Shipping chief with a big heart for orphans

Baby dumped at train station makes mark on Tim Huxley in support for mainland charity

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 June, 2013, 5:17am

Philanthropy is a very personal decision - the who, what, why and how much of giving are determined by life experiences, and the very act of giving has an impact on the giver.

For long-time Hong Kong resident Tim Huxley, a board director of children's charity Half the Sky, it was holding a six-week-old orphan on the mainland that tweaked the heartstrings.

Abandoned at a railway station, the baby had been brought to the charity's Beijing centre to be cared for before being taken to hospital to have a tumour removed and her spine straightened.

"She had gone through so much before she was even a few months old," says Huxley, who has been involved with Half the Sky for three years.

"I grew up in a vicarage in England, so charity was part of growing up," he says.

The family lived near the sea and supported the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the Mission to Seafarers. Huxley also recalls raising money for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

One of the most memorable fundraising escapades was joining a pram race from London to Amsterdam with his brother and a couple of friends.

In 1989, after six years with shipping firm Clarksons in London, he moved to Hong Kong.

"I've always tried, where there is a charitable organisation that I can relate to, to contribute," says Huxley, the chief executive of Wah Kwong Maritime Transport.

Having made his fortune in the shipping industry, it seemed natural to be involved with the Mission to Seafarers and the Danish Seamen's Church. But the charity that has really had the biggest impact on his life is Half the Sky, and he says rarely a day goes by without talking to someone about it.

His involvement came about by chance four years ago when he offered to help photographer friend Basil Pao launch Yi Jing, a book of photos of walls of the mainland. The landlord of the venue where the book was to be launched said some of the proceeds should go to charity and Pao asked him to name a charity.

"I wanted to choose a charity that had something to do with China and children, so I contacted Half the Sky and said would you be willing to be our nominated charity," Huxley says.

After joining a couple of fund-raising events, Half the Sky's founder Jenny Bowen asked him to join the board. Bowen's story is an interesting one - the Hollywood screenwriter adopted a girl from the mainland 16 years ago and found that, while she was physically healthy, because there had been no infant nurturing and caring at the orphanage, the girl was emotionally held back.

"Half the Sky has a clearly defined endgame - being in the position to provide a caring adult in the lives of every orphan child in China," says Huxley.

While not operating as an orphanage itself, it trains caregivers to work in orphanages and has a centre in Beijing that provides care for children that need medical treatment.

With an estimated one million orphans on the mainland, their grand aim is no small task, but they are continually expanding. More than 94,000 children have already gone through Half the Sky's programmes and the charity has trained 21,825 caregivers.

"Half the Sky has a very high rating in terms of the money raised. It keeps its administration costs to a minimum and an exceptionally high proportion goes to the children. If people are going to dig deep into pocket, you have to prove to donors the money given is going to an intended cause," says Huxley.

The self-proclaimed "confirmed bachelor" does not have any children of his own, but has a huge heart for orphans on the mainland.

"When I first went to a Chinese orphanage I was incredibly reticent because of the stories I'd heard, but one of the good things is that with Half the Sky the kids don't come running up to you for attention because they have someone there for them, and it's the same person who woke them up in the morning."