Guest post: Luke is running for the kids

I’ve known Luke for a few years now since he volunteered with KickStart Ghana as a football coach and wrote our training guide for future coaches. Since then he has lived all over the world including China, India, Balham and now Hanoi in Vietnam where he teaches English and coaches football. I’ll say three things about Luke to introduce him:

1. He’s a brilliant football coach. I learnt a huge amount from him in the short time I spent with him in Ghana and at Balham Blazers. It isn’t just me who thinks this as he’s just passed his Asia B licence.

2. His blog is the only one around that I have to tune in to every time there’s a new post. It’s equally funny and thought provoking, make sure you check it out.

3. He has a keen sense of social justice and what’s right and wrong and I think that comes through in his post below.

Luke is running the Phuket Marathon (imagine the heat!) to raise money for a NGO he volunteers for, Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. I spent the morning with them when I was in Hanoi and I’ll be writing my opinions about them later on, but Luke captures the importance of their work really well. His story is also a brilliant example of how to do overseas volunteering the right way.

So read on to find out why he’s running this insane race and the difference you’ll make if you sponsor him and his colleague Neil.

I’ve been living in Hanoi now for nearly three months, on my first weekend I met a bunch of Vietnamese lads. I ended up coaching them football that weekend and have seen them every weekend since (bar one). They have an insatiable energy and are constantly laughing and smiling, speak very little English and what words they do know they just repeat and smile, but we get on. We get on really quite well, I’m always happy to see them, and they (seem) happy to see me. To have this lust for life is really quite something especially if you know where they have come from.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation officially came into existence in 2004, its mission is to provide exceptional care to Vietnamese children and families in crisis while creating long-term change for a better world. They focus on respect and not pity, development and not charity, empowerment and not dependency, collaboration and not control and also massive long term interventions and not just quick fix solutions. This is a pretty good mission in my eyes.

In recent years a lot of children’s foundations and charities have been found to not be quite as truthful as you would anticipate. “Voluntourism,” is a growing trend where tourists volunteer to help local communities. In 2008 the voluntourism sector brought in over $2 billion, and one of the most popular sectors of this industry is volunteering in an orphanage. In many countries there are massive problems of corruption, exploitation and abuse within orphanages, as they can act as business and turn profits.  People often pay to volunteer or make donations during or after their time there. To boot studies from the UN have shown that the majority of children in orphanages are not actually orphans: its estimated that 2/3 children in orphanages have at least one living parent. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that a child should grow up with their family; living in an institution or orphanage can cause emotional, psychological and physical problems.

What is really sickening about some of these institutions is the trafficking of children around them. Children are often displaced from their own loving families to meet the requirements of well-intentioned volunteers, as well as to attract donations to support apparently destitute children. A recent case study I read by Next Generation Nepal revealed that many orphan managers in Kathmandu were actively asking traffickers to bring them children, or keeping the children in squalid conditions to attract more donations. It’s also an issue in Haiti where orphanage managers have admitted to keeping children thin to attract more donations.

Where does Blue Dragon fit in? Well Blue Dragon is not an orphanage, it is a children’s foundation. Their goal is to rescue and reunite victims of trafficking or slavery with their families, they provide therapeutic care for survivors of sex trafficking, they keep rural children in school so they can achieve their dreams and goals, they have crisis teams out on the streets of Hanoi getting runaways out of dangerous and abusive situations. In short, they are the good guys.

But their work can get a whole lot more complex than that. 80% of children Blue Dragon meets and rescues are returned home with their families. But for those with traumatic experiences, facing stigma, or their home is still abusive, then living with their family might not be the best option. A safe place to live and recover becomes one of the most important services for them. So Blue Dragon provides both emergency and long-term accommodation for kids when it’s not not safe for them to live elsewhere.

When Blue Dragon works with volunteers, they require a commitment of six months, background checks and the required skill set for the job. The first priority is the protection and care of kids, which includes the emotional stability of the kids of having time to get to know the volunteer and not having to say good bye every two weeks to ‘travelling volunteers’.

Blue Dragon don’t turn a profit, they rely on donations from fundraisers and really this is an integral part of keeping the foundation going. Donations directly help kids in crisis and makes a tangible difference on the ground; being here and having seen the incredible work they do it became apparent I wanted to do my bit, not matter how big or small.

And Neil and I are trying to help the good guys, the effect they have had on us and we have had on them has been truly special and we want to pay them back, so we’ve decided to run a marathon in Phuket in Blue Dragon gear and have been out on the streets seeking sponsorship, and are now seeking sponsorship online, so I guess I am asking you to buy me a pint – but instead of actually buying me a pint, stick the cost of it into our fund. Do your good deed for the day.

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