Monday, May 27, 2013

1 operation, 2 days, 3 traffickers, 4 girls

We're all smiles at Blue Dragon today - our latest operation to find 2 trafficked girls has gone particularly well.

Blue Dragon's lawyer, Van, received a call for help late last week and headed north west to Dien Bien province. Dien Bien is an exceptionally beautiful place, still very undeveloped, and is home mostly to people from ethnic minority communities. But it is also a target for human traffickers. Its sheer remoteness, the great distances between towns, and the endemic poverty make it a fertile province for exploitation of the worst kind.

Van worked with the provincial police to investigate a case of 2 girls who had just gone missing from one village. They discovered that the trafficker was taking them overland to the Chinese border, and so raced north to head them off. Storms and downpours slowed them down, but they made it and Van spent the night in a Chinese border post watching in case the trafficker tried to cross.

This morning, the team spotted the trafficker with 2 girls, and the police swooped in to make the arrest.The girls were hugely relieved to be set free. Their most terrifying nightmare had been narrowly diverted.

On interrogation, the man admitted that one of his partners in crime was in the midst of transporting 2 more girls from another town. Again, they were headed to the border, but in a totally different area. Van and the police spent most of today racing through the mountains, and once again they got there in time. Two more girls released, and this time 2 traffickers arrested.

We've been very fortunate in our work to get some great results over time, but today has been exceptional. Four girls are giving statements to police, and 3 traffickers are now out of action permanently.

We may never know how many girls they have already trafficked, but we do know how many will fall victim to them in the future: None.

Two girls, set free from traffickers, enter the local police station
to give statements 

A suspected trafficker is being taken to the district police
to prepare to face court

Two days of work have made a big difference... Not only in the lives of these 4 girls, but also to the villages which were being targeted by these traffickers. We expect, too, that other traffickers will be scared off, at least for a little while. They can see that the risk of getting caught is increasing. They cannot do this work without fear of consequences. 

A special thanks, too, to our partner organisation Giving It Back To Kids. Van was talking to Robert, the founder of GIBTK, at the moment he received the call for help, and Robert immediately offered to underwrite the costs of the rescue trip. We are really fortunate to have friends like that, who are willing to make this work possible. With this kind of help, we really can do Whatever It Takes to end human trafficking.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The graduate

Blue Dragon's first rescue trip to find trafficked children was in 2006. A small team of us traveled to Ho Chi Minh City to meet kids who had been trafficked onto the streets from central Vietnam.

I was on that team, along with our lawyer Van, a volunteer named Eric, and a former street kid who is now a staff member at Blue Dragon - Vi.

We knew that dozens of kids from Hue province had been deceived into thinking they were going south for an education, and instead were being forced to sell flowers outside night clubs from 7pm to 3am every single night. Our objective was to get the kids home, and break up the trafficking ring.

We succeeded, and took a group of children home to their families in Hue. The trafficking ring gave up soon after.

One of the boys we met on that trip was named Can. He was from a very poor family in Hue province. Although they loved him very much, they had barely enough money to eat, let alone send their kids to school, and so they were very vulnerable to the trafficker's promises of a better life.When they learned what their Son was doing in the south, they just wanted him home.

Although we took Can back to his family at first, we later brought him north to Hanoi so that he could attend a good school. It was clear that Can was particularly bright and had a future in education. If he stayed at home, his prospects were limited, and his family just wanted what was best for him.

And so Can moved to Hanoi and lived in the Blue Dragon shelter. He worked hard - very hard - and soon was top of all his classes.

A few years later, Blue Dragon was presented with an amazing opportunity.

Chatsworth International School in Singapore offered us a 4 year scholarship for one of the kids. All expenses paid. Four years of an American High School diploma, in an international environment. Can was the immediate choice.

And so, in September 2009, Vi and I took Can to Singapore to begin his international education. Although his friends back in Vietnam always thought how lucky Can was, the truth is that 4 years of living away from home in a foreign country is difficult. It has never been easy for Can, but finally he has made it.

On Thursday, Can graduated from high school.

Can (on the left) and Vi: Can's first day at Chatsworth, 2009

Can's last day at Chatsworth - again with Vi! 

As he sat on the stage with his entire class, Can beamed through the graduation ceremony like nobody else. Vi and I attended, passing through Singapore on the way home from our fundraising trip to Australia, to watch as Can received his certificates.

Can is now not only a Blue Dragon boy; he's also a Chatsworth boy. He has achieved what was unimaginable back in 2006, and has so very much to be proud of.

This weekend, Can will return to Vietnam with us, and spend some time with family and friends. But the next big adventure is yet to come: university.

This is one young man who is really going places.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A big win for Dong

Today there was an exciting announcement on Australian radio. Kathryn Freeman, a former volunteer at Blue Dragon in Vietnam, and now a Board Member of Blue Dragon in Australia, has won a notable award.

Kathryn entered a writing competition held by an organisation called The Footpath Library. She wrote about her relationship to one of the Blue Dragon boys, Dong, who was once a street kid but now works with us as a security guard.

Dong has had a massively difficult childhood, but at every step has made good decisions and, despite everything being against him, has made something of his life. In very large part he has succeeded because of people like Kathryn who have cared for him and made him believe in himself. He's an exceptional young man, and now is immortalised in Kathryn's short story, We held hands.

Dong and Kathryn at the Blue Dragon centre

I can't publish the story here (copyright!) but I have read it - and it deserved to win. In place it had me laughing; then I was crying; and finally I was doing both at the same time. It's a beautiful story. And it will be published in the August edition of Meanjin.

Congratulations, Kathryn, and accolades to you, Dong, for being such a star!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Blue in the news

Blue Dragon has popped up in the news around the world over the last week.

Gulf News has featured an in-depth article on human trafficking:

Blue Dragon Founder sees red over human trafficking

And here's a short interview on Australia's ABC Radio from Thursday:


We have some more exciting media news coming up on Thursday next week - can't wait to announce it!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Starts today

Today marks the launch of Blue Dragon's 2013 major appeal, which we're calling: Whatever it takes.

Anyone who has read the stories here or looked over the Blue Dragon Facebook page knows the sort of work we do. We find kids in danger, get them out, and then look after them for the long term. And our strategy is simple: Whatever it takes.

If we know of a child enslaved in a factory, we find the factory and demand the release of the child. If we know of a girl in a brothel across the border, we travel to where ever she is and help her escape. If we meet a boy living on the streets, we help him sort out his family problems and give him a place to live and grow. That's just what we do.

To make that all happen, we need to put fuel in the motor. It's the topic we all hate to raise: money. But giving kids a home, helping a child escape slavery, sending a student to school: it all takes money.

Blue Dragon is getting ready now to face the challenges of the 2013-2014 cycle. We already know that there'll be plenty of challenges to deal with.

If you like what we do, if you want these kids to get the help they need, please help any way you can. Even a few dollars will help. The goal is to raise $192,000, and we can do that if everyone contributes their bit.

Monday, May 13, 2013


I am in Australia at the moment, meeting friends and supporters of Blue Dragon, attending some events, and speaking a little on radio.

Being here is really like being in another world. I feel so far from the streets of Vietnam, from the kids I worry about every day, from the challenges of rescuing kids in crisis. 

This morning in an interview I was asked what got me started in all this work, and I couldn't help but say: Stupidity! 

After all, who in their right mind would start an organisation in another country to rescue girls out of brothels, and to provide homes for abandoned kids who've grown up on the streets?

For sure I didn't know what I was getting into when I started Blue Dragon Children's Foundation. And I'm glad I didn't. If I had my time all over again, I'd do it exactly the same.

I am very happy to be a fool, and plan to remain one for a long time to come.