Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is located in a 6th floors building in the center of Hanoi. On each floor boys and girls in the age group 10 to 20 fill the rooms taking part in different and exciting activities. Each of them have a painful life story. Most of them come from the streets of Hanoi to take part in the activities. They have left their family in order to make money in the streets of the capital, but the Blue Dragon seems to be awake and keeping an eye on them.
The start and the staff
Blue Dragon offers children and families in crisis the chance to turn their lives around, providing practical solutions to the daily problems that are keeping poverty alive.
Skye Maconachie from Australia have been in Hanoi for many years. She is FK Norway partner contact in Blue Dragon.
– The institution was founded in 2003 by Michael Brosowski, an Australian teacher. Michael arrived in Vietnam to work at Hanoi’s National University. Soon Michael found himself teaching English to a group of kids he never expected to meet: shoeshine boys who walked the streets trying to earn enough money to survive. Today the organisation has a staff of 88 people working directly with 1,500 children and youth from all over Vietnam, says Skye
The staff are lawyers, teachers, cooks, psychologists, accountant, social workers and marketing people. Among the staff are former Blue Dragon kids.
– Youngers are also invited to work at the office. They learn, get experience and earn money, says Skye.
Used to live in the same situation
In a room with big windows, paintings in blue and white, eight boys and a girl take part in a circus class. Kirirachana Tor and Channa Ton are FK participants from Cambodia and professional circus performers and will stay in Vietnam for one year.
They are part of the south-south exchange project between Blue Dragon in Vietnam and Phare Ponleu Selpak Association (PPSA) in Cambodia. The project Performing Arts Development for Youth Employment aims at building skills in performing arts; circus, theater and urban dance skills for future employability. The two organisations share each other strengths to build youth’s capacity. The focus disciplines of the project are circus, theater and urban dance.
– I hope that I can pass on my skills to the kids and to help them develop themselves. This was our own story too. We have been in the same situation in Cambodia. It was after we joined the circus training in Phare Ponleu Selpak our lives changed. Now we have a profession, we can earn money and support our families. We became circus artists and we perform in many countries. We are also teachers in Cambodia and work in different organisations helping kids to get a profession, says Kirirachana.
Empowerment, not dependency
– Art is a tool for human development. Blue Dragon focuses on respect, no pity; development, not charity; empowerment not dependency; collaboration, not control; massive interventions not quick-fix, underlines Skye.
The circus classes
The teachers communicate by gests and sometimes with help from a staff member but the communication doesn’t seem to be any problem. The kids support each other and learn how to work in team. The skills they learn here open a new world with possibilities for the future.
– The discovery of new skills is an important part of this work. This is part of the recuperation and rebuild the youngers as a person, and discover their individuality. The circus classes are a completely new activity that started with the FK exchange. It gives them the opportunity to physical activities, some sort of therapy and finding a profession. Some of the students are also hip-hop dancers who find the circus classes an incredible good tool to improve their dance skills, says Skye.
50 youths are involved in circus theatre and urban dance activities.
The impact of the circus project
Kim Miller takes a master in social work at the university of Sidney and work as a volunteer in Blue Dragon when she is in Hanoi.
Kim explains that it is a long way to go in life to understand that we can make a better choice in our lives. The circus project supported by FK have different levels of impact in the life of the kids.
– We have one boy, for example, who really struggle in his life and if he finds something difficult, he quits. He quits jobs very easy, he struggles with the school and it is a common ting in his life just to walk away. But in the circus classes he is one of the leaders because he enjoys it very much. The circus has become the bright spot in his life. He is more confidence and engaged.
– So, the programme is really helpful. For other kids that come inn and struggle for only 10 or 15 minutes, it is a way to help them to be connected and enjoy what they are doing. This is very important because this can keep them away from the streets and do something they love to do.
Kids that struggle with complex trauma and negligence have difficult to concentrate. And one of the things the teachers include in the end of the classes is meditation as a tool to improve their concentration ability.
– In few worlds, I could say that they gain confidence, self-esteem, self believe, courage to try new things, engagement and they build resilience. And finally they find a profession that gives them the opportunity to live off their jobs, says Kim.
Trafficking – a huge challenge!
Another important work for Blue Dragon is the rescue of girls from the human trafficking. Many girls are sold to China for marriage or as slaves. Many ends up as factory workers. To rescue them is a difficult and risky job that is now supported by the police in Vietnam. Some of the girls are sold for 50 dollars or even less. About 100 children are rescued every year by the organisation’s anti-trafficking team.
The Blue Dragon partners in Cambodia
PPSA is a non-profit Cambodian association improving the lives of children, young adults, and their families with art schools, educational programs, and social support.
The FK exchange agreement between Blue Dragon and Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPSA) was signed in 2017.
PPSA is working to build a sustainable artistic community within Cambodia. To that end the association offer solid employment opportunities for the graduates through social enterprise partners. The organisation works with arts through visual and applied arts school, performing arts school, educational programmes and vocational training.