday, December 28, 2009

The search

With Christmas barely behind us, the pace continues...

I've often blogged in the past about our work of finding children who have been trafficked from rural areas to factories in Ho Chi Minh City. These kids, sometimes as young as ten, slave away for little or even no pay while their parents believe they are learning a trade. In reality, they're just factory fodder.

Up til now, we've rescued close to 60 kids - both boys and girls - from such situations. And today, Blue Dragon staff are back in the industrial neighbourhoods of HCMC looking for kids whose parents have asked for our help to get their children home.

But a new development: somehow, the traffickers knew we were coming. They've turned off their phones so we have no way of calling or tracking them down. At the end of a whole day of searching, we've managed to secure the release of just one child.

In the next few days, progress is likely to be slow; but it's not all bad. We'd prefer to be able to find the kids and get them out, but there's some value in knowing that the traffickers are so scared. We're making their industry difficult. If we can keep up the pressure, it might just be easier for them to go and - well, get a real job.

This happened to us a couple of year back, when our anti-trafficking work was focused on children who had been forced to sell flowers on the streets. There are still a few kids doing that, but in nothing like the numbers who we first saw in 2005. Eventually, our constant harrassment of the traffickers lead them to simply give up and do something else.

Could we be heading the same way with the factory traffickers?


Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas party in Hoi An!

Here are some pics from the Christmas party at the Hoi An Children's Home last night... They even had a visit from multiple Santas!


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas fun, and a cat

Today we've been learning juggling and circus acts - yeeha, and so far no broken bones!

... and... one of our boys found a stray a kitten outside the Blue Dragon centre. The cat - now named Tom - is in pretty shaky health, so after spending a couple of nights at our centre and residence, Tom is now convalescing at a local veterinary hospital. We're hoping that Tom will be back with us, in better shape, very soon.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I made this!

A pic from the Hoi An Children's Home, where one of the boys has put his artistic talents to a Christmas endeavour...


Monday, December 21, 2009

It begins: Beardless Santa Strikes

Christmas is coming!

Hanoi is abuzz with Christmas trees, Santa Claus, and fake snow!

The kids at Blue Dragon's Sunday soccer game had a special visit yesterday - Santa himself (aka Binh, Blue Dragon's rather unique tap-dancing, cheer-leading IT teacher) put in an appearance, laden with gifts, much to the delight of the 50 or so boys and girls who turned up.

Happiness all round...


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Angels and Dragons

We're having a real rollercoaster of a week...

...One of the former Blue Dragon kids, Binh, has just gotten married...

...his youngest brother is in hospital with a serious head injury from a motorbike accident... of the original Blue Dragon kids - Minh, now in his 20s - has announced that he's getting married in January...

...our staff have taken the runaway boy Tiep home to his family - although it seems pretty clear that he won't be going back to live with his mother ever again...

...another runway boy, who has been living on the streets for many months, also went back to his family with the Blue Dragon staff - but again, there's not much prospect that this family is going to stick together...

...and one of our friendliest neighbours died unexpectedly. (When you have a drop in centre and residential home on any street in any country, friendly neighbours are hard to come by!)

... and it's not even Wednesday yet!

Meanwhile, the Sofitel Plaza in Hanoi is helping us to raise money for the street kids we work with. They've set up a huge Christmas tree, and are selling Blue Dragon dolls in their lobby. They even have an angel working there to sell the dragons! It's nice to get a helping hand like this - it all helps...

In response to Terynn's comment - here are the dragons!


Friday, December 11, 2009

Fighting poverty, by making cages

Blue Dragon has rescued 56 trafficked children, over the past few years; and most of these kids have come from a sea-side area of central Vietnam.

Getting the kids home is just the beginning. Once they are back with their families, we need to help them return to school or training; help out with material needs (like build them a house); and help the families to become more secure and, ultimately, independently able to look after their children without our help.

To that end, our latest venture is a project with another NGO, called Telefoods, to teach some aquaculture to families living in particular hardship.

Stage 1 has already begun: the families are learning how to make cages in which to raise fish! Here are some pics of what's been happening this week...


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Update on runaways

As we hoped, the runaway boy named Binh who I mentioned in my last blog entry is now back with his family.

His mother and some extended family came to the Blue Dragon centre yesterday afternoon. Binh was very worried at first, and tried running away from them again, but eventually they all set off together back to their home in the countryside.

It was really interesting to see that the family were concerned about who we were: they feared that we might be child traffickers, and so they brought some burly neighbours with them in case their child was in any danger. Once they saw us with Binh, though, their fears were calmed, and they were incredibly thankful for our assistance. It was touching to hear the grandfather offer to pay us for any costs we had incurred while Binh was with us. (Of course, we declined!)


This article on street children appeared in a local newspaper this week. I can't say that I agree with the headline, or with the forced repatriation of street children that's discussed at the end (news flash: it rarely, if ever, works! And we'd never force kids in western countries to go home, so western NGOs in Vietnam shouldn't be trying to get away with it here!) the article does explore some important issues that street kids face.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

2 runaways

The past few days at Blue Dragon have been dominated by our work with two runaway boys.

Each has come to us separately; they're very different people and have come to us for very different reasons. But they're both in quite difficult situations and need some help.

First is a 14 year old named Binh, who has a notable intellectual impairment. He's a tiny little guy, looking more like an 11 year old than a 14 year old; and when one of our staff spotted him on Long Bien bridge he was filthy and hungry.

Because of his impairment, it's been hard going to find out any information from him about where he's from and why he's ended up in Hanoi. The staff team here has been great, though, and finally we've been able to piece together enough clues to track down his family in the countryside. They've been hugely worried about him - of course! - and are on their way in to Hanoi today to meet up with Binh. Fingers crossed for a happy reunion.

The second runaway boy is a 16 year old named Tiep. He was brought to us by another one of our kids, who used to live on the streets in a gang but now lives at our residence and has a regular job. He saw Tiep shoeless and filthy on a bus, and realised that something was wrong!

Tiep has been living at home with his mother, and for the past 2 years has been working in a factory. But things at home aren't going well; Tiep and his mother aren't getting on and Tiep believes he's better off now to venture out on his own. There are bound to be many emotions tied up with this case, but we've already been able to make contact with his mother and we're hoping to have some kind of resolution this week.

Runaway cases are always difficult; they require intense attention and need to be handled carefully. There's a lot at stake! Hopefully I'll have some good news about Binh and Tiep in coming days.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009


I am in Hoi An at the moment, in central Vietnam, where Blue Dragon operates a home for 30 children.

Although I'm here to do some work at the Home, this trip coincided with the grand opening of another fantastic project based in Hoi An: a training restaurant for disadvantaged youth.

This restaurant, called Streets, has been open for a month or so already, but tonight was the 'official' event. It's a great restaurant - the food is top notch, the building itself is worth a visit, and the service is excellent. Best of all, the trainees who run the place (under supervision, of course) are the most wonderful people you can meet!

Check out their website here.

I'll write more in coming days about my other work here in Hoi An. But if you're traveling through, make sure you stop in for a meal here. A very worthy cause!


Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I haven't been blogging much in the past week as so much has been happening! A big day today - a few runaways were at our centre, and the staff were able to finish the day by taking one back to his family and seeing a very happy (and tearful) reunion. Most satisfying.

I've suddenly realised that Christmas, New Year, and Lunar New Year are all just around the corner - panic time! Lots to do.

...And on a calmer note, this article was on the front page of the Denver Post Lifestyle section today.

Will get back to blogging later this week!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Shameless marketing for a good cause

It's Christmas time... and that means gift time!

Blue Dragon has a range of gift cards for sale; click here to have a look.

The cards have been designed by one of the Blue Dragon girls, Hanh, who has just started art college.

Sales of the cards provide practical support to the children we are helping - and you get a beautiful card to send to your friends at Christmas!

Drop Ruth from Blue Dragon an email if you have any questions about how to order:


Monday, November 16, 2009

Photos - trafficked kids

As promised, a few more photos of the children we've just taken out of factories to reunite with their families...

This young girl was forced to work on the
floor, up to 17 hours per day cutting out cloth

Here's the whole group we rescued, standing with the
officials from their home towns and a Red Cross representative

First stop - clothes shopping! The kids needed
warm jackets for their return home

One of the smallest kids we rescued, standing with an
official from his village as they left the factory

The kids are all back home now, catching up on sleep and spending time with family and friends. No more long hours slaving away in factories!


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Redefining normal

An important part of Blue Dragon's rescue trips to Saigon is having government officials and local journalists accompany us, to keep them involved and active in preventing child trafficking.

Their presence also keeps us safe.

One of the journalists who we worked with last week has written this article, translated into English. (The original, in Vietnamese, is here; as is this follow up article which has not been translated).

The writer of this article has taken the time to interview some traffickers and factory owners. A quote to remember: "It's normal for children to work until midnight."

Apologies that I don't yet have more photos! I'll post them as soon as I get my hands on them...


Thursday, November 12, 2009


Yesterday morning, 7 children from Hue were working up to 18 hours per day in garment factories like this:

Today, those 7 kids, aged 13-15, are on a train heading home. They are with a government official from their home town, and the Blue Dragon lawyer, Van.

Here are photos of 3 of those children, pictured with their bags as they leave the factories.

We have some very happy kids, and some very unhappy traffickers.

More pics to come over the weekend.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More shoes

I am in Hoi An today, here to visit the kids and staff of the Hoi An Children's Home. We're going through some changes in the management of the Home, so I am here to help with that and give some encouragement to the staff who are working very hard!

I'm also visiting an old friend - Nam, who I have written about in the past. Nam was the first street kid I ever met in Vietnam, and back in February I wrote here about how he and his wife have opened a shoe shop.

Since then, Nam again approached me to ask if Blue Dragon could lend him the money to open a second branch, closer to the river where far more tourists are likely to shop. He put together a convincing plan, so we organised a small loan and the new shoe shop is now up and running.

It's flood season again, so there aren't very many customers right at the moment, but the shop has already had some good months and Nam is confident about the future. He's working in the new shop, and his wife in the original shop; they've now hired some apprentices to help them.

Nam's initiative and hard work remind me, yet again, why it's so worthwhile helping out street kids in Vietnam.

The original Gold Dragon Shoe Shop is at 495 Cua Dai Street, Hoi An.

The new shop is at 80 Bach Dang Street.

The shop from the outside...

Nam standing proudly in front of his new shop

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Giving and taking

Over the past few days, some very different events have highlighted the contrasting nature of my work in Vietnam.

First, this article came to my attention and the Blue Dragon staff have already made contact with the family of the child involved. The story in brief: yet another child from Hue in central Vietnam has been working like a slave in a garment factory in Ho Chi Minh City, and fallen extremely ill due to being overworked and undernourished.

The boy is back home now with his family; Blue Dragon is paying for him to undergo some tests at the provincial hospital. Meantime, some questions need to be answered. Why was the factory owner able to do this to a child? And will he be allowed to get away with it, or will he be prosecuted for this?

In contrast to an unscrupulous factory owner making money by exploiting children, one of the Blue Dragon kids in Hanoi has made a most touching gesture. In my previous blog entry, I wrote about Hanh, in her first year of art university and already exhibiting her art work. The gallery paid her for her involvement in the exhibition, which was truly exciting - her first ever substantial income! So what did she do? The following morning, she called to say that she wanted to donate 20% of her payment to help disadvantaged kids.

This is the largest sum of money that Hanh has ever made, and her instant reaction was to give it back to needy children. Hanh has every right to keep this money for herself - she needs it! She earned it! - but she has the moral compass to think of others.

Now, if only we could get the garment industry to start thinking like Hanh...


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Drama and violence

Some exciting news from two of the Blue Dragon girls today!

One of our kids who has recently graduated from Year 12, Quyen, has just been accepted into a drama school here in Hanoi. This has been her dream for many years - and it's all thanks to her hard work and perseverance that she's made it. It's a 3 month course, and Quyen started on Monday. (That's a pic of Quyen below).

Meantime, another of our girls, Hanh, has been in art school just a few weeks and she's already been invited to participate in an exhibition. Many Blue Dragon supporters know of Hanh's work - the gift cards which we sell at Christmas each year are designed by her, and her artwork has appeared on our website and in other places around town. But this is her first public exhibition, and a major step forward for her!

The exhibition opens tonight at Hanoi Future Art - more info on it is right here. The theme is Violence (Bao Luc in Vietnamese), and Hanh's work will be appearing alongside works by both Vietnamese and international artists. If you're in Hanoi - get down there and see!


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Radio NZ

Here's a link to a radio interview I did recently on New Zealand radio. There are a few things on here that I have not yet blogged about - such as the Blue Dragon kids who are currently studying in Singapore and New Zealand. I'll get around to writing about that soon...

(P.S. - Some people apparently can't hear the interview using that link. If that's the case, follow this link and scroll down until you see the heading "Michael Brosowski". Thanks for letting me know, VinaMinh!)


Monday, October 26, 2009

Typhoon relief continues

Over the weekend, Blue Dragon worked with the Vietnamese Red Cross to get emergency supplies of rice, noodles, and water filters to families in Hue.

Although the typhoon ended a month ago, flooding continues and families are unable to get back to work - so there's still extensive hunger, homelessness, and general misery.

Auscham in Ho Chi Minh City raised the funds to pay for all this - big thanks to them for their support.

A family outside their demolished home

Taken from a Red Cross vehicle, showing flooded village streets

The roof has been torn away from this home

Blue Dragon staff preparing to distribute boxes of noodles

Some supplies had to be transported by boat to flood affected areas

Families gathering to receive supplies

Traveling by boat...

Getting help into the hands of those who need it


Friday, October 16, 2009

Long Bien festival

An important symbol of Blue Dragon's work in Hanoi is the Long Bien Bridge.

Once a beautiful landmark, famous for being designed by Mr Eiffel himself, it is now a rickety bridge which is home to street kids, beggars, drug dealers, and a night market that thrives and bustles with traders and thieves alike.

But it's still at the heart of Hanoi, and of Hanoians.

Last week the local community held the first ever Long Bien festival, intended to celebrate and recognise the place that the Bridge has in Hanoi's history and spirit.

Blue Dragon got involved because so many of our kids live around the bridge... or on it... or under it...

Follow this link to see photos that the Blue Dragon kids took early this year of the Bridge, as part of a project we organised.

Some of our boys performed a dragon dance, which is thought to bring good luck. The first photo below shows our kids doing the dance along the bridge - and that's another bridge, called Chuong Duong, in the background. Both Long Bien and Chuong Duong span the Red River.

The following 2 photos were taken by Vincent Baumont. The first is taken looking up at the Bridge, which usually isn't quite so festive...

... and the next shows our boys under the body of the dragon.

Oh, and a quick bit of trivia: Long Bien literally means, in English, "Dragon of the River Banks."


Monday, October 12, 2009

Aid to typhoon victims

Following up from an earlier blog about the aftermath of the typhoon: Blue Dragon has delivered rice and other food supplies to about 200 families in Hue. We're happy to report that the families we work with were mostly unharmed by the typhoon - although in the days following they've been going hungry as their normal sources of food have been cut off.

We'll be sending out an update to everyone on our mailing list in coming days, so email Amy - - if you're not on the mailing list but want to be!

And below are a couple of pics of the distribution. The 2nd photo shows our lawyer, Van, with a family whose home has been severely damaged.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Then and now

The photo below is taken in a tent set up on a demolished slum site in Hanoi.

Trang, aged 17, is wearing the pink shirt. This is her family's business: her mother, disabled by a bomb during the American - Vietnam war, relies on this "shop" as her sole source of income.

When I first met Trang and her mother Thanh, they were living in a house on this site. It wasn't a great place to live, but it was better than a tent. A couple of years ago, when the slums were demolished, all the slum owners were compensated - except for Mrs Thanh and her little family. So they erected this tent and now sell tea and drinks to workers from the nearby Long Bien market. A short time later, Trang's father died, so she dropped out of school to help her mother in the shop.

The photo below shows Trang three days ago.

Trang and her mother Thanh were desperate to find a way to get out of their awful circumstances, so they came to Blue Dragon and asked us to help Trang get some vocational training.
We were able to get Trang into a hair dressing course, and this week she has VERY proudly graduated. She's even been offered a job in another business!
Trang is all smiles. Things are looking up now; she has the skills to hold down a decent job, and she's motivated to do well.
A big difference between then and now.


Friday, October 09, 2009

Better now

Most of the news out of Vietnam and around south east asia has just been awful lately - so I thought it was time to post some good news. A few pics below of our kids celebrating the Mid-Autumn festival.... with special thanks to those lovely people who donated moon cakes for everyone to enjoy!

I have no idea what's going on in that last photo, but the first two show the kids making traditional stars in a park.

I also want to thank those individuals and groups who donated food and rice for the relief effort in Hue and Hoi An. I had one very humbling email from a Vietnamese man in the US who was sending us the money he'd been saving up so hard - but believed that the kids who lost all their gear in the typhoon needed it more than he did. That made me want to cry.
Bue Dragon's lawyer and some staff from the UN school, UNIS, are in Hue right now delivering about 2 tonnes of rice and noodles to families who lost everything. Powerful stuff.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Hoi An Children's Home - In Recovery

The flash flood in Hoi An, sparked by the typhoon, has receded, so the kids and staff are in the process of cleaning up and working out what they've lost. These photos have just come through, taken by one of the Social Workers there named Van.

The road leading to the Home - now accessible by boat!

Blue Dragon volunteers carrying supplies to the kids.

The front yard of the Home; trees are down, and filth is everywhere.