As pretty much everyone who knows me knows, I am a massive supporter of Vietnam‘s Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. They’re based in Hanoi and I’ve visited their centre(s) on several occasions, marveling at the work they do to improve the lives of children who would otherwise be pretty much ignore by society.
First things first, they have changed their web site address. I assume the old one will work for some time, but the preferred new one is now www.bluedragon.org. Please add this to your bookmarks and check them out.
Also, seeing as – according to the supermarket shelves anyway – it’s almost Xmas, can I please get in an early reminder about cards. That is, don’t send them. If you’re one of those people who liked to make sure they stay in touch over the holiday period with a nice bit of folded paper in an envelope, then I would be grateful if you could instead make a small donation to BDCF – and just send us an email.
Essentially, I’d rather one of the most well-run and effective charities I’ve ever seen gets the cash rather than Mr & Mrs Hallmark. While it is nice to have those extra decorations around the house from family and friends, I just feel that there are better places for the money to be going.
If you check their latest newsletter you’ll find out that Vietnam has a winter at the same time of year as we do, and kids living on the street need extra blankets and so on. Wouldn’t you rather keep one of them warm than pop a card in the post to us?
If you want to send something then Blue Dragon do a scheme where you can donate a certain value which is enough to cover [an item]. In return you get a nice PDF certificate which you can print out and send: “My gift to you bought this for the children”. That scheme launches on November 1st so check their page out then!
I’ve just been going through the “in progress” work that the wonderful Kristian (of Loondesign) is doing for Blue Dragon‘s website. The new “Kid’s stories” page details three tales of children who have found themselves fortunate enough to receive help from the crew at BDCF. Courtesy of a discussion I was having with someone on facebook recently, the third one made me wonder – why are people in different countries, yet in similar situations, so different.
I can’t link to the story directly as the site won’t be uploaded in its new form for a week or so, so I’ve pinched the relevant section:
Hanh grew up in Bac Ninh province with her mother, Khanh. Hanhâ€™s father walked out on her even before she was born, so that mother and daughter were homeless and had to live in abandoned houses.
When Blue Dragon met Hanh, she was 12 years old and living in a decrepit old house with no electricity or water supply. The roof had caved in and snakes infested the toilet area.
Hanh was still going to school, but her mother could not afford to pay the fees much longer. This was a family in crisis.
Blue Dragon immediately offered Hanh support to go to school, and then we set about securing land for the family and building a house that they could be proud of.
Today, Hanh is in the final years of High School and looking forward to university. Their new house is kept immaculately clean, and Hanh displays her certificates of achievement from school on the wall for all to see.
Let’s get this down to the simple facts. A family of two living in horrid conditions as a result of being left with no money manage their best for 12 years. Someone offers them help. They get a new house, the child goes to school and does well. The house is cleaned and maintained – by them – and kept as good as new.
Compare this to the UK where we have a benefits system to help people who find themselves in such a situation. Before I begin, I know that not everyone is the kind of person who will do what I’m about to rant about, but a ridiculously large number of people are.
First of all, there wouldn’t be a the 12 year wait before someone “found” them. Shortly after financial problems started, they would be able to apply for assistance. A house would be forthcoming, or at the least a flat. Their rent would be covered and assistance given to find work. Schooling is, of course, free in the UK. As a nation, we are incredibly fortunate.
Given where I lived for 13 years (Bradford) and specifically the area within it, I saw far too many examples of people who took the free house and turned it into a completeÂ dilapidatedÂ Â pit. Lawns turned to jungles, rubbish left lying, windows broken. Absolutely filthy. The simple thought being that it cost them nothing and if it got bad enough they’d just be moved somewhere else – again, for free.
Children would refuse to attend school, assuming their parents bothered to try to get them to go. Instead, they’d spend their time loitering,Â committingÂ crimes and ending up as the type of people who would be demanding another house of their own as soon as they were legally able.
The only major difference is that the Vietnamese family realised exactly how lucky they were to be given a fresh start. The appreciated it and showed their gratitude in taking this gift and showing how proud they were of the house and fresh start they had been given. A home to be proud of, academic achievements to boast about and a future they could never have dreamed of beforehand.
Here in the UK, we’re so used to getting something for nothing that we take our good fortune at being born in a comparatively wealthy country for granted. We’re like spoiled children – we want everything with no explanation as to why we’re getting it. To some extent it’s human nature to take the easiest route to solving a problem but some people, unfortunately, take this to extremes. Why put effort in when you can get something for nothing?
I think this is one of the reasons I enjoyed working in Vietnam so much, and especially with the children at the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. Everyone there appreciated what was being done for them. The vast majority took this piece of good fortune and turned it very much to their own advantage through hard work and with a great spirit. They knew they wouldn’t have another chance, and that they would have led a significantly worse life if they hadn’t.
If only we could make our own citizens realise how fortunate they are in comparison.
It’s time for the annual message, folks. Please do not send me any greetings cards. It’s both Christmas and my birthday this month and I really don’t want or need cards. The thought is appreciated, it really is. But I’m between houses (as ever) so have nowhere to decorate.
Besides, there are better uses for your cash than folding bits of paper. If you were considering sending me something the please just drop a quid into a charity box (your choice) instead. Your choice.
Nothing I’m directly connected with, at least as far as being actively involved, but here are two good ways to waste your cash instead of… I dunno… paying tax or something.
First up, the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation are now selling Christmas cards. Yes, it’s only November but remember they’ll have to be shipped from Vietnam! Each card is hand-crafted by one of the teenagers who benefit from the money raised in their sale. They seem pricey, but note the title of each one – what you pay is what it goes towards – a desk and lamp, school books for a child, a winter coat and so on.
Next up is a chap who’s planning on doing something mental in 2011. Back in 2007 at the exact same time as I was walking across Europe for the aforementioned BDCF, Mark Allison was running from John O’ Groats toÂ Land’s End in aid of a local hospice. A marathon a day, basically. In essence, he was running the same distance I was walking each day.
Well, he’s gearing up to beat that and plans to walk coast to coast across the US. That’s 3000 miles, trebling the distance I stumbled across.
All the costs of this jaunt will come out of his own pocket and every penny raised will go to St.Benedicts Hospice and The Childrens Foundation. In addition, for every pound raised before the end of 2009, Peter’s Pies will donate 50p. That’s incredibly generous.
For full details, please see Mark’s “Run Geordie Run” website. Oh, yeah – he’s a staunch Newcastle fan!