Dropping out of school after a few short years, child labour and early marriage seem to be the only options for many Bangladeshi girls.
With little access to birth control, Bangladeshi families are large, so it is already hard to feed the household, let alone provide education for the children. Because of the male-dominant culture, girls, especially the older ones, are usually forced to give up school. Further, a dowry is obligatory, the amount of which increases as the bride gets older, and hence impoverished families try to marry off their girls young so to ease their financial burden.
Trisna is the second oldest child in her family – the eldest sister is already married and her younger siblings are at school. The whole family’s livelihood depends on the father’s meagre income as a security guard.
The parents do want education for Trisna but they lack the means – they even considered marrying off Trisna to alleviate the family burden.
In places like India, Nepal and Bangladesh, many girls drop out of school and earn income by sewing. Trisna belongs to a girls group in a youth development program of CEDAR’s partner, PARI. Through regular meetings, members learn about legal protections for underage girls and the shortcomings of early marriage; members also enhance their sewing skills there.
Yet Trisna’s biggest wish is to return to school. Encouraged by her group members, Trisna has started to save up money from her sewing for her own school fees. Her parents gladly let Trisna continue school if fees are not a problem, because they know that education leads to a better life.
Trisna’s father says, “I never imagine that anyone would help my daughter like this. Trisna has learned a lot from the group and I am very grateful for PARI’s help that Trisna can have a brighter future.”
Do you know that your calling today was already ordained and prepared by the Lord when you were small?
I have been involved in poverty relief for 17 years now. Looking back, I see God started the preparation while I was growing up!
When I was small, our family was poor and the six of us cramped in a space of 100sq.ft., and all my secondary school learning materials were sponsored by the school! Albeit poor, I had a happy childhood. Hardship taught me how to live with limited resources and I learned that a good living environment is not an entitlement; I also developed empathy for the poor.
I was an active and outgoing child, my school performance was not outstanding and I liked only sports and mathematics. But studying in a well known school, I had to keep a tight rein on my lack of academic enthusiasm in order to meet the school’s requirements, and staying with school was the only path I could take in those days. I often encountered difficulties and dejection, and failures were frequent. But these experiences produced a courage in me to deal with problems and difficulties. Later I discovered that such tenacity was exactly what a frontline worker needed. In the frontline, especially in new ministries, problems frequently crop up and many are often beyond one’s imagination. A worker must face them, and follow God’s leading so that challenges can be overcome and the ministry can grow gradually!
In my growing years my elder brother had much influence on me. He encouraged me to pursue my dreams, whether in choosing my study or my work. Therefore when I went to university I did not choose to study something that guaranteed a steady and sizable income, and instead I chose ‘China study’ which people at that time did not think much of. This subject helped me to acquire a good understanding of China, fairly unknown at the time, and I even got to meet the common people in Mainland China. A sense of identity was formed and I received God’s calling to dedicate myself to His ministry, making a lifetime commitment and offering.
Today, as you review your life and experiences, have you responded to the Lord’s calling upon your life?
Paulina joined CEDAR in 1999 to develop CEDAR’s first project site in China. She has served impoverished and disadvantaged communities in Hubei, China for over 14 years.
Whenever my 90-year-old grandmother recalls times of wars and hardship, her eyes would well up with tears and I would hold her hands and say, ‘Thank you for protecting this family with great perseverance!’ Our predecessors were not only witnesses of changes through time but they were also contributors to the making of today’s society.
Currently, there are over 0.94 million people in Hong Kong aged 65+ and it is estimated that by 2041 the number will increase to 2.56 million, being 30% of the total population. Globally, one in nine persons is aged 60+ and it is estimated that by 2050 the aged population will account for 20% of the total. Aging population always brings about discussions on issues such as elderly services, social healthcare, and dependency ratio but are the elderly always on the receiving end and waiting for support?
Pang: Learned from father and passes on to the next generation
Born and raised in a poor family in Hong Kong, Pang says, ‘In our days, people started working at a young age; I began at 14.’ She had worked in many different jobs; a cleaner in a hospital kitchen, a parts assembler in an electronics factory and finally a children worker
Pang has a reputation of raising good kids, whether the kids are of her own or of others. ‘This was due to my father’s influence: he taught me to walk in the right path and be a responsible person to both my family and the society. I pass on this attitude hoping that the younger generations will hold onto the correct values, making a positive impact to the society.’
At age 14, Pang entered into workforce because of her family; but in her thirties, she also made a choice to quit the job she loved and stayed home to look after her young sons. Did she miss her career? ‘We were not well off but I did not struggle too much over the decision because nothing is more important than my family!’ It could be that the inherent gender roles or the socio-economic factors playing a role in her decision then. What is clear though is in her generation, ‘family’ is the basic of all. .
When Pang’s sons grew up, she returned to work until retirement. As a person who takes family as the top priority, apart from looking after her grandchildren, Pang spent most of her time with her husband. Sadly, her husband was diagnosed with lung cancer during that time and passed away after 2 years. ‘My husband needed injectable medication costing over HK$30,000 per dose, and we simply could not afford it. Then a former colleague of my husband’s offered to pay for all medical expenses – we were immensely surprised and grateful.’
It was virtually impossible for Pang to deal with her grief; a street scene, a festival, food or event would bring up memories of her husband. ‘It was not until last year that I regain the courage to meet up with my husband’s friends again.’ What brought her out from the valley of sorrow? ‘2-3 years ago I joined a elderly fellowship and had a chance to hear many life stories. Many others had similar experiences of losing close ones, but they continue to live their lives positively.’ Their experiences helped Pang get out of the gloom and encouraged her to bravely continue with life’s journey.
‘For the rest of my days I hope to continue serving the elderly people, walk with them and listen to their stories, whether happy or sad, explore with them the meaning of life, and help them to know God.’ In her whole life Pang loves her family, loves children and now loves the elderly, ministering wholeheartedly to the lives she encounters, keeping her father’s teaching and applying it faithfully.
Naomi: Despite physical weakness, her heart is still on the orphans
Naomi (an assumed name) is 62 years old and lives in Zimbabwe, ten thousand miles away from Hong Kong. Despite her weak body from cancer, she lovingly cares for the AIDS-orphans at home.
The sun shines through the window onto her face, ‘I enjoy looking after little children – there are 6 kids living in my home, they are all from different families and most had their parents died from AIDS.’
In Zimbabwe, ‘skipped-generational families’ are common. AIDS is rampant causing the death of many adults. Zimbabwe is facing with a high 80% unemployment rate and many adults travelled to work in South Africa. Because of these 2 factors, many children are left with their grandparents.
Naomi’s daughter was also an AIDS sufferer and Naomi joined a parents’ group held by CEDAR’s partner Family AIDS Caring Trust (FACT) in order to learn how to look after her. Naomi noticed that many AIDS orphans were lack of care so she started taking them home so they would not have to wander in the streets.
‘In the FACT group, we grandmothers share and shoulder our family problems and learn to sew and raise chicken; we also do small trades to earn money.’ Every penny or food they earn is cherished. ‘Give us today our daily bread’ is Naomi’s daily prayer. ‘We do not always eat enough every day; sometimes I collect food scraps from factories and sometimes organisations donate food to us.’ What upsets Naomi the most, however, is that she cannot afford schooling for “her” six children.
Naomi often prays with her group members, telling her difficulties to the empowering God. ‘When I was diagnosed with cancer my daughter was infected with HIV; I was helpless and could do nothing to ease her suffering.’ In those painful days, praying became her source of strength to live on. ‘By God’s strength I could continue looking after my daughter until her death, and my other son who is mentally handicapped.’
Naomi knows her days are counting but her heart is always concerning about her orphans, ‘I hope to persevere and survive, until they graduate, get married and have their own children.’
Different places, different experiences
Pang and Naomi live in different parts of the world and have very different backgrounds and cultures, but they both walked through difficult times and protected their families. They grieved over the loss of their loved ones then received support from fellows, and now continue to care for their neighbours and communities.
The ‘seeds of life’ passing from one generation to the next are sown in many places by unnamed predecessors.
FACT ministers to these AIDS-orphans who are looked after solely by their grandmothers
UNFPA’s report ‘Ageing in the Twenty-First Century – A Celebration and A Challenge’ pointed out that as a result of adults’ rural to urban migration, children and older people are left behind, creating significant number of ‘skipped-generation’ households. The elderly now become the main providers and supporters in family labour, finance and child-raising.
Those older persons who participated in this report survey expressed their needs of income security, flexible employment, affordable healthcare and medication, age-friendly housing and transportation, and the end of discrimination, violence and abuse against older persons. They emphasised their wish to be active and respected members in their society, and not be regarded as mere welfare recipients.
FOCUS: MINISTRY> Loving Care Passing On from One Generation to Another
STEP INTO THE WORLD> May There be Life Security for the Zimbabwean Orphaned Families
JOIN HANDS JOIN HEARTS> These Children are Also Loved
TAKING ACTION> Words from a Retiree | Rev. Lee Ching-chee
[ ‘SHARE’ May-Jun 2014 – Loving Care Passing On from One Generation to Another ] STEP INTO THE WORLD
According to UN figures, about 15% of the Zimbabwean population is HIV positive, but frontline relief organisations estimate the actual figure to be 30%. One out of four children is an AIDS-orphan. It is already distressing being an orphan, but the lack of identity documents further puts them into difficulties as without an identity document these orphans cannot go to school or inherit their parents’ possessions.
CEDAR’s partner Trinity Project Trust (‘Trinity’) carries out awareness programs, helps widows and orphans to apply for rights and benefits that are rightfully theirs, and also mobilises the local churches to care for these families. Trinity also educates parents on the importance of citizenship and encourages birth registration. However as there are only a few registration offices, parents living in the remote places need to travel a whole day to get there and travelling expenses are costly. Trinity is now planning to subsidize travelling expenses for the impoverished families so more parents can afford to bring their babies for birth registration thereby their civilian rights protected.
HK$400/month donation can fund Trinity towards completing the birth registration and inheritance procedure for AIDS-orphans
Please also support Trinity’s awareness programs for widows and orphans. *
* This is one of the projects categorized by CEDAR’s ‘Join Hands Join Hearts’ Children Ministry Scheme. For details visit http://eng.cedarfund.org/children_ministry/
 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.  Donations over $100 are tax deductible in Hong Kong with our receipts.  Please DO NOT fax any donation information.
[ ‘SHARE’ May-Jun 2014 – Loving Care Passing On from One Generation to Another ] JOIN HANDS JOIN HEARTS
Interviewed and arranged by>Jojo Poon
Last November CEDAR staff Chik Tsan-ming (‘Chik’) visited our partners Family AIDS Caring Trust (FACT) and Trinity Project Trust (‘Trinity’) in Zimbabwe and met some of the children and families under their assistance program. To Chik, Zimbabwe is rich in natural resources, has good infrastructure and a high adult literacy of over 90%, but at the same time many vacant shopping malls and factories, an 80% unemployment rate and the typical day of having no lunch for most people.
Zimbabwe became independent and the white minority rule ended in 1980. The country then elected its first democratic president Robert Mugabe and he has been ruling Zimbabwe since then. After coming to power, Mugabe evicted the white landowners and confiscated all their lands, ruining Zimbabwe’s agricultural production and development, causing a sharp fall in the nation’s economy. Facing a weak economy and long-term debt, the Zimbabwean government printed banknotes in an attempt to cover the deficit but that only resulted in inflation in terms of millions and currency devaluation. High inflation, high unemployment rate and a high AIDS population all contributed to Zimbabwe’s poverty today.
‘I believe what the Zimbabwean children need most is an “identity”, legally and psychologically.’ Chik visited a local primary school in which two-thirds of the pupils do not have any identity document, without which they can neither continue their education nor inherit their parents’ possessions.
A staff member of FACT told Chik that her wish is these orphans could feel loved like other normal children. This touched Chik deeply. Yes, love is not restricted by blood relations, and although these orphans no longer have their parents’ love and protection, they are still loved by the church and the local community. We pray that the AIDS-orphans in Zimbabwe will truly know and experience that they are also being loved.
Chik was saddened with what he saw in Zimbabwe but he also witnessed how God trained the local churches to respond to the community needs according to the bible’s teaching, that the churches take part in nurturing and training the Zimbabwean children for the nation’s future development. Chik believes this is the ultimate objective of children ministry in poverty relief. ‘Join Hands Join Hearts’ Children Ministry Scheme
[ ‘SHARE’ May-Jun 2014 – Loving Care Passing On from One Generation to Another ] TAKING ACTION
Author> Rev. Lee Ching-chee
‘The wonder of the setting sun, oh but dusk is nigh.’ This sad observation is also from many who had just stepped into retirement life! Although everyone knows that we all grow old, many people do not want to see it coming to their life and in fact are quite anxious over aging. Actually, if we do not cling onto yesterday’s achievements, or worry about tomorrow which is unknown, but cherish what we have today, then we can enjoy the wonderful sunset and live in joy and peace.
I have retired for sixteen years (according to our church’s system, pastors retire at 65) and entered into the age of 80’s last year. The past sixteen years brought me much enjoyment: felt like a caged bird set free, having the leisure to appreciate God’s creation and life’s delights. Never forcing myself to get busy but learning to live a carefree life after retirement.
Retirement is not only about having the freedom to not going to work, it is also the freedom to choose to do what you like or wish to commit to. After retirement I continue to preach with integrity and wholeheartedness, but without any official title. I no longer need to attend ceremonies and banquets, and enjoy the freedom of doing and not-doing. I can make better use of God’s blessings to bless more people.
Retirement does not mean we have to stay home, but being spared from unnecessary and unproductive meetings, so to have more space and time to get to know the people and things around us, and to see what our society is like. We may not be able to get involved in many social ministries, but we can participate in different ways to support and encourage those who care about the community’s welfare. We have stepped down from our jobs and positions, but we need not withdraw, quit or disengage!
Rev. Lee Ching-chee is the first officially ordained female pastor in the territory. She was the Associate General Secretary of the Hong Kong Council of the Church of Christ in China and Vice Principal of Ying Wa Girls’ School.