The famous Blue Dragon, trademark of this organisation.
Finally the day that I had been waiting for had arrived. The anticipation grew stronger when I flew in from Nha Trang the day before on my mission to see the Blue Dragon children. I was not sure of what to expect, but I was excited anyway. I brought along some souvenirs to give away to the kids ��" pencils, baby snowcaps and bags (it's winter in Nothern Vietnam so I figured that the snowcaps might come in handy). As I was travelling with only one 50-litre bagpack, I couldn't bring too much of these stuff. I already had the address and the staff of the hotel where I stayed told me that the place was only about 10-minute ride away by motorbike.
I took a motorbike taxi which cost me 20,000 Dong.
It was freezing cold in Hanoi so I "hugged" my rider’s back closely to get as much body heat as I could (he was indeed a very happy man that day that he gave me his contact number!).
A boy showing off his paper lotus...he made it himself.
The Blue Dragon Children's Foundation is located smacked in a safe place. No label is visible outside the building. In fact, no address could be found on the internet. But I know it was for the children’s safety and for that reason too I will not give that information away here. All contacts could only be made via email and telephone.
The first thing I saw when I stepped into the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation building were children aged between five and 16.
What caught my attention was the happy ambience in the air ��" all you could see were smiles on the children’s faces and their laughter echoing from the walls. They were all busy doing their own activities - some cutting coloured papers to make costumes for their Christmas party, some making necklaces out of beads to be sold for extra pocket money, I even saw some boys playing miniature snooker happily while others sitting in the lobby chit chatting with the staff.
Don’t be fooled by those happy faces though as behind them were sad stories that could break a rugby player down to tears. Some of them were victims of human trafficking and child labour while some others had lived in the streets gambling their lives to get through the day. They couldn’t go to school because their families couldn’t afford to buy books. (Children in Brunei are blessed in so many ways). Fortunately, there are people out there who care enough to build a haven for children like them.
The kids made this skirt out of paper joined together by a piece of string! she created it herself.
The Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation (BDCF) was a vision of an expat teacher in Vietnam named Michael. His vision and determination to keep the poor children off the streets and put them back in schools had moved others to help out. In the end, the BDCF building was created and now it has a few other branches all over Vietnam with around 300 children nestling safely under its roof.
I asked for Nadine, the lady who I had been corresponding with prior to my visit. Moments later, she came down the stairs and greeted me in the lobby. She's a very lovely lady and one could just wonder how she got through her days there in Blue Dragon. I explained to her the reasons for my visit there and she gave me some information regarding the foundation and the challenges that they had to face on daily basis.
I felt for her. It is never easy to run a non-profit organisation like the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation.
One of the Blue Dragon's kids...she sat with me quietly when we were making paper lotus. I just wonder what she has gone through...
Nadine gave me a tour around the place and for a non-profit organization they had done a very great job. There was an art room on the ground floor where children could play around or do some art works. I was very impressed with the creativity of these kids, They made jewelries out of beads, masks, colourful drawings they even made customes out of paper and plastic bags! The staff there had given all the supports to encourage these kids to channel their remorse in life into constructive activities.
The first floor was for the administration office and Nadine introduced me to the staff there. Everybody seemed to be very busy then (it was office hour) so I tried not to distract them from their work.
They had around 30 people working with BDCF - teachers, social workers, lawyers (to help them with some legal stuff which is a lot) and volunteers.
Don't let this cheeky face fool you...he has a very bad day.
Another flight of stairs we landed at the computer lab used to train older teenagers with computer skills to help them find jobs. The top floor was the kitchen and the eating area for staff and the children.
Nadine told me that BDCF has to pay the salary of some of their staff and with limited funding it is very difficult to do that. They also have to pay for the building rental and buy their teaching resources for the classes there. Their source of income comes from the sales of their postcards and artwork made by the children as well as generous contributions from the philanthropists, private firms and the public.
After the tour, I requested to stay longer and get myself involved.
I went to the art room and asked the kids if I could help them with their Christmas costumes party preps. I helped a girl make a skirt out of paper! It was brilliant I think and I could see that the kids there were enjoying themselves. Some of the girls there were busy making necklaces out of beads and thread. They also made other chunky jewelries like bangles and I thought they were pretty cool.
I am so proud of this boy!
I asked the staff there if they were taught to make these things. She told me that most of the time it was the kids' ideas -- now that's creativity!
While I was busy folding papers to make the skirt, a boy came into the room with a paper lotus in his hand that he made it himself.
These kids never stopped to impress me. Apparently, another volunteer was teaching the kids how to make lotus out of paper - I wanted to see that. So I said my thanks to the girls for tolerating my poor art skills and excused myself to join the activity next door.
Playing miniature pool...
In the lobby, Celestine was busy teaching cutting coloured paper to make paper lotus. She was surrounded by young children who watched her intently. Celestine is a regular volunteer at BDCF. Every December her husband and she would go to Hanoi to volunteer jobs with BDCF. They also volunteer for the Big Brother program in Cambodia. “If they were more people like them out there, this world would be a better place,” I said to myself.
That day, Celestine taught the kids how to make paper lotur.
It was new to me so I volunteered to help. It was fun sitting there with the kids around you. With eyes popping wide, they looked at me like I was some alien from outer space (I guess they were curious of who I was) so I introduced myself to them. They slowly warmed up to me and sat closer to initiate communication with me (that was a major triumph for these kids as most of them are still traumatised by their past). One of the kids that got my most attention was this little boy who was around 5 years old. For a five years old boy, he was too tiny. The staff told me that his parents were very poor and when they sent him to BDCF the first time, the boy didn't want to mix with anyone at all. I could see that the staff were able to change that ��" the little guy is ready to smile to anyone. At the end of the day, I gave the boy one of the snowcaps with "I love Brunei" logo written on it. It was a proud moment for me.
Busy making hat for christmas party
During lunch time, Celestine and I went to the top floor to join the other staff.
They were serving vegetarian that day. I had omelet, vegetables and spring rolls which were really sumptuous. I met with some more interesting people there and had a nice time conversing with them (although their English was as bad as my Vietnamese). I stayed for another hour after lunch just to help Celestine finish the lotus flowers for the kids. Before I left, I took a group photo with some of the staff and the kids there. I gave Nadine the souvenirs that I had brought from Brunei. She was very pleased and planned to give them away as gifts for students who do well in their studies.
Buying one of these postcards could help some kids to attend school..
I left BDCF around 1pm with fond memories and full determination to do more for these kids in the future. For more information on the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation and how you can help these kids, please click on www.bdcf.org .