What Has Poverty to Do with Me? An interview with Hazel Wong, Consultant to CEDAR Fund

[ “SHARE” Jul-Aug 2012 – What Has Poverty to Do with Me? ] FOCUS: INTERVIEW

Interviewer> Lam Wai Shan

The World Bank’s latest data shows that 1.29 billion people in the world live below the poverty line[1];

Human behaviours lead to frequent natural disasters;

Human dignity is constantly being trampled on….

We cannot help but ask, ‘Where are You, Lord?’

And what can we do?

God gave this vision to Hazel, a veteran in poverty relief and development, ‘It was as if I was a little girl when I saw an adult carrying some water; I offered to help and he accepted. Thrilled at being able to be of use, I then realised that it was the man himself had been carrying the weight all along.’ And God was this man.

This mental breakthrough came during a highly significant trip. Hazel was visiting the rubbish dump in Manila called Smokey Mountain and its squatter community (later moved to the outskirts of Manila). The place was filled with smoke and stench from decomposing garbage. Yet men and women, young and old, scrambled up the landfill barefooted, trying to pick through the rubbish. During the trip Hazel poignantly heard the sad news that someone from a community organisation bargaining for a higher refuse collection fee for the scavengers was killed.

Hazel remembers clearly that after returning to the commercial district of Makati, whilst attending a church meeting in a comfortable hall, she recalled the moments at Smokey Mountain and she wept out of great sadness. ‘I felt that God was very unfair. Why were the people in Makatinot oppressed and exploited, instead they could come to church in comfort, whereas the Smokey Mountain people struggled to survive, oppressed and barely had any dignity?’

Stop and hear

The Lord calmed Hazel down and then said to her, ‘Indeed you are sad and pained now, but these feelings will subside with time, but My pain, which is greater than yours, will never diminish. Where was I? I was the Word become flesh and was among the pains of the people, and I have resurrected, I have overcome all…’ This spiritual experience further confirmed the goal and direction of Hazel’s ministry, and she now no longer asks why we have human suffering, ‘All along God has been living among those who are suffering, and bringing changes to poverty and injustice, He is also inviting us to co-work with Him and strive alongside the poor, especially with those who are oppressed and exploited.’

Hazel encourages villagers to show through drawings their resources

How should we walk with the poor?

Hazel admits that application is not easy and yet she strongly believes, ‘It has to do with interpersonal contact, communication and relationship building. We cannot merely treat the poor and exploited as victims.’ Therefore, to truly walk with them, we must lay aside all preconceptions and presumptions about the poor and humbly listen to them and get to know them. ‘The poor can participate in discussions and use different ways to express their experiences, thoughts, feelings, expectations and actions, including their suppressed potentials and their efforts at surviving adversity. Only when such spaces are created can there be real participation and empowerment.’

Through this activity Africans appreciate themselves and others consolidating unity

Stop and think

Ultimately, caring for the poor is not launching a project, but an attitude to life, lived out consistently. What then are we actually trying to construct or preserve? Do our actions actually alleviate or aggravate the pain of the poor and oppressed? Hazel challenges as to biblically consider those questions: –

Saving or sharing our wealth? Why do we constantly save our wealth? Are we storing up what others have lost or been robbed of? Why are people who lack materially more willing to share?

Better and more successful than the poor? Do we often feel morally, intellectually and culturally superior to the poor? Do we only focus on reforming them that we fail to respect and listen to them?

Does poverty have anything to do with me? Have we considered that we ourselves are also a cause of poverty? Have we ever intentionally or unknowingly fostered any unrighteous dealing or system? When we choose not to respond to a problem, can poverty ever be alleviated?

Is money the answer to everything? Poverty is not a problem just about money, it also involves the dignity, security, fair participation and autonomy of the person. Can merely increasing income overcome poverty by a “top-down” distribution?

Only a medium for evangelism? What is the relationship between gospel work and community care? The gospel message includes justice and mercy but what do justice and mercy mean for the exploited poor, communities and the system?

Hazel often checks herself for a sense of superiority towards villagers

Combine living with action

Apart from self-examination, it is also very important for more Christians to care for their neighbours. Hazel believes that this caring need not be about doing extraordinary things. We can start with paying attention to and caring about the people and things around us. Through sharing and talking about our faith and poverty Hazel encourages brothers and sisters to actively participate. ‘Search the Scriptures to understand what “integral gospel” means, and dispel one by one the myths about poverty and the poor. Further, pray that God will open our eyes to examine other people’s daily situations which we might have once dismissed, and then step out of our comfort zone, bravely choosing to do what is good. Believers can also talk about matters relating to poverty, explore its causes, and amass power to do what needs to be done.’

When asked if there have been times of frustration during her many years of ministry, Hazel replied firmly, ‘Frustration is often there, but I remind myself that God has a strong hold on me, He never changes and He is always with those who suffer. I also remind myself not to be self-righteous but to do the best I can trusting God will Himself bring about deliverance and transformation to individuals, groups and the system.’

When Hazel saw the picture of the child and adult carrying water together she responded to God’s calling without hesitation. Twenty years have flown by and she has persisted along this path. In her daily life she is constantly learning to overcome her own pride and limitations, doing her best to put her belief into practice. God invites not only Hazel, but you also, to co-work with Him who is victorious, to build a world of righteousness and loving kindness. Poverty definitely concerns you!

Extended action

If you have practical ways to care for the poor, log in to CEDAR’s site to share your views.

Hazel Wong has been involved in poverty relief and development for over twenty years. Experienced in frontline implementation of development projects, training and research, she has particular interest in gender issue and is devoted in integrating faith with justice and social development after obtaining her Master in Christian Studies at China Graduate School of Theology, (CGST). Hazel has been a consultant to CEDAR since 2010.

[1] http://econ.worldbank.org/povcalnet 

FOCUS explores different topics, integrates theory with practice, and broadens our horizon and thinking.

Integrated Community Development Project in Orissa State, India

[ “SHARE” Jul-Aug 2012 – What Has Poverty to Do with Me? ] STEP INTO THE WORLD

Many poor Indians live in rural villages in the forests of Orissa State. These villagers are mainly low castes or tribals with their different religious beliefs. Conflicts among such groups are always happening and that worsen their desperate plight. In 2008, Hindu-Christian violent clashes resulted in many casualties and much economic loss. Tribal hatred has simmered on.

Communities are further marginalised by illiteracy which hinders them from learning new farming or other skills. Moreover, their villages are too remote and they rely only on oxcarts for transportation. This makes it difficult for them to leave and find work in towns and cities.

CEDAR partner Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief (EFICOR) launched community development projects in twenty villages in Orissa. It organises women literacy class and improves farmers’ livelihood by building their capacities. Leadership training helps facilitate sustainable community development and network among the castes and lead to an inclusive community.

HK$100 trains up one teacher for adult literacy classes
HK$300 supports ten farmers in agricultural training
HK$850 improves the quality of one hectare of farmland soil.

You can donate to support this integrated community project, helping rural communities in Orissa Stateto build up a sustainable development project.

Donate Now! Click here.

Other Methods of Payment

  1. Cheque payable to ‘CEDAR FUND’
  2. Deposit to HSBC A/C No. 600-385678-001, enclosing with the Pay-in slip
  3. Autopay (only applicable to regular fixed donations), enclosing with a completed Autopay Authorisation Form (Download: WORD or PDF)
  4. Visa/ Master Card

Download Donation Form

Please send a completed Donation Form, enclosing with cheque or pay-in slip, to CEDAR FUND, G.P.O. BOX 3212, HONG KONG.

Donation Form: WORD or PDF

[1] CEDAR is an approved charitable institutions and trusts of a public character under section 88 of the Inland Revenue Ordinance. Please click Inland Revenue Department website to check for details.
[2] Donations over $100 are tax deductible in Hong Kong with our receipts.
[3] Please DO NOT fax any donation information.

Some Feelings Expressed | Willis

[ “SHARE” Jul-Aug 2012 – What Has Poverty to Do with Me? ] TAKING ACTION

Author> Willis

Each visit would make me feel confused and embarrassed about my identity as a Christian.

Every time we meet, Old Man A would ignore all my questions and repeat his same old story; Old Man B is a man of few words and we try constantly to start a new topic of conversation; Old Man C keeps on asking about “Scheme $6000”.

Nothing new ever comes out of the visits and our presence seem to cause annoyance. But when we say goodbye, their response is always, ‘Thank you for visiting today.’

These aged ex street-sleepers may have a past that is too painful to recall, or they may have become awkward with conversations because they rarely talk to strangers, yet deep down they yearn for some attention – they cherish even the most trivial chats for they feel loving care from others.

For me, used to living an ever-changing material life, it has not been easy to adjust quickly to or speak kindly to elderly people living in hardship. I may express willingness with my mouth but feel challenged in my heart. Time passes and the once-poor generation of believers has now become more prosperous and the church is becoming middle-class. Thus when a group of well-off Christians like us get together, invisible walls come up which separate us from the world beyond. When the church is happy to stay within the walls, who will look after the lonely and the helpless in the society?

In contrast, Jesus walked with the marginalised and lived among them. Thus the Word became flesh and lived among us. Yet, when we worship and sing ‘Holy! Holy!’ do we understand why Jesus was born, or know what He did while He was in the world?

I fervently hope one day when a street-sleeper comes into our gathering, we will not be offended by him and reject him for what he wears or how he behaves, because whatever we do for one of the least of these brothers, we do for the Lord.

Since mid-2010, CEDAR joined the Salvation Army in a “street-sleepers visit project”, taking note of the street-sleepers’ needs through regular visits. 28 participants are divided into small groups and regularly visit 15 street-sleepers or former street-sleepers. Willis is one of the participants.

TAKING ACTION introduces CEDAR’s education and advocacy activities in Hong Kong; through participants’ sharing encourages believers to take action and practise their faith.

Bugs, Canopies, Developers | WU Ying Lun, Hand

[ “SHARE” Jul-Aug 2012 – What Has Poverty to Do with Me? ] CEDAR’S BLOGGER

Author> WU Ying Lun (Hand), Education and Promotion Officer

“Developer hegemony” has lately become a popular term which resonates with the Hong Kong people. Having joined CEDAR for over two years, I get to meet different people and strongly feel how land distribution and planning are dictating the destiny and quality of life of people from all walks of life.

Recently I took a class in organic farming in Ma Shi Po Village, Fanling. There were so many mosquitoes in the summer that any unprepared visitors walking in the fields would surely be badly bitten. A farmer explained, ‘The plots of land are wasted due to property development, and with nobody to manage the plots, bugs and mosquitoes breed here. A decade ago, you can sleep in the fields and you won’t get bitten.’ So, insect infestation is closely linked with property development and land usage.

The farmer also told us that the 1960s and ’70s wereHong Kong’s golden age of agriculture, and the huge vegetable production could satisfy almost 60% of local demand. Farmers needed to work very hard but they earned well and ate healthily, so their lives were not so bad. Sadly, in recent years developers are squeezing out the farming industry, by coercion they acquire and hoard farmlands, continually threatening the villages’ existence and farmers’ lifestyle.

Back in town, people’s space for existence is even more severely threatened. The No. 4 alarm fire at Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok, in December 2011 killed nine, the majority of whom lived in partitioned rooms. After the accident a woman spoke out at a local housing policy symposium: She and her daughter live in a partitioned room in an old building in Wan Chai, and apart from having to pay the ever rising rent, conflicts among neighbours are frequent because of the crammed space and so she worries about her family’s safety.

I found it most shocking when the woman spoke of her criteria in choosing her room: she would pick a unit on the third floor, and from there would look out of the window to see if a canopy is below it so that should a fire break out, she and her daughter could escape by jumping out of the building and be saved by the canopy. It is unbelievable that while Hong Kong ranks high in economic development, its quality of accommodation is so appalling that residents are constantly worried about their lives!

If Hong Kong continues to be dominated by property development whilst other sectors are being squeezed out, it would be a depressing development indeed! The Treasury is not utilising its huge budget surplus well but thoughtlessly gave every resident HK$6,000. The government’s recent extravagance, which opted for “social harmony” rather than meet the long-term needs of the poor, is disappointing! I have two sincere wishes regarding Hong Kong’s future: first that there be diverse industries and second, the government would give priority to the needs of the poor when distributing resources!

CEDAR’S BLOGGER allows members of CEDAR staff to talk about their work, life and reflections.