Mei Ng Fong Siu-mei believes public participation is crucial to creating a safer and healthier environment. 'I believe in mutual empowerment and adaptive environmentalism where local people work on local solutions for local problems. Everybody can do their part however small it is,' says Ng, director of Friends of the Earth Hong Kong from 1993 to 2006, and who is now involved in the group's mainland programmes.
In Hong Kong, Ng has been a watchdog for air pollution and food safety, among other issues, and was a member of government advisory bodies.
On the mainland, she has been working tirelessly to raise environmental awareness since 1992, delivering lectures and seminars, conducting workshops and organising outreach programmes in primary and secondary schools and teaching institutes. Ng has spread the seeds far and wide, influencing people to take up the green cause.
'A PhD candidate from Tsinghua University attended my lecture and decided to work for the environmental department in Shanxi, where the coal-mining casualty zones are. He said he was inspired and wanted to make a real difference. I felt so good,' she says.
Ng is working on an initiative that seeks to safeguard the source region of Dongjiang River, which involves mobilising villagers and farmers to enhance water catchment through reforestation and to help with downstream water conservation through cleaner production.
In the course of working with officials over the border, she has helped the mainland government to understand that partnerships with civil society can be a win-win for all. '[We need to] instil confidence in the government that grassroots organisations are not trouble-makers but strategic partners promoting environmental stewardship.'
In 2000, Ng was appointed as China environment envoy to monitor the environmental performance of government agencies. That same year, she became the first Hongkonger to receive the UN Global 500 Award that recognises outstanding environmentalists. The daughter of entrepreneur and philanthropist Fong Yun-wah, Ng decided to find meaning in life through embarking on a 'green long march'. Having studied anthropology in the United States and worked in a museum in London, Ng returned to Hong Kong in the 1970s where she raised her family and volunteered to visit terminally ill children in hospitals.
'Why were they deprived of the right to live? Genetic factors aside, I believed environmental degradation is the culprit. I wanted to contribute to a better environment for future generations,' says Ng, who has been a green volunteer for 25 years.
There have been ups and downs, not least resulting from having to work against the tide in a materialistic society.
'I believe in lighting the candle rather than cursing darkness. We should not take nature for granted.'