Suicide prevention, counselling and sharing problems highlighted in second Hong Kong Darkness into Light walk
The 5km walk, that aims to raise money for counselling and suicide prevention services, originated in Dublin in 2009 and has since spread globally. The May 12 event will take place in 180 locations around the world
Take a wander through Sheung Wan and Central at 5am on most Saturday mornings and chances are the only people you’ll encounter will be dog-walkers, early bird joggers and homeward-bound revellers. But on the morning of May 12, the districts will play host to a different demographic as the yellow-shirted participants of the second annual Darkness into Light (DIL) event in Hong Kong take to the streets.
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Started in 2009 by Ireland-based non-profit organisation Pieta House, which was set up in 2006 to offer free counselling to the suicidal and those who have been affected by suicide, DIL is a 5km dawn march that raises awareness and funds for suicide prevention services.
From the initial 400-person event in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, the event has since spread across Ireland, the UK and around the world, with more than 180,000 people taking part globally in 2017.
This year will see DIL walks take place on the same day in a record 180 locations, including cities in South Africa, Spain, Poland, Germany, Iceland, Canada, the UAE, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.
Spearheading this year’s Hong Kong edition is Irishman Stephen Togher, picking up the baton from countryman Niall Kelly, who was the driving force behind the inaugural walk in 2017 before leaving for Australia. It is, says Togher, an event that has both a practical and a symbolic significance.
“You leave when it’s dark and come in when it’s bright, so it symbolises that if you’re in a bad way, you’re going to be down in the dark, but when you come to the end of that walk, it’s bright as day.” But, more importantly, he says: “I think it’s about getting people talking, especially the lads. To share a problem is easier than holding it in.”
As it did last year, the event will start and end at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Park in Sheung Wan, with participants setting off toward Central under the cover of darkness at 5am and returning as the sun rises around 6am. Approximately 450 people took part in 2017, and the organisers are expecting to see an increase on that number this year.
As well as Pieta House, proceeds from the event will be shared with suicide-prevention NGO The Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong, who have partnered with DIL for the second year running to help spread awareness in both the local and expat communities.
“As an agency dedicated to suicide prevention in Hong Kong, we are happy to partner with DIL again,” says Clarence Tsang, executive director of The Samaritans Befrienders Hong Kong. “DIL says that we have to break the taboo and stigma of suicide, which can be done by community participation, caring and understanding. It also promotes the message that there is light after every time of darkness.”
Togher says that DIL and Samaritans Befrienders – which holds various well-attended fundraising events including fun runs and orienteering challenges throughout the year – are working on ways to further raise awareness of the issue and attract more participants in future.
He adds that DIL also approached other suicide prevention charities in the city, such as Suicide Prevention Services and Samaritans Hong Kong, but they declined the offer to participate.
While other NGOs may have been reticent, DIL has found strong support from Hong Kong’s sporting community, and Togher says the success of the fledgling event owes a great deal to the participation of a clutch of amateur football, rugby and Gaelic games teams in the city.
One team with a particularly strong connection to the event is Wanchai Spartans FC. The football team of DIL Hong Kong inaugurator Kelly, Spartans were one of the first clubs to get behind the 2017 event, and have also been involved in arranging the DIL Sports Days that have taken place in the build-up to each walk.
“We’ve had a couple of people in our club who have committed suicide, so we hope that by raising awareness we can help prevent these kind of tragedies,” says Henry Vera, chairman of Spartans. “Charities like this are so vital for Hong Kong, probably more so than most places in the world,” he adds, pointing to the “pressure of Hong Kong, as a high-intensity, fast living, money-oriented place” and the “high-stress environment with a real wealth gap across society” as contributing factors to the city’s suicide problem – a view shared by Togher and Tsang.
Despite the gravity of the cause, Vera is quick to point out that the general feeling at the event was “very positive, with a really friendly atmosphere – with the Hong Kong community, everybody sort of knows everybody, so that helps.”
Togher, too, recalls a great feeling of camaraderie and supportiveness at last year’s event, particularly at the end when the attendees gathered together over a free breakfast served family-style in the early morning sunshine.
“The reaction last year was absolutely brilliant – everyone waiting back [in the park] after the walk for about an hour talking and sharing stories,” says Togher. “And if it made just one person talk to someone about something and saved them, then it’s all worth it.”
Darkness into Light takes place on May 12, starting at 4.15am at Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park in Sheung Wan. Registration fee: HK$240 (HK$50 children).
To register or to donate, visit dil.pieta.ie/event-information/venues/hong-kong