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NGOs in China

Mother and child volunteers in Hong Kong show how city’s needy can be served and how those keen to help can join

Charity food drive just one of 150 activities staged locally, as call made to boost local participation in such campaigns

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 May, 2018, 7:48am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 May, 2018, 7:48am

Last Saturday starting at 8am, five-year-old Kaishori Crosbie carefully placed cans of meat and fish one by one into goodie bags that also contained toiletries.

She and her mother, Sharanya Jayawickrama, were taking part in a charity food drive preparing basic necessities for needy families in Hong Kong. Distribution was slated for this Saturday.

The pair spent three hours packing, and Jayawickrama, who is in her 30s, said she wanted her daughter to learn sympathy for others.

“She was surprised to know that things we take for granted don’t come easily for others and I want her to know that we should give back to families facing uneasy conditions,” Jayawickrama said, smiling as she recounted how her excited daughter had awakened at 6am, brushed her teeth and dressed herself.

The event was organised by non-profit group HandsOn Hong Kong and 50 of its NGO partners, including Sunshine Action, to mark Mother’s Day on Sunday. It underscored the different ways in which Hongkongers can devote their time and efforts to helping the less fortunate.

According to the Social Welfare Department’s volunteer movement initiative, about 17 per cent of the city’s residents – or about 1.3 million people – were registered as volunteers as of March this year.

The number of those who volunteer has increased over the years, NGOs say, but they believe many more want to serve but have not yet done so.

According to a 2017 poll by data research firm Nielsen conducted in collaboration with HandsOn Hong Kong, 70 per cent of 1,000 respondents said they intended to volunteer, but only 26 per cent actually did last year.

Who’s the full-time volunteer running a Hong Kong disabled care centre that needs HK$6 million to survive?

Indeed, last year’s World Giving Index – joint research carried out by Gallup and the Charities Aid Foundation – showed Hong Kong had a healthier score when it came to giving back to society compared with other places in the Asia-Pacific region.

The city’s score was 43 per cent, reflecting the proportion of respondents who said they had helped a stranger, donated money or volunteered time one month before being interviewed. China tallied 14 per cent, Singapore 41 per cent, and Japan 24 per cent. Still, Indonesia and Australia did better with scores of 60 per cent and 56 per cent respectively.

Catherine Dannanoui, the head of communications at HandsOn Hong Kong, said one of the factors possibly deterring more Hongkongers from stepping up was the “misconception” that they needed to be tied to a cause from the start.

In addition, some people had a fear that if they got involved one time, they would need to be 100 per cent committed and that there would be “no going back” with no chance to change causes.

When you’re willing to help others, there will be more trust and cohesion in society
Shiu Ka-chun, lawmaker

Dannanoui said this was why HandsOn Hong Kong had organised the food-packing and distribution activity. The group sought to show there were different ways to devote time to meaningful causes and that families could help together. Companies should do more to encourage employees to volunteer, she added, such as by offering them paid time off.

Jayawickrama believed it was “really important to be able to give something back to the wide community”.

“I really like the idea of young kids learning that from the time they are small,” she added.

Social welfare lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun said volunteering could enhance a city’s social capital.

“Whether a place is well-off doesn’t only mean financially but also how engaged its citizens are in the community because when you’re willing to help others, there will be more trust and cohesion in society, and that means fewer conflicts and less discrimination.”

As many as 134 families took part in the event by HandsOn Hong Kong, as a part of a local community service campaign called Serve-a-thon comprising 150 volunteer activities taking place across the city between May 5 and 13.