At the very core of Chinese civilisation are the precepts of filial respect. They pre-date the teaching of Confucius. They remain today the basis of the community, the heart of family life. But how does a person with no family, whose ancestors are unknown, pay respect to his or her past? That's a moral problem which confronts orphans. They do not know their forebears. They cannot pay respect to their ancestors. A group of people who grew up without normal homes and families are planning to celebrate the alternative. They cannot sweep ancestral graves during next week's Cheung Yeung festival; they plan to hold a ball instead to honour the Po Leung Kuk, the voluntary social welfare body which provided them with a home and an upbringing. It is a lovely gesture. More than 100 people who grew up in the warm embrace of the kuk plan to hold a party to remember their childhood. Many are not orphans but come from family backgrounds so deprived, desperate or splintered that the only option they had was to spend their formative years away from their parents and siblings. For many, the Po Leung Kuk is their mother and father. Organisers of the get-together see it as the first move to establish a benevolent association which will allow them to help the kuk, to make a gesture of thanks for their upbringing. It is a heart-warming move. For 130 years, the Po Leung Kuk has sheltered many thousands of young people. For children who otherwise would face a bleak future, the kuk has provided not only a roof, but a warm environment, first-rate health care and a fine education. But no matter the excellence for which the institution strives, there is no substitute for a mother's arms. Over the past decade, 5,000 children have found succour at the residential institutions run by the kuk. The common perception is the organisation cares only for abandoned babies and orphans. Not true; only about one child in three who comes into the kuk's welcoming arms has no parents or is found wrapped in a blanket in a doorway. In the 19 childcare centres operated by the kuk, from babies' homes to children's units to foster homes, there are 436 children. Nine are orphans or abandoned. The kuk's roots are embedded deeply in the Hong Kong community. In the 1870s, Hong Kong grappled with a social problem deeply engrained in the customs of southern China. For centuries, the custom of having adopted girls working and living with host families had been an accepted part of life. The mui tsais were generally well treated and the positions sometimes led to marriage, either to a family member, a friend of the family or in an arranged union. Life as a mui tsai was far preferable to starvation. Selling their daughters to someone who would feed and employ them was the only heartbreaking option. But in the social conditions of crowded, crammed Hong Kong, the mui tsai system broke down. It became often a shabby mask for organised prostitution, smuggling girls and women into the city in the guise of servants but using them to work in the many brothels. It was a situation distasteful not only to the colonial government but also to the fast-swelling population of respectable merchants. In 1878, amid a rising upswell of anger against the mui tsai system and the evils it concealed, a group of merchants, mostly from the town of Dongguan, approached Governor John Pope Hennessy with a unique proposition. They set out to find and set free the sexual prisoners. They also worked to eradicate the widespread kidnapping of girls in Guangdong, from where they were sneaked into Hong Kong and sold into sexual slavery. Once freed, where would the girls go? The kuk's answer was to provide shelters, homes and schools. Over the decades, the body grew into one of the great social welfare and communal aid bodies of Hong Kong. For men and women who grew up in kuk homes, the organisation remains the family they never had. Some former residents in the past have given time and effort to serve the body. The new movement would create a more formal group to pay respect and to help others show the kuk has succeeded in its task of raising decent, caring members of the Hong Kong community. It's a testament of love as genuine as any that will be seen at gravesides during the Chung Yeung festival.