In the backpacker district of Saigon, Vietnam, youth employ fire eating as a means of income. Often, they receive little or nothing from viewers. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

In the backpacker district of Saigon, Vietnam, youth employ fire eating as a means of income. Often, they receive little or nothing from viewers. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

In the backpacker district of Saigon, Vietnam, youth employ fire eating as a means of income. Often, they receive little or nothing from viewers. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

In the backpacker district of Saigon, Vietnam, youth employ fire eating as a means of income. Often, they receive little or nothing from viewers. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

In the backpacker district of Saigon, Vietnam, youth employ fire eating as a means of income. Often, they receive little or nothing from viewers. (Quinn Ryan Mattingly)

 

It always makes me feel a certain way when I see a youngster without the opportunity for education. But in order to live in a region and country like Vietnam, it’s something you have to, at least on the surface, accept as the way it is. Coming from a western country where nearly all children have a chance to learn makes it all the more difficult. But as in my country, education, nor life here are free, and a child giving time to learning is seen as a child not giving time to earning. Even the modest, and often more substantial income they can raise are vital to the family’s sustainability. I say family with some hesitation because I’m not sure an environment where they child’s best interests aren’t utmost is the true definition of family. Though on the other hand, I have no resentment toward them, as I realize life is a daily struggle for many here, and in many other countries.

Still, it is one thing for a child to work, and another all together I think for them to engage in danger for that cause. That being said, I don’t believe these children are in grave danger, but obviously it’s not without its potentials. One boy’s face does say that he has felt the sting of the flame. These young boys patrol the streets of the backpackers area in Saigon nightly, performing for the tourists that line the curbs, drinks in hand, hoping for a small penance for the show. Often they receive something, but that only serves to reinforce their actions, and their handler’s desire to send them out. After I photographed them, I did give them something, but I also spent a few minutes to ask their name, show them the photos, and show them I was more than just another drunken tourist. They understood pretty easily. With some thought after, I hope to try to get them into the shelter or school. I will chat with them next time I see them.