Last Update: Tuesday, March 27, 2007. 1:31pm AEST
Michael Brosowski was working as an English teacher in Sydney when one day, he decided to pack up his life and move to Vietnam. He was all set to spend his weekends on the beaches of Saigon, but he ran into a group of street kids who changed his life. Michael now runs the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation in Vietnam, supplying food, education, medical help and a future to 700 Vietnamese street kids every year. He treats them as extended family and now is boldly tackling child trafficking rings.
The son of a German immigrant, Michael had a childhood that was far from comfortable – the family actually built their house, and struggled financially. "Looking back on it, I’m so glad that I had that experience," he reflects. "I think it’s made me a bit more resilient to changes. I grew up in Sydney and then spent my teenage years on a little farm with nothing but trees and kangaroos for miles."
Michael first became interested in Vietnam after teaching Vietnamese refugees English when he was a high school student – and when he became a teacher himself. "A lot of my students were the children of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees. I’d always had some Vietnamese friends, now I had Vietnamese students as well and I was fascinated by their work ethic, by their loyalty, by their determination. I wanted to go to Vietnam and see for myself where they were coming from."
Michael moved to Vietnam when he was 28, and a chance meeting with street kids changed his life’s direction. "Anyone who’s been to Vietnam has met street kids, you know, they’re around the place. It’s very easy just to chat. Vietnamese people are very friendly and open. They love to talk and they love to practice their English. I really enjoyed just sitting down by the side of the street and having a chat, letting them shine my shoes and I’d use that as an excuse to talk to them."
Michael formed the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation in Vietnam, to help the street kids build themselves a more promising future. "It’s still growing organically – I think that’s part of our success. You don’t know what’s going to happen next year. Street kids in Hanoi, in fact street kids in Vietnam are now a totally different population to when I started this work four years ago."
The Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation works with each child individually. "We work with kids on an individual basis, so it’s individual and wholistic at the same time. Poverty is a multi faceted problem – there are always health issues. There are always family issues and of course, money issues. You’ve got to tackle all of those problems at the same time and the only way to do that, that I can see, that really works is one-on-one."
Now there’s no such thing as an average day for Michael. "There are no two days alike and I really love that. I love the anarchy and the constant flow of surprises. I live above the Blue Dragon centre, so I’m always there. We get kids coming around for all sorts of needs or if they’re in some kind of crisis."
These days it’s something of a shock for Michael when he returns to Australia. "Whenever I come back to Australia, I spend my first week in shock, trying to work out where everyone is, what’s going on, why can’t I see people all over the streets. And of course everyone here is so big. The differences are enormous. It’s a real culture shock coming back!"