I remember the time in 2011 when I first joined a Cantonese class at Vision First. The first week everything was OK and our teacher was Owen, who is now a TV reporter. The next week he was absent. We all thought he was late.
Then the manager Danielle (co-founder of VF) said: “If your teacher isn’t here in five minutes, the class will be cancelled and you can come back next week”. We were all disappointed as learning Cantonese is essential to live in Hong Kong.
I remember it was a Friday. Suddenly something told me to say: “Let me try!” I told Danielle: “If the teacher couldn’t make it, don’t let people go home disappointed. Please allow me to teach today.” The staff at Vision First discussed my offer and joked, “Abel, Abel! You can only teach French, not Cantonese!”
I insisted they let me try once and they allowed me. After the end of an hour teaching, I was surprised when the students stood up and clapped. I told myself that day: “I can do this!” Afterwards some students reported to Danielle and asked that I teach every week, or at least be the replacement teacher.
The following week Owen returned and was aware about my success the previous week. He asked if I would be available once a week to teach a class, because we had two Cantonese class weekly. Later, he assigned me to teach both lessons, so he could teach Mandarin instead.
I have been in Hong Kong over a decade and I am fluent in Cantonese. More time went by and some organizations heard about me and wanted to see the BLACK MAN born in Africa teaching Cantonese to fellow refugees.
Recently, members of Global Youth Connect and their Hong Kong affiliate “Breakthrough” came to follow my class. At the end, they were amazed and one of them was even moved to tears.
For a few months I have taught the Cantonese class for the Refugee Union and I believe my students are proud of me. This is my story of service. What is yours?
We are pleased to offer all refugees on a first come, first served basis 250 free tickets for the equestrian spectacular “Cavalia”
Date Wednesday, 15 April 2015
Location Central Harbourfront Event Space
Big white circus tent at Central Star Ferry
Next to the Hong Kong Observation Wheel at IFC
Registration Call Vanessa to register at 54282427
Duration 2 hour show with a 30 minute interval
Age Children are welcome if they are old enough to sit twice for one hour
Parents should decide if their young children will enjoy the show
Conceived by Normand Latourelle, one of the co-founders of famed Cirque du Soleil, Cavalia is a fresh mix of equestrian and performing arts, multimedia and special effects, innovatively integrating acrobatics, dance, aerial stunts and live music.
The show – often labelled as an equestrian ballet – combines advanced technology and the fundamental relationship that humans have developed with horses throughout time; enabling us to build bridges between cultures, to expand civilization and now to produce the purest form of art, one created through kindness, patience, and love.
A show unlike any other, Cavalia celebrates the relationship between humans and horses, virtually reinventing the equestrian arts.
We, Vision First Limited, re-published on our website on the 24th March 2015 an article by Refugee Union entitled “RU prepares to bury a comrade” which stated, “We salute a Comrade Killed by our Oppressor ISS-HK” referring to the death of Mr. Sivaharan.
We accept that the allegation ISS-HK killed Mr. Sivaharan is unsubstantiated, inappropriate and ought not to have been published. We hereby unreservedly withdraw this allegation and wish to apologise to ISS-HK for any inconvenience and embarrassment caused by it.
Vision First Limited
2 April 2015
Asylum seekers and refugees rely entirely on the Hong Kong Government and Social Welfare Department (“SWD”) distribution of government assistance provision through International Social Services (ISS-HK). They are not allowed to work and are sentenced to 15-22 months imprisonment if arrested working. They have no savings, no income, no bank account, nor can they rely on social networks, NGO assistance or help from family and friends. Under these conditions, they are not afforded adequate support to meet their most basic needs. While they struggle to survive, the situation is degrading, humiliating and in breach of their rights as persons granted non-refoulement protection in Hong Kong. Over the years they have repeatedly requested to bring their assistance to an adequate level, but they have been systematically and incomprehensively left in a destitute state. The limited and insufficient assistance they receive makes it impossible for them to survive on a day to day basis, particularly in the face of soaring rents.
Vision First request that the Hong Kong Government, the Security Bureau and SWD fulfill their obligation to provide for asylum seekers and refugees’ basic financial, material needs or otherwise. These needs include, but are not limited to, appropriate quantity and quality of food assistance, payment of full rent and utilities, payment of full rental deposits to landlord, daily necessities like cooking gas, clothing, health care, transport allowance for required trips always payable in full and in advance. We request that ISS-HK sign the Tenancy Agreements as refugees have no savings or income to pay rent balances every month.
We formally request that a public hearing be held to discuss these matters that concern all persons requesting and having been granted international protection in Hong Kong, who in March 2015 amounted to over 10,000 individuals, increasing by 300 every month.
Vision First further request that a Task Force be established to investigate why persons requesting and having been granted international protection in Hong Kong have been left destitute despite a system being in place to disburse government funding to prevent this condition from happening. Such policy failures have caused refugees needless and unreasonable physical, mental and psychological suffering.
Vision First invites refugees to download and complete the form below that will be filed at the Complaints Office of the Legislative Council Secretariat over the coming weeks and months.
Dear VF members and supporters –
A refugee blogger reminded us that people should be judged by the breadth of their mind and the depth of their character, not by their social position or economic achievement, and certainly not by their immigration status imposed by states.
One would think that this fundamental notion should be generally accepted as obvious in our day and age, but does it consistently discharge ingrained preconceptions, cultural bias and ethnic stereotypes?
There is a wide range of views about what constitutes respect, a mindset that perhaps has less to do with how people are esteemed, and more to do with how others are treated. The Golden Rule might be taken as an acceptable universal standard, for it is found remarkably at the root of many cultures.
The Golden Rule states that, “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.”
This ethic of reciprocity prescribes a mutual, two-way relationship between oneself and others that involves genuine equality in treatment, particularly as a fair formula to resolve conflicts. Advocates will recognize that this concept underpins most international treaties and many domestic laws relating to the treatment of those perceived with otherness, different or foreign, refugees or not.
In 2014 Vision First continued to undergo a significant evolution in order to replace a comfortable program-centered approach with a challenging watchdog core. This transformation didn’t come easy, but was necessary to adapt our agency to an emerging reality in the asylum sphere, which Vision First were instrumental in generating, namely, the emergence of the refugee activist.
Critics might lament that we are too radical, that we are incapable of collaborating and prefer to provoke conflict, than foster dialogue. We contend that the strong opinions informing our actions are supported by even stronger data extracted from the reality we observe daily.
Therefore we believe that the keystone is the Golden Rule in its cautionary form: “One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.” As unlikely as it is that we will ever experience the hardship of asylum, truth is that governments are increasingly irresponsive to citizen wishes and needs, other than the most powerful. What if one day we were humbled into calling for help and those we pleaded with turn the other way?
What would we think if forced to seek asylum in a country where protection was an empty, illusory promise? Would we then be outraged at a zero-percent acceptance rate? How would we appraise insufficient welfare without the right to work? Would we submit to living in rat-infested slums as directed by government contractors? Would we keep quiet if our food rations were pilfered? What would we tell our children if we couldn’t buy school books?
How would we then esteem a society that fails indifferently to act upon our grievances?
These might be questions far too remote and abstract for wealthy readers who enjoy, or so they believe, freedom of speech and social security. Such answers might reverberate in the warmer corners of our heart, where the spirit of humanity overshines misguided conformism and complacency.
We might find consolation in charity by giving to malnourished children in evidently distant geographies, but turn a blind eye to families suffering in our community. Would we sleep comfortably at night knowing that our donations might indeed cause more harm than good in the long run?
Vision First champions advocating fearlessly against injustice by consistently speaking bluntly to counter unfair policies and reprehensible activities, even when threatened with defamation. We are less concerned about what will happen to us personally, than the discrimination suffered by our members.
Perhaps the effectiveness of an advocate is best measured by what she is prepared to sacrifice, outside her obvious comfort zone, because personal misery has a distinctive way of clarifying one’s convictions.
Hong Kong is a hard and forbidding metropolis for those unfortunate enough to hold undesirable citizenship, or have experienced grim circumstances. It has been said that the measure of civilization and its moral progress should not be judged by the treatment of its highest people, but of its lowest. In this respect, each citizen decides whether to defer to power and privilege, or defend the vulnerable.
Vision First firmly contends that it is scandalous to hold anyone in poverty, want and insecurity. Our present mandate is to safeguard refugee rights and, as such, we shall redouble our efforts to counter unjust policies and intolerable practices apparently formulated to control rather than assist refugees.
Vision First thrives in conflict, open debate and change and we look forward to generating more in 2015.
Happy New Year!