Novel approach to elderly care attracts hard-to-win funding

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2007, 12:00am

The few community groups that succeeded in obtaining grants from a hard-to-get government fund say they have developed new thinking and strategies under the stringent test of the fund.

Lai Wai-tze, project manager of the Salvation Army, said she took time to think of 'unconventional' ideas, which won appreciation from the fund's manager.

She is in charge of the Elderly Shop scheme - one of 147 projects selected by the HK$300 million Community Investment and Inclusion Fund out of 720 applications over the past five years.

'We operated a subsidised elderly centre [in Wong Tai Sin] and I was used to the concept that the elderly were weak and needed our help,' she said. But her mindset was changed when the centre was forced to close in 2004 because of a cut in funding.

'To accommodate the elderly, I needed to come up with another project, and to get community fund cash you need some new ideas.'

In May 2004, the Salvation Army opened a shop selling donated crutches and other aids for the elderly with a grant of HK$900,000 from the fund. Elderly from the centre helped man the place.

The more capable elderly people also teamed up to form a tutorial group to supervise the homework of young children at two primary schools in Wong Tai Sin.

'Most parents of these children are too busy to care for their studies and our elderly team, many of whom used to be professionals, go to the schools once or twice a week.'

The group is now applying for more funding to expand the scheme after seeing that many volunteers have established bonds with the children they look after.

The project, similar to 'adopt-a-granny' schemes in the US, allows the elderly to become the children's guardians and include them in charity work, such as visiting and delivering soup to the frail elderly residents in the district. Women and university graduates also participated in the programme.

Grace Ng Fung-mo, the fund's secretary and project management officer at the Labour and Welfare Bureau, said the scheme was chosen as it displayed cross-sector interaction and partnership among different levels of the society.

'We don't want the traditional one-on-one kind of social welfare services. We want projects that will mobilise different parties of the community; the giver and the beneficiary of services - they could be one.'

But Wong Hung, assistant professor at the Department of Social Work in Chinese University, said that should not be the only assessment criterion for the fund.

'The fund's direction is not wrong, but it is hard to classify what an old concept is and what a new one is,' he said. 'Old tactics are not necessarily bad or ineffective, bearing in mind building social capital is also a very old concept.'

The fund, which has spent just a third of its budget despite an extension of a three-year term to the end of next year, has been criticised for harsh assessment of applications.



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