Ageing society

Hongkongers lack awareness on resources for elderly, local charity founder says

Big Silver Community’s Leila Chan wants to spread information on available services for city’s ageing population

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 July, 2017, 9:03am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 July, 2017, 9:02am

It’s a Monday afternoon in Hong Kong and a home economics class at a secondary school in Wan Chai has a peculiar mix of students – retirees taking cooking lessons with teenage pupils.

The elderly visitors, from a programme run by St James Settlement that promotes active ageing and social engagement for retirees, also chatted with the students at SKH Tang Shiu Kin Secondary School, discussing topics from career choices to Korean movie stars.

The idea was to promote communication across the age gap, said Leila Chan Hiu-lui, founder of Big Silver Community, which organised the event.

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Chan, a Hong Kong journalist and author of a number of award-winning books on issues such as food waste and end-of-life services, set up the charity in 2015 with the aim of connecting local communities and improving individuals’ ability to cope with ageing.

Other events organised so far include book clubs and lectures discussing issues related to life and death.

The group will also publish a monthly health and lifestyle magazine, Big Mag, starting in September, which will tackle topics such as welfare and retirement.

Chan said she felt there was a general lack of awareness on elderly care in the community.

“In the face of an ageing population, if you are ignorant of the changes that are under way, tragedies will occur.”

In early June this year, an 80-year-old man was arrested in a Shau Kei Wan public housing estate on suspicion of strangling his bedridden wife to end her suffering. The case prompted lawmakers to criticise the city’s lack of resources and support for the elderly.

Chan disagreed. She said the problem was that the public was ill-informed about existing services and that service providers feared being overloaded should they publicise their services.

“People will not know that such services exist if they do not go to the centres in person,” Chan said.

Elderly service portal eElderly, for instance, was originally designed by the government to offer elderly users access to service information around the city, but Chan said the site was not of great use as it failed to list the actual services provided and events held by specific organisations.

The government projects that one in every three Hongkongers will be aged at least 65 by 2064. The median age will exceed 50, and people aged 15 and below will constitute less than one-tenth of the population.

Chan’s charity is working to publicise elderly service information through print and online channels. For instance, a pamphlet in the pilot issue of Big Mag contains information on all community centres in Hong Kong where people may seek help and advice on mental health problems.

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One of them is iBakery, a social enterprise aimed at helping the intellectually disabled integrate into society by offering them job opportunities in bakeries and cafes. The company employs 110 staff members, with over half of them having varied degrees of intellectual disability.

The enterprise will also be one of over 100 distribution points from which people can buy a copy of Big Mag for HK$30. One third of the proceeds will go to iBakery and be used to set up a fund to pay for physical and dental checkups for staff.

Florence Chan, who runs iBakery, hopes the partnership with Big Silver Community will encourage people with strong civic awareness to act in response to the challenges of Hong Kong’s ageing society.

“I hope there will be a synergy born after the collaboration,” she said.