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Operation Santa Claus

How one charity is bringing sunshine into the lives of needy Hongkongers

Project Space is providing vital support to help poor families to move house or make home improvements

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 November, 2016, 6:39pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 November, 2016, 10:08am

Mrs Au, a 60-year-old housewife originally from the mainland, was living in a cramped, cockroach-infested flat that received almost no sunlight with two family ­members before she was referred to Project Space.

Once the family was allocated a two-bedroom flat on a Kowloon public housing estate, the charity helped them to relocate.

Support workers put Au, who asked not to be identified to ­protect her family, in touch with an interior designer so she could do away with clutter and ­maximise the limited space she had. Neat storage cabinets now house most of her possessions.

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Unsurprisingly, after the stressful 10 years she endured in her former home, she appeared withdrawn and softly spoken. But her resilience was undeniable.

“The sunshine enters my home now, which makes me more comfortable,” she said.

“I have more windows than in my old flat.”

Project Space, one of 23 Operation Santa Claus beneficiaries, has helped about 110 families to spruce up their flats through its Home Improvement Project since it was founded in 2011. The charity employs just three part-time staff and has 30 volunteers.

Anyone applying for support from the organisation must first be referred by a social worker. As a result, many recipients are either elderly, from low-income or ­single-parent families.

There were more than 1.3 ­million Hongkongers living in poverty in 2015, according to ­government figures. And in a city where about 45 per cent of the population live in public ­housing, Project Space is on a ­mission to help some of them build safe and sustainable homes.

“I think this project can benefit other people, as it has with me,” Au said. “Some things I cannot do for myself, like moving big ­furniture. It helps to have support from Project Space.”

Despite the years spent in a cramped household and still awaiting welfare support, Au said the Hong Kong government and the city’s charities were helping people in her situation.

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“It was not difficult for me to find a social worker,” she said. “If I wanted it, I could ask for help.”

Cindy Pang Cho-kwan, a part-time assistant coordinator at Project Space, said those ­below the breadline were often unsure how to access support ­services.

“There are a lot of poor people living here and some do not know how to find help,” she said.

“Some are very poor, ­especially from the mainland and these people sometimes face ­prejudice from Hongkongers.

“The government cannot help all of them.”

Pang said the charity provided support where the government did not always have the resources, such as for pest control services.

“I feel very happy for the ­people we help when I see the change ... They always thank you afterwards.”