Spirit of Hong Kong

Meet the handyman who serves the neediest in Hong Kong

Each weekend Ivan Chan heads a team of volunteers who go into public housing estates to fix up homes for free

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 June, 2017, 4:41pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 June, 2017, 9:31pm

It all began about five years ago, when Ivan Chan Hon-man visited a complete stranger living alone at a public housing estate to fix some broken home appliances and furniture for free.

As someone with a renovation background, Chan was just lending a helping hand to the elderly.

At the time, he was running a renovations company that refurbished the offices of non-government organisations. His clients appreciated his work and had referred him to individuals who needed help with their homes but did not have the money to pay for it.

From there, requests for help from the elderly snowballed. To cope with the demand, Chan asked his friends to join him. Together, they expanded their work to reach others who needed help, including the disabled and low-income families.

In 2015 Chan officially established Repair Fairy with the mission to improve the homes of the poorest Hongkongers. Now 39, he has a team of about 1,000 volunteers.

Before going into homes and carrying out repairs, all the volunteers are trained by Chan or one of his co-workers for five hours to learn basic repair and refurbishment skills.

The volunteers then get on-the-job training while visiting homes. They tackle a wide variety of renovation tasks, from changing light bulbs to fixing collapsed floorboards and dealing with water leaks.

Hong Kong entrepreneur has eye on preventing heart attacks with smartwatch

Repair Fairy volunteers go out into different districts every weekend to help improve the homes of those who live in public housing. The group has now grown to become more organised. There are volunteers who specialise in assessing how much help people need with their homes, while others are responsible for the actual repairs.

“Some people we help have the means to buy their own parts for broken appliances, so we just take care of the most expensive bit – the labour. Others can’t afford any of it, so we will pay for everything.”

Repair Fairy is funded through fees collected from those who take its courses, such as new volunteers.

I want to inspire more people to do this, even though it takes a lot of time
Ivan Chan Hon-man, Repair Fairy founder

It also works with other social organisations to run classes for marginalised groups of people, giving them the skills they need to start a new career or contribute to society by volunteering themselves.

Chan believes that the work done by Repair Fairy, although common in the private sector, is severely lacking in the social enterprise space.

“In reality, Hongkongers don’t have enough heart to do service,” he said.

Chan has been nominated for the South China Morning Post’s Spirit of Hong Kong Awards in the Community Contribution category.

“The renovation industry is full of people who have the skills to do this, but they don’t have enough sympathy, so they don’t go out and help people.”

That is the mentality Chan wants to change with Repair Fairy. He believes it is easier said than done, but he is pushing ahead anyway.

“I want to inspire more people to do this, even though it takes a lot of time. In the two years [since founding Repair Fairy], I’ve discovered that while at first people in the renovation industry didn’t understand why anyone would do this, they’re now volunteering themselves.

“It took a while, but I think we’re getting there.”