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No Ordinary Journey: Tam Tran
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No Ordinary Journey: Tam Tran

The Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development program supports young people who want to live and work in a developing country. This film profiles volunteer Tam Tran, who left Vietnam as a child refugee, and has now returned to the country of his birth to work with disadvantaged kids.

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Learn more about the Blue Dragon Children's Foundation.

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Segment 1

VOICEOVER
The roles of the volunteers are really varied depending on the backgrounds that they come from. For Tam, who went to Vietnam, it was about reconnecting with where he was born.
TAM TRAN [Blue Dragon Children's Foundation]
So the circumstances around why we left Vietnam was because we were refugees. We escaped Vietnam on a boat, about 120 people on the boat. It took about six days to get to Malaysia. There, we had the choice of Australia or America, and dad chose Australia. So coming back here, part of it's been able to understand my culture, my heritage, and contribute back to my country. It's a lot easier to live here and to engage people because of my heritage. I'm able to communicate with them a lot better. I can speak Vietnamese but I think the locals will actually know that I'm a foreigner. My Vietnamese is from a southern accent, so living in Hanoi they know you're not actually from the north, you're from the south or you're a foreigner. They're very welcoming though, the locals.
TAM TRAN
Blue Dragon is important because it helps street kids in Hanoi. Some of these kids have been in gangs. Gangs is a way for them to build companionship and to be part of a group, so what we try to do is that they come to the drop-in center and we try to provide them that safe space where they feel that they can actually belong. There are some very unexpected activities that the kids have felt that they wanted to do, and it really built up their confidence, and they start believing in themselves a lot more. And in turn they actually do well socially, they interact a lot better, they do well at school because they just have this newfound confidence. Education is one of the key ways to breaking that cycle. We provide the children with education, meaning that we pay for their school fees. Social work and psychology are very brand new areas here. The work that we do is very cutting edge. Blue Dragon has a really important part to play in developing social work in Vietnam. I help staff to understand child development, and to understand what the child is going through. Part of that, training the staff, is for me to do home visits, just to see where the children actually live.
MICHAEL BROSOWSKI [Blue Dragon Children's Foundation]
When an aide comes to us we know that they're going to be gone within about a year. So it's essential that the aides don't just go do all the work themselves, but that they enable the local staff to be able to work. Tam's done that through training, but training is not just telling people what to do. Training is very often, "Come with me, and let's go and work on this case together." And that's what Tam has done.
TAM TRAN
Part of my role is to train these staff in dealing with complex cases. Tan is this gorgeous kid who's six years old. He's got cerebral palsy and he lives on a fishing boat with his mum. On some days his mum goes to work, so he has to stay at home. And he likes to fish; as you can imagine that's quite dangerous, and he tells us stories about catching fish and it drags him close to the edge of the boat. So he comes in to our drop-in center and the social workers have been helping him to walk. He's had physical therapy treatment, we paid for that.
TAM TRAN
We like to meet some of the street kids and just see what we can do to help. Part of that work is also, is doing straight outreach. Walking around the streets of Vietnam, talking to street kids, because we want to make sure that we're actually helping the most vulnerable. Cases such as drug addiction, mental health, child trafficking, and there's also abuse cases. Michelle and I have been seeing each other for a year. We had been seeing each other for a month. I knew that I was going away about four months prior before that. We talked about our relationship, you know, as most good things do it just happened. And we're trying to figure out where do we take this?
MICHELLE LEHMANN [Tam's Partner]
Tam means an awful lot to me. I know that it was something that he's always wanted to do, so we had a discussion about whether or not he would come over. It just seemed the most natural thing to support him in his decision.
TAM TRAN
Michelle's just been really supportive of me coming over here, and that could have jeopardized our relationship, but we talked about that and we both wanted to make it work.
MICHELLE LEHMANN
This is my third time over to Hanoi, and he's been back to Melbourne one time. Even though his assignment has been for a year and it's almost coming to an end, we've still managed to see one another quite a lot.
TAM TRAN
It was fantastic that Michelle could come over to be here for our one-year anniversary.
MICHELLE LEHMANN
I think we've got through it fairly well. Looking back now, like almost a year ago, it seems to have gone very, very quickly.
TAM TRAN
It's been hard on our relationship though. It's a distance thing. We speak to each other on the phone every two days. I come up with a lot of emotionally draining experiences here. It's quite confronting, so it's always good to hear such a warm, loving voice, and someone who believes in what I do over here. She's the most amazing person and I love her dearly.
MICHELLE LEHMANN
He talks very passionately about his work. Every time we speak we talk about the challenges and the successes that they've had with the kids that they're working with. And the few times that I've been into Blue Dragon, you can see this very unique connection that he does have with the children. And they really look up to him.