Taboos hurt service helping elderly prepare for death

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 April, 2005, 12:00am

The manager of Hong Kong's first programme to help disadvantaged elderly organise their own funerals said it was facing mounting problems in fund-raising because of the 'inauspicious' nature of the service.

Gary Sham Chi-wing, manager of the Funeral Navigation Service at St James' Settlement, was appealing for donations in order to expand the service.

At present it caters only to people receiving welfare benefits, because they are guaranteed a government subsidy of about $10,000 for their funeral and burial.

Mr Sham said they had collected just over $300,000 since the service was launched last September, but the amount barely covered operational costs. As St James received no government funding, he was the only full-time staff member it could afford to hire.

'It is difficult for us to appeal to large companies. They always tell us not to come for a presentation as soon as they learn about the nature of our service. They feel death is not the right subject to discuss at a party or an annual dinner,' he said.

The programme is trying to dispel the cultural taboos surrounding death, and help relieve the pressure many feel about preparing their funeral. Nearly 300 people have signed up for the service.