Study Buddy (Explorer): Hong Kong charity that holds birthday parties for less fortunate kids is back

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  • Each week, Study Buddy Explorer presents an interesting story that we have adjusted to be more accessible for all English learners
  • Check your reading comprehension using the questions below or in the linked Kahoot! game
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Birthday Happiness Asia, with support from Society for Community Organisation, hosted a party last November. Photo: Handout

Content provided by the British Council

Read the following text and answer questions 1-9 below:

[1] Edward Fernandes knows what it is like to have a childhood without birthday parties. “I was born in Kenya, but moved with my sister and mother to the United Kingdom in 1966,” said Fernandes, who has been in Hong Kong since 1994. “In London, we struggled economically. My mother could barely put food on the table, so there was no room for birthday parties, which meant we also didn’t get invited to any.”

[2] This feeling would stay with Fernandes, and it motivated him and his wife, Marilou Edora, to set up Birthday Happiness Asia (BHA). It is a charity that makes sure less fortunate children get to have a birthday celebration complete with cake, decorations, games and gifts.

[3] “My wife’s parents couldn’t afford to celebrate her birthdays or those of her siblings. She wanted for no child to suffer the disappointment of not celebrating their special day,” he said. “Birthday Happiness Asia actually started in 1994. But a few years later, my wife got seriously unwell, and I had to concentrate on her. And the organisation just collapsed. Unfortunately, my wife passed away in January [2021] – she’d battled cancer of the jaw for 40 years – so in memory of her, I decided to resurrect Birthday Happiness Asia.”

[4] Fernandes said the concept of hosting birthday parties for less fortunate children dates back to the 1970s. That was when two Argentinian men noticed that financial issues were causing parents to abandon kids or put them into orphanages. “Not because the parents didn’t want to look after them, but they just physically couldn’t afford to look after them,” he said.

[5] “What the two gentlemen noticed was that although the government or charities looked after the basic needs of the children, such as food, education, clothing etc, they did not celebrate their birthdays,” he said. “So they went into orphanages and threw birthday parties for them.”

[6] BHA partners with charities such as Caritas and Society for Community Organisation (SoCO). It also relies on the help of volunteers. One of them is Haiti-born Eudmarly Gedeon, an international student at Li Po Chun United World College, in Ma On Shan. “The joy and happiness that we get to experience at every single BHA event is amazing,” said Gedeon. “A simple gesture like providing a party to a young child can bring so much to the life of these kids and our lives as volunteers.”

[7] SoCO’s Kiki Leung said BHA provides unforgettable experiences for children who are most affected by poverty in a city with a widening gap between rich and poor. “In Hong Kong, 253,000 children struggle to survive in poverty, with 50,000 children living in caged homes or partitioned homes and doing their homework on beds,” said Leung. “Birthday Happiness Asia allows children who never get a chance to celebrate that important day in their lives to celebrate with their friends and parents, to play games and share delicious food and birthday cake.”
Source: South China Morning Post, April 22

Questions

Play a Kahoot! game about this story as a class or with your friends by clicking on the link here.

Or play on your own below to test your understanding:

1. Why did Fernandes not have birthday parties when he was a child?
A. His sister was too ill to celebrate birthdays.
B. He was moving to a different country every few years.
C. His family could not afford it.
D. none of the above

2. What does Birthday Happiness Asia do according to paragraph 2?

3. Which word can replace “collapsed” in paragraph 3?
A. distorted
B. wrecked
C. fainted
D. crumbled

4. Read paragraphs 4 and 5, and decide if the following statements are True, False or Not Given. (4 marks)
(i) Parents who abandon their children or put them in orphanages usually do not care about them.
(ii) Fernandes and his wife were not the first to come up with the idea of hosting birthday parties for less fortunate children.
(iii) Children’s charities in the 1970s only celebrated special festive occasions such as Christmas.
(iv) The two Argentinian men were awarded for their charity work.

5. What are the examples of “basic needs” mentioned in paragraph 5?

6. With which groups does BHA work?
A. government organisations and community leaders
B. volunteers and charities
C. charities and school principals
D. local orphanages and volunteers

7. According to Gedeon, what is meaningful about the work he does with BHA?

8. Find a word in paragraph 7 that means “the state of being extremely poor”.

9. How many children in Hong Kong lack access to a proper home according to paragraph 7?

Edward Fernandes founded Birthday Happiness Asia with his late wife, Marilou Edora. Photo: Edmond So

Answers

1. C

2. It makes sure less fortunate children get to have a birthday celebration complete with cake, decorations, games and gifts.

3. D

4. (i) F; (ii) T; (iii) NG; (iv) NG

5. food, education and clothing

6. B

7. He appreciates how a simple gesture such as providing a party can bring so much for the kids and volunteers.

8. poverty

9. 50,000

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