Kindness goes viral on our mean streets

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2012, 12:00am


It's not just silly videos and ads that can go viral. One man's outrage at our government's ineptitude and inhumanity has inadvertently started a community-building movement. Spread by viral messages via social media, a movement has emerged not only to help the poor but to regain a sense of neighbourliness in poor districts such as Sham Shui Po.

Benson Tsang Chi-ho was angry at the government's wastefulness in giving every permanent resident a HK$6,000 handout. So the interior designer decided to use the money to buy tinned food and hot meals from neighbourhood shops and restaurants in Sham Shui Po and redistribute these to poor people. That way, it helped small local businesses, sent a message of protest to the two dominant supermarket chains, and, of course, helped people in need.

Tsang has found that officials are not only inept, but inhumane in their bureaucratic ways. The tipping point came in February when government workers swooped without warning on street sleepers in Sham Shui Po. They confiscated and threw away all their belongings, including identity cards, phones and clothes. On that cold night, Tsang rushed to the area with clothes to hand out but couldn't find any street sleepers.

You can feel his outrage. The raid was not a one-off event but standard operating procedure against the homeless across Hong Kong. Our tycoons can annex public land for years without being prosecuted. The rich and connected can keep illegal structures and park their chauffeur-driven cars in congested roads with impunity. But woe to those who are poor or homeless - you can be sure officials will be merciless in their efficiency.

A rant on Facebook against the Sham Shui Po raid sparked a movement that now has up to 180 members, who do what Tsang has been doing in low-income neighbourhoods. They say it's not about pity but about sharing. When the philanthropy of our tycoons - who don't pay a cent in tax on their annual billion-dollar dividends - looks more like a display of superiority, Tsang and his friends show what it means to be our brother's keeper.