[ ‘SHARE’ Jan-Feb 2014 – Who Is Willing to Be Their Neighbour? ] FOCUS ~ SOCIAL CONCERN
Interviewed and written by> Jojo & Tiffany
In September 2013 the HKSAR Government has set the poverty line for Hong Kong to be 50% of median monthly household income, and the Policy Address in January 2014 has announced a series of poverty amelioration measures. A poverty line may help the Government set appropriate poverty alleviation policies, but data and a line cannot define or reflect the real situation of poverty and the voices and expectations of marginalised groups.
The three interviewees below are from different origins and backgrounds. You may see from their sharing how the personal experiences and life expectations of different social groups among them display the uniqueness in life value that is beyond numbers and a line.
Asfa: I hope to live in a safe and hygienic environment
We met Asfa, a 30-year old Pakistani woman, through Urdu Neighbour Centre. She and three family members live in a not-so-nice old building and a not-so-nice environment at To Kwa Wan. It is smelly if you stand on the staircase. But it is completely different on entry into Asfa’s home! It is tidy and comfortable, and some nice decorative items are specifically added at corners. ‘I love clean environment, and I will clean my home and the stairs outside, trying to improve the environment without disturbing other people. Sadly, very soon there are lots of rubbish at the stairs again.’ Asfa tells us in fluent English.
Ten years ago, Asfa followed her newly wed husband to live in Hong Kong, speaking only Urdu. Then Asfa took English lessons at Urdu Neighbour Centre and now she helps there as the Centre’s interpreter. ‘I was very happy when I received the volunteer money allowance at the first time!’ Earning an income is impossible for Pakistani women who are used to stay at home. Asfa tells us confidently, ‘Pakistani women are very good at sewing and knitting, but we have no marketing skill.’
Talking about her native women, Asfa says, ‘My mother and brother’s family are also in Hong Kong and we meet often. But many others have no relatives here and their lives are not so easy… Indeed we would love to befriend our neighbours here but they don’t welcome us. It is sad that some shopkeepers even do not allow us to walk in the shop!’
Asfa is not aware of the newly set poverty line, but she emphasises that she does not need CSSA (Comprehensive Social Security Assistance). ‘We don’t need help from government. My husband works hard from 7am to 9pm for our living.’ Considering Hong Kong as her home, Asfa’s only hope from the government is about housing: ‘Water leaks in our flat, it is dirty and not safe around! I hope to be allotted with public housing so that I may live in a safe and hygienic environment.’
Sanjiv: I hope to contribute to society
Why do South Asians traverse miles to live in Hong Kong? Sanjiv who came from Nepal in 1997 tells us, ‘I came to work and be reunited with my wife.’ His Nepalese friend got him a job as a hotel serviceman, ‘Nepalese like to make friends and so this job is perfect for me, but many of my fellow countrymen do not get likewise treatment; their low-paid manual jobs barely meet the daily expenses.’
Work treatment towards ethnic minorities varies but they all have to deal with the difficulties in language. To them, Chinese is very difficult to pick up and speak. Sanjiv’s son at times utters his grief in tears: ‘I could not understand what the teachers said!’
In our Chinese community, Nepalese is a minority group and mutual supports and caring among fellow countrymen is important. Attending as a member to Nepali Hosanna Church Hong Kong Sanjiv says gratefully, ‘I am a Christian and often pray with fellow Nepalese believers. We help other fellow countrymen in their problems. At the moment the most concerned problem is about youth drug abuse. Our church is doing the best to help and refer them for drug treatments.’
Having lived in Hong Kong for sixteen years, Sanjiv finds the city’s rapid changes both surprising and overwhelming. He says forlornly, ‘Along with the new airport built and high-rises erected, inflation soars and daily necessities and rents have become too costly. Many Nepalese, including myself, have applied for public housing hoping to reduce living expenses. I personally think that housing and land allotment is the most serious social problem!’
On asking about an ideal life, Sanjiv says, ‘I hope to contribute to society and help more fellow countrymen adapt to life in Hong Kong; I also hope that I can continue to provide for my parents and see my two children through their education.’
Lai-siu: I hope to be healthy and happy
‘My parents came from Mainland China years ago; followingly they applied for my brother’s emigration to Hong Kong but leaving me behind in village.’ Lai-siu, almost 70 and lives alone told us her story. ‘My husband was a Hong Kong resident but got to live in the Mainland 30 years ago. He returned to Hong Kong for treatments after getting illness.’ Over the past ten years Lai-siu looked after her husband, ‘We both live on CSSA for one, which was not sufficient for both living and medicine; but we had no alternatives!’
Lai-siu’s husband died in March 2013. She became penniless and her children are all in China. She with aid of Ms. Lam of Industrial Evangelical Fellowship (IEF) managed her husband’s funeral matters with loans of HK$20,000 from friends. Ms. Lam, having been acquainted with Lai-siu for many years said, ‘She used to reserve all the good for husband rendering herself malnourished and hair-lost! Mr. Lee (the husband) asked me to care for her.’ As Lai-siu has been staying in Hong Kong for less than seven years, CSSA was stopped upon the husband’s death. The lack of income coupled with bereavement of husband’s death, Lai-siu nearly broke down and all the day cried, ‘Help me, Jesus!’ With the help of IEF and a news organisation, the Social Welfare Department grants her CSSA as an exception.
Now Lai-siu needs not worry about living, her biggest wish is to be healthy and happy. ‘Now you just need to have your heart and spirit refreshed, for cheerful heart is the good medicine! Once you get well physically, come to our centre more often and together we may help others.’ Hearing Ms. Lam’s invitation, Lai-siu says, ‘yes’ with a smile.
Love and fellowship beyond policies
Poverty is not a matter of figures about income and expenditure, but about rejection, neglect, isolation and helplessness. Perhaps policy on poverty relief can help the poor and marginalised about their needs in living, but the policy cannot satisfy their needs for acceptance, love and fellowship in life. From the sharing of Asfa, Sanjiv and Lai-siu, can you see there being many lives in deficiency for us to get close to?
A lawyer asked Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbour?’
Jesus replied, ‘A certain man fell among robbers. Who is the neighbour to him?’
(see Luke 10:25-37)
Join CEDAR Club to learn about the conditions and needs of the underprivileged groups. Please contact Lisa and Tiffany at 2381 9627 for details.