Free fans help needy elderly cope with heat
When the mercury rises, most Hongkongers simply turn on an air conditioner. For many elderly people living in windowless cubicles, however, it's a luxury merely to have an electric fan to relieve summer's heat.
Sam Chow, 67, endures the heat without air conditioning in his 50 sq ft subdivided flat in Hoi Tan Street, Sham Shui Po.
His tiny cubicle barely has room for a single bed, a side table and a chair. There is no escaping the bad smell in the nearby corridor, since the only air circulation comes from a rusty electric fan hanging on the wall.
'You can hardly feel any air flow,' said Chow, holding his hand up to the feeble wall fan. Chow, divorced and rarely in contact with his adult children, was given a new fan of his own this year by St James' Settlement, one of the city's leading charities.
The fan sits on the tiny table near his bed, and the comfort it provides makes a huge difference to Chow's days and nights: 'It's much more comfortable to sleep now,' he said.
St James' Settlement has been giving electrical appliances to elderly people under a programme it began in 2000. It targets people who are at least 60 and live by themselves without financial support from their families.
As many as 600 older people benefited from the programme last year. They received, on average, three or four electrical appliances that most families would regard as basic necessities - such as electric fans, water heaters and fridges.
'When it gets hot between May and August, we get many requests for electric fans, particularly from the elderly living in subdivided flats in Sham Shui Po or Tai Kok Tsui,' said Winnie Chung, who runs the programme.
The charity buys the new appliances directly from suppliers. 'We buy these no-frills, eight-inch fans for HK$150 from a factory that produces them specifically for us,' said Chung. The fans are specially designed, with bigger buttons for the elderly, who usually have poor eyesight.
The fans are small, to fit the tiny cubicles where most recipients live.
'We also arrange for volunteers to make sure the fan is positioned securely on a table,' Chung said. 'In the past, some elderly people placed the fans on chairs or on the floor, but they fell and were broken.'