“Which part of Africa is it?” I asked. Addea replied, “You see how the people dress, the vegetation, the houses… it is the Southern part of Africa.” Even causally watching a movie at Vision First’s center is a great opportunity for members to share knowledge, expertise and culture. Here I enter a global village – a Georgian, an Iranian, two Somalis, a Togolese and a Liberian watching a South African movie with Bushmen as main characters. Standing next to them is a local Hong Konger – that is me, Kashu, a Master of Social Work student from the University of Hong Kong. A simple, peaceful, causal and relaxing movie time is a luxury for VF members, no matter whether they are here in Hong Kong, or back in their home country. In their home country they encountered conflicts, persecution, torture and blackmailing. In Hong Kong they experienced poverty, isolation, boredom and disorientation. Vision First provides a precious and cozy space for them to socialize and receive what they need, like clothing and food. For me, Vision First provides its members with far more than just tangible services and material goods. Members here can also serve as helpers – they help others while being assisted themselves. They help to bring food upstairs to the office, keep the office clean, and the shelter and office running, like assisting with maintenance. These tasks look simple, but enriched their HK staying with meaning. Members from different nations, coming together at the centre, have a chance to enhance their social network, leading to cultural exchange and knowledge sharing.
I asked “Where do humans come from?” Stephen replied, “They come from bacteria!” I followed up with, “Then where’s did the first bacteria comes from?” and he replied, “From carbon dioxide.” I continued, “Then where’s the first carbon dioxide comes from? …” Vision First is not only a center providing tangible services and a support network, but also a library of knowledge. Here we have lessons almost everyday, most of them are not basic, but advanced courses. Most of our members are well-educated and I have been learning from them. The conversation above is the start of a discussion about the source of life and it soon shifted from biology to philosophy. It gave me a huge inspiration, namely, that social service should break through its traditional barrier. It is more than a mere give-take relationship – volunteers, workers and the organization itself can benefit from this large pool of talents, that initially came for assistance. Contrary to how other NGOs, or even the government perceives them, this group of asylum seekers and refugees is indeed a pool of talent. Considering humanity and morality, their loss is a great loss for both parties, both HK and refugees. It is regrettable how they must live in miserable, sub-divided rooms, with unaffordable rents, barred from employment, wasting their good talents and even labeled “fortune seekers.” As Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Recently I have been planning a football training program for the Vision First Team. I can see their passion even when they play recreationally among themselves – they treat it like a competition and will not give up ball control until they score. Football is an international language and, may I say, more international than English. I am a person who does not easily share his feelings, nor have I deeply investigated their traumatic past, however, football has already allowed friendship to grow between me and these Somali players. Speaking of men, although most of refugees are male (female refugees are more vulnerable in physical and biological terms), I believe men are more stereotyped by society, which is cross-cultural. They are expected to be strong and not express their emotions, which could be interpreted as weakness or uselessness. Therefore, men are more likely to refrain from voicing their emotional and psychological needs, which diminishes their chances to get help. This observation motivated me to launch a “Male Support Group” for our members, to give them strength to move on during this forced, long and hard stay in Hong Kong.
I can develop and achieve things I never did before, thanks to Vision First’s working environment and its open attitude towards new ideas. For me, Vision First is more than just a services centre, it is a global village, an international hub, a library of knowledge and culture, and a perfect place to learn and to put into practice what you learn. Thank you very much – Kashu