Hong Kong Faces

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 February, 2008, 12:00am

Channing Lee, who witnessed the hardship faced by ordinary Kenyans while undertaking charity work in Nairobi's slums last November, is urging Hongkongers to open up their hearts and contribute to an emergency relief fund to help the violence-plagued African nation

The tribal tit-for-tat killings in Kenya, thousands of kilometres away, might be just another sad but distant news event for most Hongkongers. But not for Channing Lee, for whom the TV images of the ethnic unrest revived memories of her November trip to the East African country and of the hardships faced by its people.

Ms Lee's two-week trip to Kenya, during which she spent most of her time doing charity work, gave her an insight into the suffering and daily battle for survival that most Kenyans face. And that was before the ethnic violence erupted in the wake of the December presidential elections.

'In the slums of Nairobi - the capital of Kenya - around 65 per cent of the residents are teetering on the edge of survival, with water and food running short even before the election,' she said. 'How can one imagine the terrifying crisis happening at the moment?'

According to Ms Lee, a Kenyan adult earns an average of US$30 to US$40 a month and more than 600,000 children live on the streets.

During the trip she visited four orphanages, all with inadequate facilities and located in slums. She described one orphanage as so decrepit that the building looked like it would collapse whenever the children played on the second floor. 'But their souls are rich, as I could see by the happiness shining from their eyes,' she said of the children.

Ms Lee also met many Kenyan volunteers during the trip and was inspired by their dedication. One of them, an artist, visited an orphanage three times a week teaching the children to draw and helping them bathe. He had also taken on the job of fixing the orphanage's plumbing and water supply. His dream, he told Ms Lee, was to help 500 street children a year to get into orphanages.

'I was touched when he told me his dream. He is merely an ordinary Kenyan who does not earn much, but is willing to put in all he has,' she said. 'Sometimes life is not about how much we own, but how much we are willing to give.'

Ms Lee's trip to Kenya almost did not get off the ground. Three days before departure, she was taken to hospital after suffering a sudden stabbing pain in her lower back that left her unable to move. When the X-rays showed nothing was wrong, the doctor said the only option was to inject a powerful painkiller.

'I felt God was encouraging me or someone was waiting for me in Kenya,' said Ms Lee, who said she felt no pain the moment she boarded the plane.

Referring to the Kenyan people and the violence that erupted after Mwai Kibaki was declared winner in the presidential election in December, she said: 'Like other ordinary people in Hong Kong, they also had their hopes and dreams. They love their families and just want to go about their daily lives. If political power is the 'true target' in the struggle, the Kenyans are the inevitable 'collateral damage'.

'The plight of this beautiful country and the friendly people whom I met a couple of months ago is heartbreaking. Fortunately, all my Kenyan friends are still alive,' she said.

Ms Lee had planned to visit the orphanage again during Christmas but was forced to put off the trip. She is now looking to visit at Easter and hopes Hong Kong people share her vision of helping the people.

She has urged Hongkongers to support an emergency relief project for Kenya run by the United States branch of World Relief, a Christian charity organisation. As World Relief does not have a branch in Hong Kong, donations will be collected by the Cedar Fund, another Christian group, and channelled to the US organisation.

Donations to the relief programme can be made by depositing cash or a crossed cheque payable to 'Cedar Fund' into the bank account number 600-385678-001 at HSBC. Please write 'Support Kenya emergency relief project' as well as your name and contact details on the back of the cheque or pay-in slip. Cheques can also be mailed to GPO Box 3212, Hong Kong, on or before March 7. Donations of HK$100 or more are tax deductible.