by Thuy Ha
Three kids from a charity foundation for underprivileged children, Blue Dragon, sit on tiger skin-covered chairs, living it up as they are tended to by three girls at a luxury hair salon on Cao Ba Quat Street in Ha Noi.
After the hairwash, the three kids go into the next room to have their hair styled by hairdressers from Vu Doo Saloon, a favourite of the stylish set in Ha Noi.
One of the girls, lucky enough to be under the care of Vu, the owner of the salon, looked excited at the prospect of a new look.
"I’ve been really looking forward to getting a haircut at such a luxurious salon and giving myself a new look for the new year," said 12-year-old Luong Ngoc Khanh who joined Blue Dragon more than two years ago. "I told my parents and they also really wanted to see me with a new haircut from such a popular hair stylist. I would never have dreamed I could come here."
Blue Dragon was set up almost three years ago by two foreigners, Australian Michael Brosowski and Spaniard Gonzalo Serrano, who both wanted to help street kids and children lacking parental guidance to get a proper education and make a life for themselves. The foundation, which now has more than 50 children and about 20 regular visitors, has been providing classes in computer science, English, Spanish, arts and music, as well as regular counseling sessions and activities like soccer.
"We want to do something for the kids for Tet (lunar new year) and I thought giving them a new haircut would be good thing for a new year," said Blue Dragon’s director Brosowski who received total support from Vu.
"A lot of Vietnamese people have volunteered to do things for the kids and this is a practical opportunity to do something good for them," Brosowski added.
Twice a week, eight kids in two groups are brought to Vu’s salon to get their hair cut in the three weeks before Tet.
"When Michael told me about this I really liked his idea because I have been wanting to do something good for kids who are less fortunate," said Vu, as he trimmed Khanh’s hair.
"My customers are rarely kids so it’s also a chance for me to be creative and create cute hairstyles for them."
Vu then gave Khanh a blow dry, while carefully combing her hair to shape the new cut.
Khanh, who is in the fourth grade at Ha Noi’s May 19 primary school, kept looking at herself in the mirror in disbelief as Vu cut her hair.
Khanh’s family moved from Hung Yen Province, about 70km from Ha Noi, to live on the Hong (Red) River.
"My parents earn a living by collecting paper around the city so joining the group (Blue Dragon) helps me stay educated and provides some of the things my parents cannot give me," Khanh said as she told Vu how much she liked the haircut.
"I don’t really remember the last time I had my hair cut so I’m excited about the new style."
Khanh normally has her hair cut by volunteers at her school.
"My parents are busy going around the city all day to earn money and they do not have much time to take care of me," said Khanh. "But being with Michael’s group (Blue Dragon) helps me keep up academically and teaches me a lot about social things as well."
"Blue Dragon is a foundation that helps street children and those who drop out of school due to poverty," said Brosowski who initially came to Viet Nam to teach English at the National Economics University in Ha Noi four years ago.
Brosowski, along with Serrano who runs the sport activities, has been teaching English to kids from the ages of 10 to 18. He, with the volunteer support of other foreigners and Vietnamese, has extended Blue Dragon’s run for more than three years since its initial setup.
"Blue Dragon’s project in Ha Noi is called Step Ahead, and it assists disabled and street children, mainly by sending them to school."
Blue Dragon, which is run with the volunteer assistance of six social workers and psychologists, has a local partner, the Ha Noi Association for the Relief of Handicapped Children, that helps them choose kids for the programme.
Apart from providing the children with language, computer, arts and music classes, Blue Dragon also helps them with mental and psychological problems through their ‘living value’ class, said Brosowski.
"We help them deal with problems and pain through sharing it with other people."
Blue Dragon has been running another programme to help children who are at high risk of quitting school in Bac Ninh.
"The programme has been running for 18 months, helping keep about 250 kids in school," said Brosowski.
In addition to helping children stay in school, the project aims to create job opportunities for them after they graduate.
"We focus on services for children, instead of giving them charity. We prefer to help them make a better future for themselves."
"We chose Bac Ninh as it is close to Ha Noi, so the children who finish school will be able to attend a university in Ha Noi where they will have more opportunities to find jobs than in other provinces."
Blue Dragon operates on support from many sources, including charitable donations from overseas.
"We sent newsletters to people around the world saying we need money to buy clothes for street kids and people responded positively and sent us money," said the Australian.
"Last year, our Step Ahead programme was sponsored by a Spanish organisation, AIDA, but it was a grant for one year so we continue to look for support."
"We are doing all of this for children who were born into unfortunate circumstances. I have found them all to be incredibly friendly, hardworking and polite," said Brosowski while he talked to a boy about his new spiky hairstyle.
"They came from very difficult circumstances but all have a good spirit."
Brosowski said while some kids will go home to the countryside for Tet, he was trying to arrange something here in Ha Noi to make those who stay feel welcome. — VNS