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City Weekend

‘This is our city too’: From crook to social worker, one man’s transformation

Hong Kong-born Indian has a message for city’s lost youth

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 November, 2016, 10:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 November, 2016, 10:02am

From gangster to social worker, Hong Kong-born Indian Jeffrey Andrews has got through the worst of times and shaken off a life of crime and violence.

“I had experienced racism first hand when I was inside a prison cell and I immediately realised how tough it would be for ethnic minorities if they got on the wrong side of the law,” the 31-year-old social worker said of his time inside a Wan Chai detention centre for stealing and fighting when he was 19 years of age. “It was a wake-up call.”

“I was lucky. It was like I hit the Mark Six jackpot that day,” he said. “But many of my friends didn’t have the same luck and are still paying the price.”

Andrews had been 16 when he was first approached by the triads.

Back then he was frustrated about his future as he was not doing well in school and didn’t want to join his father’s business selling frozen meat.

The policy and system may not seem fair to us, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying
Jeffrey Andrews

“I thought being in the gang was cool,” he recalled recently. “I didn’t have to work hard. So I thought to myself why not?”

But his social worker at the time did not give up on him and found him a lawyer and reference letters for when the theft case made it to court.

The court gave Andrews a one-year suspended sentence without a criminal record. That lenient sentence motivated him to go back to school, and subsequently led him to become a social worker, to give back to society. He became a registered social worker two years ago.

He now works for the charity Christian Action, focusing on refugees and ethnic minorities.

Andrews said he sees many young people in his church who are even more lost than he was.

He said: “They don’t have proper guardians to guide them. I want to make sure these kids don’t follow my path.”

Last month Andrews received a commendation from Home Affairs Secretary Lau Kong-wah, in recognition of his contributions to racial harmony in Hong Kong.

Andrews’ advice to ethnic minority youngsters who feel lost was: “The policy and system may not seem fair to us, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. The tough experience will only do us good. We may come from whatever ethnic background but we shouldn’t think we are not Hongkongers. This is our city too.”