How Global Development and Advocacy Changed Me | Tang Po Shan

[ ‘SHARE’ Mar-Apr 2016 ] TAKING ACTION

Written by: Tang Po Shan

CEDAR has invited me to share my experience and reflections about the journey from involving in global development issues to local social problems, and how they have affected my today’s work. This is intended as such instead of a systematic analysis due to limited space.

Drawing a distant world closer

For the 5 years in CEDAR, I mainly sat in office searching for poverty and development updates of different regions, and any major events that might impact the underprivileged groups. The topics ranged from global matters such as UN Millennium Development Goals, climate changes, food crises, fair trade, to natural disasters, epidemics, military conflicts, and human rights violations.

These are topics unfamiliar to the majority of Hong Kong people who live in a developed region. It’s hard to empathize, but at the same time these topics are fresh and interesting to me. Since I was CEDAR’s officer of education and advocacy, I became enthusiastic in raising people’s awareness while thinking constantly about how all these matter to us.

We may feel that an event happening in a distant part of the globe implies no consequences to us, which in fact it does, especially under the rapid globalization. Nowadays, economic crises, epidemics, pollutions and food safety problems, all affect us in different ways. As global citizens, we are co-dependent on each other and share everyone’s highs and lows, and therefore are all responsible for the advancement of peace and justice.

Those living in developed areas not only often neglect the living conditions of the poor, they actually make the situation worse by living a lifestyle high in energy and food consumptions that negatively affects the environment and production ecology of the developing areas, disproportionately leaving them to be heavily impacted by pollutions and climate changes. One of the main missions of CEDAR is to educate the public of this very fact.

The example set by committed frontline workers

Human rights are the foundation of development works. The first Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Every human should have dignity and be treated with respect and kindness regardless of his/her nationality, ethnicity, social status, religion, gender, sexuality, or any other categorizations.

Sadly, this basic right is not respected in many places, where extreme rights abusive acts such as child labor, female genital mutilation, and human trafficking are still common, and these are just the tip of the iceberg. The complex interplay of traditions, cultural practices, gender inequality, and economic systems calls for multi-level and systematic changes in order to cease the damage.

Partners of CEDAR have been responding to these issues with community educations, research, and advocacy, together with other organizations from around the world. An end-all solution is still beyond our reach, but we were able to see changes happening little by little.

The work of CEDAR demonstrates perseverance in testing environments, where countless frontline workers tirelessly fight to bring about changes. This makes us humble ourselves and in turn wanting to learn from their experience.

Localizing universal values and experiences

This active atmosphere during my five years in CEDAR slowly shaped my values, thinking process, and analytical approach. CEDAR’s historical and cultural scope in analyzing any issues, its reverence to universal values, its creative and practical responses, together with its emphasis on democracy, participation, and solidarity with the underprivileged, shaped my work today in a great way.

To advocate a policy, one has to understand its historical roots, and the related cultural, societal, and political factors, so to debunk any false reasoning and beliefs that prevent the government from changing or improving it. The social security and housing policies of Hong Kong were formed in a particular time under a unique context. Things have changed now, and the policies should also be changed to fit the people’s needs. The recent fights for universal retirement protection and tenancy control also call for a socially sensitive and compelling analysis and examining the interactions between the context and its policy formation.

Meanwhile, policies are reflections of values. We must not turn a blind eye to any systemic evil that diminishes dignity in people and induce pain and hopelessness. People have the right to economic, social, and cultural safety besides general citizenship and political rights. Alas, in Hong Kong, there are many indigents and minorities who live in unsightly sub-divided housings today. Many elderly have to sustain their lives by scavenging used papers. The government has failed to protect the citizens’ rights. In this case, “the Right to Adequate Housing” promoted by the United Nation will be used as a support in our advocacy in the housing policies amendment, as basic housing for everyone is a universal value that transcends cultures. In essence, policy advocacy is a declaration of beliefs in values and a fight for dignity.

Unfinished reflections

‘Advocating for’ the ones in need is the mainstream practice of non-governmental organizations. However, this practice often strengthens the existing imbalance and structure of power, and consequently fails to empower the underprivileged. On the other hand, ‘Advocating with’ the people or ‘Advocated by’ the people emphasize their participation and ownership of the issue, which I’m always trying to remind myself of.

Will the minorities become the tools of various ‘poverty fighters’, to be used to facilitate the works and researches of experts, universities, and NGOs? Or are they our partners and companions, or even the ‘change agent’?

These are some of the fragmented thoughts that I would like to continuously hammer on through writing and hope to share again.

(The author was CEDAR’s Education and Promotion Officer (Advocacy) from 2008 to 2013, and is now a researcher and policy advocate in a social welfare organization.)