Sally Begbie

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 June, 2011, 12:00am

LOVE SONG I do love music. It's such a wonderful communication and a different way of getting your message across. I came from a very privileged family in Sydney, Australia. My father was an engineer and there was also inherited money, so we went to the best private schools, had posh clothes and a luxurious childhood. Perhaps coming from such luxury is what led me to such need in others. I don't know.

I was part of a singing group. A bunch of young women, we would go on stage with a guitar and double bass. It was at the time when [the group] Peter, Paul and Mary were very popular. Malcolm was in another singing group and played the bass. There was one performance where we needed to borrow the bass, so I called Malcolm and we chatted for 20 minutes and after I got off the phone, I thought, 'Hmm, that's a nice man.' And then he asked me out. And that's it, really. We'll have been married for 40 years next January. Just after we were married we would perform regularly in Sydney. Now there's just not enough time, though we do sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat to our 22-month-old grandson.

COMING TO A CROSSROAD In Sydney, I was a young mum to two boys but I also used to help the less well-known NGOs with their PR - getting the word out about them. When we came to Hong Kong, in 1986, I continued that. Mal did accountancy and was a consultant. But his heart was in the same place. Any free hour he had, he would help NGOs plan budgets for their projects, or help them get their books ready for audit.

We lived quite cheaply on Lantau. Then, in 1995, I got a call from an organisation in northern China. Two million people there had lost everything in the floods and they wanted boxes of stuff. But we had no infrastructure for that sort of thing. We were just Mal and Sal. Anyway, we got 19 cartons together in the bedroom - Mal said that, like horses, we could sleep standing up - and shipped them off. And then more began pouring into our lives. Hong Kong is such a generous city.

That's how Crossroads began. There were so many manufacturers, companies and hotels, which had been looking for somewhere to pass on their unneeded goods. We just couldn't stop Hong Kong people giving. We started off in the former British Military Hospital in Jordan. Then had a basement at Kai Tak, where the luggage used to be processed. Then we moved to the current site, in Tuen Mun.

HELPING HANDS We started Global Hand in 2002 - partnering NGOs and corporations. Then there's Global Handicrafts - fair-trade goods, which we sell to create income for the poor. Hundreds of students come on school trips to Crossroads, to take part in our war, poverty, Aids and blind X-periences. We're planning a Global Village, here at Tuen Mun, which will [focus on issues such as] climate change and drug problems. It will also offer social and environmental solutions. Schoolchildren could come to the Global Village as well as companies doing corporate social responsibility activities. We already have many students who come and volunteer. We've taken our Refugee Run to the Davos World Economic Forum for the past few years. Richard Branson and Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales have taken part.

SLOWING DOWN When you're starting an NGO and it begins to grow, there's always so much to do. For many years, I did 20 hours a day. You're run off your feet. I often think the main driver is that we can't not do it, when we see the level of need. We can put people on the moon, we can invest massive amounts of money on technology, yet, every few seconds, a child dies because it doesn't have access to clean water. How can we sleep at night knowing that?

Late in 2009, it became very evident that I had an endocrine imbalance and I was very ill. Mal and I took three months off at the beginning of last year. I'm now limited on the number of hours I'm permitted to do a day.

NEW BEGINNINGS I have two sons, David and Josh, who are both involved with Crossroads. When I was working with NGOs out of Sydney and also first came here, I would be travelling a lot - visiting NGOs in different countries. Off on a shaky bus around Eastern Europe or on the Trans-Siberian Railway. So I would explain to the boys, 'Look, it won't be the easiest holiday.' But they always wanted to come. Later, when we began shipping stuff, we had to make sure it wasn't going on the black market, so I'd drag the boys off again. Personally, I think it's a great way to bring up children. Fifty per cent of the goods [donated to the foundation] goes to people in Hong Kong, the rest is shipped elsewhere, often where the items can generate income. One manufacturer was getting rid of hairdressing equipment, so we packed up blow dryers, scissors and combs. There's no culture in the world that doesn't want hairdressing. There was a bunch of beautiful wedding gowns which became businesses when they were hired out. In Belgrade [Serbia], a group of grandmothers hugged me after we sent some sewing machines. They used them to make clothes to sell. I just love the fact that you're giving them a way to face tomorrow.