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Operation Santa Claus

Paralysed woman who can only type with thumb and index finger says Hong Kong charity Operation Santa Claus has given her hope

Annual Christmas charity campaign marks its 30th anniversary on Monday

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 November, 2017, 7:27pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 November, 2017, 10:56pm

Hong Kong people’s willingness to help has given disadvantaged groups hope and motivated them to hang in there, a 23-year-old woman born with a rare disease that left her almost completely paralysed, has said.

Josy Chow Pui-shan, diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), is thankful that she has received so much support from society.

She is a member of the Families of SMA Charitable Trust (FSMA) and uses its services funded by Operation Santa Claus – a donation drive jointly organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK. The annual charity campaign marks its 30th anniversary on Monday.

“Operation Santa Claus helps patients and those in need so that they can have a better life and worry less,” Chow said, citing her own experience.

The 23-year-old started receiving support from Operation Santa Claus at the age of eight.

“I had been staying in hospital since I was born. I wanted to go home. But it was difficult to arrange hospital transport and the service was expensive,” she said.

Operation Santa Claus providing funding for a van and the breathing and respiratory equipment at the time, and has continued to support her since.

The English and linguistics student, who can only type with her right thumb and right index finger, recently wrote a proposal calling for patients to be treated with a drug that could be life-saving.

In a surprise move, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Hong Kong’s chief executive, met with Chow and her fellow FSMA members who rallied outside her office in Admiralty on October 8. The city’s leader promised them she would try to secure treatment for the rare disease sufferers.

Chow remained hopeful, though she has yet to hear from the government regarding the introduction of the drug into Hong Kong.

She said it was important to have hope, adding she also believed the needy should be given more social support.

“Social support is important. It enables us to move on,” Chow said.

Her remarks coincided with what Operation Santa Claus has been seeking to do over the years by reaching out to the neglected and ensuring no one is left behind.

The Christmas charity’s roots date back to the 1960s, when RTHK Radio 3 presenters pulling publicity stunts to attract donations for charity. The DJs dived into Victoria Harbour in the winter cold, read poetry on rooftops and climbed flagpoles, among other capers. Then the campaign turned into a multimedia fundraiser.

The benevolent effort stopped in the 1970s, as the Community Chest became an official body to receive Hongkongers ’charitable donations. The interlude lasted until 1988, when Tony Baynes, the head of RTHK Radio 3 at the time, asked programme producer Alastair Monteith-Hodge to resurrect Operation Santa Claus.

In 1989, the campaign set out to raise HK$150,000 for the Children’s Cancer Fund (now called the Children’s Cancer Foundation), which had been established that year. Philip Crawley, the South China Morning Post’s editor-in-chief at the time, decided to pitch in with the initiative.

Every December since, the Post has published beneficiaries’ stories and given coverage to fundraising activities in support of the charity drive.

By 1990, the formula was in place, and the campaign grew bigger and bigger. Over the first 15 years, only one or two beneficiaries were picked each year. Then in 2003 – the year when 299 lives were lost in the Sars outbreak – the number of charities receiving support from OSC jumped to 12, chosen from the hundreds of suggestions put forward by readers and listeners.

Operation Santa Claus was turned into a registered charity that year, with the formation of SCMP Charities Ltd. Major donors were included on the selection committee, which chooses each year’s aid recipients.

As Operation Santa Claus comes to the end of its third decade, a veteran campaigner observed that more donors, especially those from the corporate world, wanted to engage themselves in the event.

“Companies think a lot more about where their money is going, more than just handing over a cheque,” Hugh Chiverton, RTHK’s head of English Programme Service, said.

“Operation Santa Claus chooses special projects so people know their money is going to good places.”