An Eye-Opening Experience of Poverty | POON Man Yan

[ “SHARE” Sept-Oct 2012 – An Eye-Opening Experience of Poverty ]  FOCUS: An EXPOSURE TRIP

Author> POON Man Yan, Education and Promotion Officer

I took the exposure trip in April, seven years since my last one. To make the most of the trip, I decided to forget about the camera and use my eyes to study each scene and face, and use my ears to listen to every life transforming story.

Namaste! Greetings, Nepal!

It was already dark when we landed in Kathmandu so the view was not very clear. The streets reeked of petrol and filled with the hoots of car horns, like China’s rural roads of over a decade ago. Nepal ranks second-last amongst Asian countries on the human development index. Compared with neighbouring China and India, its development road ahead is still very long.

They meet any situation with a smile.

As the home of Mt. Everest, Nepal is indeed a mountainous nation with hills and highlands all over the country. The best route to the mountain villages during the dry season would be to drive across dried-up riverbeds. The twelve of us transformed into contestants of some adventure game show, flying across bumpy riverbeds in jeeps heading towards our destination in the mountains.

During our eight-day trip we went to the central districts of Lalitpur, Makawanpur and Dhading, and visited the Dalit (the oppressed) community and the indigenous groups of Chepang and Tamang. Amidst harsh condition of village life, the people there were cheery and appeared to be happier than those of us who were visiting.

Silent cries of the girls

The day after arrival we visited eight girls around 15 or 16 in Lalitpur. They are members of adolescent groups in the Women Empowerment Programme organized by CEDAR’s partner Share and Care Nepal.

When asked about their dreams for the future, the girls shyly told us that they would love to become teachers or social workers. Yet they knew that soon they would have to obey their parents be married off and then play the traditional female role in their husband’s household. Their own future is no longer theirs to hold and their dreams are thus unreachable. Two illiterate girls among them even remained silent. As I watched and listened, I felt cut to the hearts: do Nepalese girls have no right to pursue their dreams? After all, God sees everyone as unique and precious!

Smart and sweet girls

On hearing that two girls had stopped schooling, trippers already guessed the reason – it is either to give way to a son, the future head of the family, to go to school, or give the family an extra pair of hands for chores and farming. When a society fails to examine the rationale for customs and traditions, and regard belittlement or neglect of women as a natural practice, gender inequality thus becomes one of the causes of Nepal’s poverty, especially amongst women.

What is poverty? The Nepalese women made us see that poverty is not merely about a lack in material necessities but also the injustice behind a social system and traditional culture, turning the poor into those in society who are oppressed and ‘sinned against.’ Exploitation and discrimination not only hurt people, but abuse God’s righteous nature also.

The ‘untouchables’ are never cheap and lowly

Hinduism was once Nepal’s state religion and the country remains heavily influenced by the caste system. The low-castes are restricted in many ways, both in the workplace and daily life. However, the Dalit in Dhading are living with self-confidence, self-respect and self-love despite all kinds of discrimination and oppression.

During a visit to the project run by our partner Shanti Nepal in Dhading’s Gajuri district, we went to a small community hall where a dozen children were singing and playing. It is also where the office of the residents’ self-help group is located. The group’s treasurer related the changes the community had gone through in the past years.

Low-castes form self-help groups to assist each other

In the past, a derogatory name was given to this place because local residents were mainly of the low-caste. Even the government paid little attention to the needs of these inhabitants. After the self-help group was set up, villagers slowly warmed to the importance of unity. They got together and successfully had the place name changed and the insulting words deleted; they began to encourage savings and pooled funds to give small loans to villagers in need. Further, group members actively help care for sick or elderly neighbours, including those who had hurled insults at them before.

What is development? Some suggest ‘growing towards urbanisation’, others ‘building of infrastructure’ or ‘developing the economy’. Yet, from the experience of the oppressed in Gajuri, we realise that what the exploited and discriminated Nepalese marginalised communities want most is to be free from discrimination, to be self-reliant, to build a society with equality where they may appreciate the value and dignity of one’s own life.

What we as visitors found most admirable was the way local Christian organisations facilitated the community’s empowerment and development. Frontline workers transcend the boundaries of the caste system and promote trust among different castes. They also encourage villagers to actively participate in expressing their needs and concerns. Self-help groups are set up to build a close-knit support network. All these stem from the conviction that all humans are born equal and the affirmation of the personal value of even the poorest.

A concrete interpretation of the Gospel

Some may ask how our efforts are linked to the Gospel if we only work on development programmes without evangelism.

One trip member spoke for all of us, ‘If the Gospel is only to redeem my soul, then I should have been taken to heaven immediately upon conversion. I am still here, so I believe there is still work to do.’ The Good News or Gospel is not only about getting people to believe in Jesus now for the hope of eternal life later. It also points to transformation of our life right now whilst we practise the Word of God in both private and public lives.

As vessels of the Gospel, Christians are themselves interpretation of the Gospel. One trip member, a minister who was once a frontline worker, said, ‘The ministry of local organisations is what Jesus talked about in Luke 4:18 – proclaim to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.’ I say ‘Amen’ to that as I think of the villagers we met, their positive attitude, courage and self-confidence.

In remote mountains, villagers experience the truth of God’s love

Dhanyabaad! Thank you, Nepal!

After returning to Hong Kong, a young trip member told us, ‘One day, while enjoying the comfort of an air-conditioned room and eating my favourite salmon sushi, guilt of extravagance suddenly came upon me.’ Many others have experienced similar struggles which challenge our ingrained way of living. Her father who also went on the trip encouraged her to live conscientiously, not be restricted by an established lifestyle but bravely open our heart to explore and broaden our horizon.

Thank you, Nepal! You expanded our horizon to see the richness in God’s Word and works.

Extended Action

Are you ready for a breakthrough and to open your heart to see God’s manifold and wonderful works? Visit for more photos of the Nepal trip. We also invite you to join our exposure trip to Ethiopia scheduled for January 2013, where we expect to witness God’s boundless work among the poor.

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

Community Health and Education Programme in Nepal

[ “SHARE” Sept-Oct 2012 – An Eye-Opening Experience of Poverty ] STEP INTO THE WORLD

Ram Maya lives in the mountainous area in Dhading, Nepal. She suffered from discrimination and poverty because she is Dalit. Since installing an Eco toilet set up to collect urine for organic farming, she has been enjoying very good harvests and earning good income.

With no official assistance to provide proper roads, water supply and medical care, the marginalised communities in Dhading’s mountainous areas live a desperate existence, and are often vulnerable to skin diseases, diarrhoea and fever.

CEDAR’s partner Shanti Nepal helps raise villagers’ awareness of health and hygiene, improve health care and basic medical facilities, generate income for better food security and build up support networks through community health and education programme.

With your support:

HK$250 will subsidise a household to build a toilet;
HK$500 will provide two basic health sessions for mothers’ groups;
HK$1,000 will provide four training sessions on livelihood skills to community groups

Please help support our partner’s community health and education programme to improve the lives of these marginalised communities.

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.

A Witness that Grows with Time | TANG Po Shan

[ “SHARE” Sept-Oct 2012 – An Eye-Opening Experience of Poverty ] TAKING ACTION

Author> TANG Po Shan, Education and Promotion Officer

I met Tina during a ‘Deprived Community Exposure Visit’ held by CEDAR Club. She was then studying Chinese medicine at university and she wanted to know more about the world, especially the people she was going to serve.

I have seen Tina bring young people to several CEDAR Barefoot Walks. During our conversation, I discovered that Tina has been joining CEDAR events with her father since she was a small child, and members of her church are also regular supporters of Barefoot Walk. ‘I remember going to the first ever CEDAR Barefoot Walk with my father when I was a few years old, and we have been going every year since. It started as merely “something fun”. When I attended secondary school and served at my church’s youth fellowship, I encouraged fellowship members to support CEDAR and join Barefoot Walk. I changed from being a passive participant to an active promoter. My intent has also changed— I now truly agree with the idea behind the events and I want to express my care and concern for the poor through consistent action.’

Tanton, Tina’s father, has been a volunteer at CEDAR since it was founded in 1991. It was he who introduced Tina to CEDAR. Tina says, ‘Through CEDAR I have the opportunity to care about distant matters and not just the things I deal with everyday. News and information from CEDAR also helps me understand the poverty issues in the world.’ Watching his daughter mature, Tanton is very encouraged even though he did not have a predetermined goal for Tina in the beginning. ‘All that parents need to do is to lead their children to God, to nurture and to discipline them well. Our children observe what we do. We cannot force them do anything but let them explore for themselves. They will take the initiative when they find something suitable.’ ‘Actions speak louder than words’ may be a cliché, but it may exactly be the manifestion of integral mission—Believers living out biblical qualities in different aspects of life can make changes through their actions.

We cordially invite you to join this year’s Barefoot Walk:

Date> 10 November (Saturday)
Time> 3pm
Place> Central
Registration and Enquiry> or contact us at 2381 9627

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

Challenges and Breakthroughs in Development Work | LEE Po Ki, Kate

[ “SHARE” Sept-Oct 2012 – An Eye-Opening Experience of Poverty ] CEDAR’S BLOGGER

Author> LEE Po Ki, Kate, Project Supervisor (Disaster Management & Risk Reduction)

The happiest thing about engaging in development work is witnessing lives being changed. The Brazilian educationist Paulo Freire pointed out that education is the way to individual and social construction. Similarly, development work challenges the existing thinking of society and individuals, including the development workers themselves.

In recent years I have been working in projects in Gansu, China, and have seen the changes in the women there. These women are seldom in control of family wealth and possessions. They are illiterate and stay in their home-village all their lives. Their talents are buried by the social culture of male superiority. What we do is to nurture the women’s talents and build their self-confidence. After many years of unrelenting effort through literacy classes, leadership training, small loans, and health & hygiene education, the women have grown in their capabilities and self-confidence. They have even represented the village in negotiations with the government, successfully set up farmers’ cooperatives.

‘A year does not pass without some disaster’, many villagers used to say. A few years ago I met a minister from Nujiang, Yunnan, at a disaster prevention project. He felt it impossible for his poor minority community to deal with natural disasters. The disaster management workshop changed his thinking–-he recognised that they suffer mostly from fires and rainstorms which occur at particular times of the year. Further, he learned to make use of community resources for disaster prevention, e.g. during the dry season, volunteer mountain rangers watch out for forest fires; in rainy season, villagers who understand Putonghua will relay news of impending rainstorms. He told us, ‘Disasters can actually be prevented by enhancing disaster combat ability and eliminating the weak links.’

As a development worker, I can also be restricted by my own presumptions. The destitute households in Chinese villages are mostly aged and diseased, and I naturally thought that the most we could do for them was to give them rice and cooking oil during Chinese New Year. But workers at the Gansu project site showed me otherwise. They specially invited these destitute householders to be the changemakers to learn and then demonstrate how to corral sheep. An elderly couple told us, ‘We are the demonstration unit, so naturally we are to lead the villagers in corralling.’ They do not see themselves as receiving help but being a part of facilitating development. Their empowerment makes me understand that it is not the projects that build ability but we already have it in ourselves, and it can be applied to change for good if we give it space and opportunity.

I thank the women, the ethnic minority groups and the rural destitute householders for opening my eyes to their development. I hope to continue learning to challenge the old in me and in society, and that I will walk with the poor more appropriately.

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