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Thank you Hong Kong

Jun 17th, 2012 | Personal Experiences, Refugee Community | Comment

Dear supporters of Vision First - Life is an open school where we can learn many meaningful lessons. I am an asylum-seeker from Africa and have been in HK for almost 4 years. Today I would like to share with all my friends, refugees, asylum-seekers, and why not, even HK government, immigration, churches, NGOs across this city. Today I would like to share my thoughts with all of you. In fact , one of the greatest lessons I have learned through my journey is about gratitude. The words THANK YOU are defined as a grateful feeling, an acknowledgment of a benefit or a favor. These words “Thank You” and my more familiar “Merci” in French are very meaningful and contain all the ingredients for a grateful and purposeful existence.

That being said, I would like to openly thank HK government, immigration, churches and NGO for every single help refugees have received from you. I am filled with this heart of gratitude and thanksgiving toward you. Hong Kong is doing for us what our countries did not or could not do. Most of us are living now in a better conditions in HK rather than when we were back home. Yes, we have been rejected, abandoned and disappointed by our leaders back home. So I ask myself: what did our leaders in Africa invest in our lives? Do we need to blame HK government for everything we are not receiving right now? Instead of developing a language of ingratitude, please let’s come back to our senses and have the humility to say a heartfelt and sincere: thank you Hong Kong for everything you have done and continue to do for us refugees !!! - Isware

These are the most beautifully packed donations we ever received - Thank you!

Gathering a great harvest

Jun 16th, 2012 | Personal Experiences | Comment

My name is Sophia and I am a HKU master student in social work. Vision First is really a perfect opportunity for me to work with a group of passionate people and provide the best possible support to their refugee members. I have worked at Vision First for just one week and I have to say, it has been one of the most special experiences in my life. I really enjoy helping others, and Vision First brings me a new understanding of personal relationships and value. Besides, I deeply feel an urgent need to help this group of people without a country. Nowadays, there are around 6000 asylum seekers in Hong Kong. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work and the procedure to claim refugee takes three years or more – so it is very difficult for them to survive. In a high-consumption society like Hong Kong, most refugees are living in a very hard and adverse environment. They can only get very limited support for food and housing from the government and some NGO organizations, far from satisfy their daily needs. In addition, due to persecution faced in their countries and the difficulty they have in Hong Kong, many are suffering from psychological problems, such as PTSD and depression.

Vision First is a warm family, consisting of volunteers and refugees from all around the world. The agency strives to provide assistance to our members, such as financial support, medical support, counseling and education service. The mission statement of the agency is the following: “To empower and assist refugees through a caring and giving society; to meet their needs, eventually to become skilled, happy and prepared for resettlement and future integration”. Every day I am impressed by various people and stories, or by the enthusiastic volunteers, who come here to teach English, Cantonese, computer training and other skills, not getting paid, but devoting their best effort to this task. Our generous donors bring a lot of life necessities to the agency and helped to arrange all kind of good from clothes and shoes, to towels and plates. Some of them even come here with their young children. I believe this will definitely become the best education for their kids as it teaches them how to be kind and helpful when they grow up. Finally, of course our members who are resilient, determined and brave. They never give up hope to achieve a dignified life in a safe country.

Since all the people working here are nice and passionate, I never had to break the ice and started work on the first day very soon. Based on my university knowledge and personal preferences, my future job will focus on children and women support. Especially after I went to a Srilankan refugee home and tutored a nine years old girl, I realize how important education is for these children. I was touched by this little girl’s eagerness to learn, her innocence and her lovely smile. I believe that education can certainly help them to change their fate in the future. Clearly, compared to men, women have always been particularly vulnerable. According to research, an unknown number of female refugees have been threatened or suffered sexual assaults or rape. Especially for women from certain cultures these can be profoundly traumatic experiences. Furthermore, women always take the main responsibility to take care of their children. The experience taught from old mother to young mother and the advice from professionals can help reducing the parenting stress for women. As a consequence the support for women is very crucial. Finally, Vision First’s genuinely friendly and caring atmosphere motivates my work and provides a great opportunity to put knowledge and ideas into practice. What’s more, I learnt a lot from these inspiring volunteers and this will be helpful for my future study and work. I do believe I will gather a great harvest of experience during the rest of my summer at Vision First.

A fisherman’s dream from Somalia to Alaska

Jun 9th, 2012 | Personal Experiences, Refugee Community | Comment

The people I work with are refugees. They come to Hong Kong to seek protection from the atrocities in their homeland.  They arrive with a big weight on their shoulders and pain in their guts, hoping for a better life from the one they left behind. Refugees are not recognized in Hong Kong.  This means they will never be integrated into Hong Kong society, unable to work or study. Refugees are most often resettled to a third country, United States, Canada or Sweden where they are welcomed and able to start their lives again.  But this process of resettlement can take a staggering 5 years plus. So they wait, doing their best to have their basic needs met.

I have had the privilege of working with the refugee community since 2004. I love my job. I work with people from all over the world – Somalia, Rwanda, Georgia, Iran, Congo, Egypt just to name a few. I see them arrive in such bad shape, carrying the trauma they have endured. Over time I witness their transformation into empowered individuals, ready to contribute and participate in society. It’s a pleasure to be part of this journey. With each individual I work with, I learn something; I too, grow from the experience. And I do my best to keep in contact with all of them once they are resettled and start their new life. One refugee who I keep in contact with is Geedan.  I met him in 2007 when I was working at Christian Action.  Geedan came to Hong Kong to seek protection from the troubles he and his family endured in Somalia. He always carried a smile and a positive attitude, no matter the circumstance. He was so determined to learn English that he would come into my office most days to share his stories. He would tell me about his family; his love for karate and the kindness he felt towards the people who were helping him restart his life.

I remember the day the UNHCR announced they would resettle him. He was told he was moving to Las Vegas. I thought what is a Somalian shopkeeper/farmer going to do in Las Vegas? But, the refugee community is so resourceful, determined and ready to start their lives again – nothing will stop them. Within a month of his arrival, Geedan applied for a job as a cleaner in a large hotel. He worked hard but the pay was low.  He was eager to have his family join him as soon as he can afford their arrival. Through his new community, Geedan learned of a way to make better money. He applied for a job as a fisherman which would relocate him this month to Codova, Alaska.  We have spoken often since the move.  He is delighted to have his new job and he looks forward to boarding the boat to start his new life as a Somali fisherman in Alaska. The people I work with are refugees. But not forever! They tread through the difficulties that face them. Not giving up, they are determined to start their lives again. They are strong, stronger than most people I know. With a little support they can shine and just look at that smile Geedan is wearing. I love my job! – Danielle (Centre Manager)

I shouldn’t be alive

May 20th, 2012 | Personal Experiences | Comment

My name is Michael and I’m a Torture Claimant from East Africa. After witnessing the murder of my brother and sister I was sure the death squads wanted me dead. I said a hurried goodbye to my parents and escaped my country and became a refugee. I travelled for six months, crossed many states and went through hell before finding a safe place. The most difficult border crossing proved the last one. I tried three times and each time I was rejected. By then I ran out of money and options. I lived day by day with the kindness of strangers. I begged for food. I slept under flyovers. My life had spun out of control. I was thousands of miles from home and no choice but to continue. I prayed John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” I roamed the streets and sleep under lamp posts for safety. One night my last bag was stolen and I was left with just the clothes I wore and a passport hidden in my trousers. I was getting sicker by the day, unaware I was diabetic at the time.

Without cash to get smuggled across, I walked along the border looking for a weak spot. The boundary wall was ten meters high and always guarded. I was desperate to leave that country and determined to find a way across on foot. It was crazy, but I couldn’t just die in that country. My only option was to sneak through a military base inside which the wall wasn’t covered with electrified barbed wire. I studied the sentinels routines for two nights before I found the courage to try. I slipped into the militarized zone, keeping to the shadows, away from armed guards who rigidly watched straight ahead, not to the sides. I climbed atop a barrack and carefully cross the rooftop, treading warily over wires I didn’t know were “High Tension” until I slid off the roof reading the warning sign! Touching one would have electrocuted me and I’d stepped over several! With a construction plank I scaled the wall, reaching for the top with the tips of my fingers. Then I jumped to the other side hurting my ankles, but adrenaline kept me going. Tragically a border patrol spotted me and, since I was unable to run, arrested me. They gave me bread as I was so hungry I could hardly stand up. They took my photo and escorted me back to the other side in the morning. I had crossed the wall, but I hadn’t made it to safety. I was imprisoned, stripped naked, held in a tiny, disgusting cell until interrogation. I wasn’t afraid. When you are not guilty and that desperate, you are not normal. You don’t even feel human, you have no shame, no reason to hide anything. You live minute by minute aware you might not survive the night. The guards wanted to know how I crossed over, so I took them to the barracks, where I’m sure soldiers got into serious trouble. I demonstrated what I did and showed the plank I had used. They were astonished, but this time they didn’t let me climb for fear I would bolt over. They took a video of the entire process and there was a lot of shouting. I was jailed for many days, left dirty, naked and hungry. Conditions were so bad I looked forward to begging on the streets again.

When I was finally released I walked east for two days to another village. There was big construction works for a two-level bridge erected across the border. I figured this was the place for me to try again. I watched the area for one week, scavenging for food and sleeping in the bushes. It rained heavily, thick mud everywhere, it was miserable and grim. What worried me was feeling sicker every day. I knew it was now or never. During a thunderstorm, which kept the guards inside, I decided to make my dash for the border. I waded through mud until two guards spotted me and strangely ran away. I didn’t know why until they returned with what looked like a hundred shouting soldiers with flashlights and furious dogs. I ran for my life dumping my shoes to be more silent. There was no way of make it across the exposed, half-constructed bridge. I quickly climbed up a dark pylon and hung on a pipe like a bat afraid to look down at the pitch black waters below. That scared me to death as I cannot swim. What was worse? To crash on the sidewall, drown in the sea or get beaten to death? I clung for my dear life for hours. I prayed. I didn’t want to die on that bridge. I started to accept my horrible destiny and dreaded most the thought of being mauled by dogs. Hours passed. The guards looked everywhere, climbed a few pylons, never mind. The beams of flashlights passed by me, but never stopped and by some miracle I escaped detection. After three or four hours they left. Shortly before daybreak I dared to descended. I crawled across the rest of the bridge from hiding to hiding, dashing when hidden. The structure connects two countries and on the other side the security was better organized. They observed the commotion from a guard-house and must have assumed the intruder was arrested. I watched their routines and, timing them, dashed across to safety with my last reserve of energy – I had made it to safety.

Nerves shaking, muscles tensing with dehydration, I climbed a hill to find shelter in the trees. The morning sunshine woke me in a ditch curled up next to a snake. I leaped up in shock. I’m absolutely petrified by snakes! In a hungry, sickly daze I descended to a village where I ate from a stinky rubbish bin. I washed off mud and dirt in an open sewer, then stumbled to a nearby shop. There I took bread off a shelf, unwrapped it and ate it like a ravished dog, thinking nothing of those around me. When you are truly desperately hungry, then you understand what Gandhi once said, “To the hungry man, God must come in the form of bread.” An old lady came over to watch me. I was crying, my body shook uncontrollably although I was drenched with sweat. I cannot imagine what she thought and why she didn’t scream and call the police. She knew I was at the end of my rope and took pity of me. She paid for my food, gave me a pair of flip-flops and helped me board a bus. Two hours later I was in Yaumatei. I had entered Hong Kong and found refuge after half a year on the run. I am one of very few who managed to flee into Hong Kong without any documents. What happened that night still baffles me. There was no way I could evade a military search with dogs, but I did. There was no way I could hang on pipes for hours (heights horrify me), but I did. There was no way I could outsmart not one, but two border crossings barefoot and exhausted, but I did. When I later spent five weeks in Queen Elizabeth Hospital with diabetes and a string of related symptoms, I realized that I shouldn’t be alive to tell my story.

I later returned to the village looking for the old lady

Our donation flyer reaches CNN

May 8th, 2012 | Advocacy, Personal Experiences, Refugee Community | Comment

Hi  Cosmo,

A friend forwarded an email from you about how Vision First needs donated clothes and household items. I am doing some Spring Cleaning. Would someone be able to come to my building to pick up some donated items? I can have them ready by this Friday or Saturday. I live on Hong Kong Island — very close to an MTR stop. Is there any need for professional work clothes — like ladies’ business jackets?

Let me know — thank you!
Pauline Chiou
Anchor/Correspondent
CNN International

Here is the flyer that is securing daily donations to our very busy centre – please email it to your friends, thank you! And here is a Press Pack with more information about programs, members and how we grow organically with community support :-)

VF + Community + Refugee power = SUCCESS

Hong Kong Refugee Information YouTube Channel Launched

May 6th, 2012 | Personal Experiences, Refugee Community, VF updates, programs, events | Comment

Where can my child receive free tutoring classes?  Where can I get free legal advice?  Where can I receive free counseling services? If refugees in Hong Kong ever want to know the answers to these questions and more, visit our multi-lingual YouTube channel  It provides useful information on legal and welfare matters. We interviewed social workers, academics and NGOs who have extensive knowledge of the refugee situation in Hong Kong,

Before recording the videos, we spent some time speaking with refugees to find out what information would be useful while in Hong Kong, in particular for those who are new to the city. One of our videos asks: “What do I do if I need to see a doctor?” Given the complicated process, having it explained in a video will help. The videos on legal issues clarify in simple language what CAT is, outline refugee rights, and much more.

Language can be a barrier, especially since refugees come to Hong Kong from all over the world.  For each video, we added transcripts that can be translated with YouTube’s captions function so that videos are more accessible to people more comfortable in other language. This means you can click on the captions button on the bottom right of each video and turn on subtitles available in over 40 languages including French, Hindu, Urdu, etc.

The channel is created for refugees currently living in Hong Kong. We hope that by providing important and vital information on a friendly platform, we will make refugees’ lives a little easier.   The channel is only as good as its audience. It’s only useful if the videos are watched by the refugee community. Please comment and give us feedback. If you find any information missing or have any suggestions, please let us know. We want it to be as useful as possible.

Follow us on Twitter, ‘Like’ us on Facebook, or +1 our Google+ page to spread the word!

* The channel was supported through a Hong Kong University Knowledge Exchange grant of HKD$3,000.

William Fitzgerald
Contact: hongkong.refugees@gmail.com

Dozens of families donate items to support our members - "Thank you!"

Beach BBQ at Big Wave Bay

Apr 22nd, 2012 | Personal Experiences | Comment

Hello – my name is Maria and I’m a Vision First Volunteer. I would like to share my experience taking 56 members to a beach BBQ on Easter Sunday. My story starts the Saturday before at 11pm when I finished texting the families who participated. I sighed and smiled. Finally everything was set after a long week of planning. The trip was on despite hours of struggling to decide whether I should cancel it due to pouring rain on Good Friday. Saturday had been dry and I hoped the weather would hold for this big occasion. As with organizing any project, surprises and uncertainties never cease. Sunday morning came with rain, wind, and a drop in temperature. I kept getting SMS from the families: they worried about the weather as some had to come from as far as Yuen Long with young children. I texted back to postpone meeting till 12:30 which gave me time to decide and them time to reach Star Ferry in Central.

I began to toss a few contingency plans in my head, but nothing seemed to work. No more thinking. I went to church. At 10:30 the weather didn’t get any worse. There was a little drizzle, but the wind died down. I knew we should go. I started to text everyone again and, to my great relief, only two families didn’t want to come. My spirits were lifted and I went with my son AJ to Star Ferry in a large rental bus for the trip to Big Wave Bay. The families showed up one by one, their faces glowing with smiles against a gloomy skyline. All of them, except the Egyptian family I sponsor, were new to me and most of them had names that challenged my memory. AJ started mingling with a few boys his age, his ‘new best friends.’ They passed out bottled water and drinks while we waited for the last members to arrive. When the bus started its engine it was already 1:30. By now the excited group had become a hungry crowd of children and parents. I did prepare some sandwiches for the bus ride, but I made a cultural mistake: half of the sandwiches had bacon that many couldn’t eat. I felt bad and sincerely apologized. I dug up all the snacks I brought: candy, chocolate, chips and more junk food. Instead of the grumbling complaints I expected, my new friends gracefully accepted whatever I offered and returned smiles of gratitude. We were all happy to be together on this little adventure.

We arrived at the beach slightly after 2pm and everything thereafter was touched by the grace of God: nobody got injured (despite one getting rescued!) hurt or was even unhappy. Eight young men from Somalia left immediately and dove into the sea to challenge the high waves at Big Wave Bay. They would later recall they were four meters tall! Children stood there looking at them with envy as they were forbidden to enter the freezing water. The kids had loads of fun between the shoreline and the BBQ spot we made our base. Pizzas were served to fill empty stomachs, while parents tested their skills firing the BBQ and cooking. It was something new for them, especially using the Hong Kong style BBQ forks and wire. Within an hour, the parents had become experts at cooking over burning charcoals and the kids enjoyed barbecuing marshmallows. By then everyone was running around freely, laughing, screaming and playing along the soft sandy beach hunting for Easter Eggs. Later we had a Sand Digging Competition between boys and girls - and the girls won. The day felt short when we had to leave. When the last guys boarded the bus it was already pitch black outside. Now everyone had become my “old friend” and I asked them: “If you are happy … say a big YES!” There followed the long YES that seemed to echo forever. Hearing that, I felt it was one of the happiest moments I remembered. When we said goodbye at the final stop, I knew I would remember this day for the rest of my life. That night I shared with AJ that we should do it again and next time invite our Hong Kong friends and their children too, because we know they will experience a blissful day that will stay with them forever – thank you!

Beach BBQ at Big Wave Bay

Coast 28 May – fundraising for Duvalld

Apr 17th, 2012 | Media, Personal Experiences | Comment

http://visionfirstnow.org/2011/05/26/inspiring-congo-student-faces-final-harrowing-test/

SCMP article May 2011 

SCMP article 22 April 2012

 

 

Hong Kong Powerlifting Championships 2012

Apr 12th, 2012 | Personal Experiences, Refugee Community | Comment

Our Pakistani member Mr. Khan won three titles at the Powerlifting Championship 2012, but without ID card could not collect the prize money. Vision First founding director and GP to many refugees  Dr. Tsang Pak Ho won the 74 Kg class – Congratulations to both of you !!!

1. bench press 135 Kg.
2. squat 220 Kg.
3. dead lift 210 Kg.

Successfully yoga

Apr 1st, 2012 | Personal Experiences | Comment

Hello, my name is Danica and I would like to share this experience with you. Ten days ago I didn’t even know what Vision First was. Honestly, I didn’t even really understand what a refugee was, or that there are refugees living in Hong Kong. My sister Belinda is a volunteer at Vision First and that’s how I was introduced to this kind-hearted organization and this heart-breaking social issue. Last week, I just followed Belinda to the Center. Then I began to learn. I met some of Vision First’s members working together to keep the Center and Shelter in order. I met one man, Simon, who told me his story and educated me as to just how terrible some people’s lives can be. I had never imagined that the experiences of others could be so rough. I am Taiwanese, I live a safe, protected life. Simon helped me see how lucky I am. After meeting these kind, hard-working, honest people, I hope to help them in any way I can, even just by attending fundraising events to take photos. This way I am also helping in my small way to inform the public. Another way to help is to become friends with refugees. You may ask, who is Simon?

Simon is a computer engineer; he knows at least four languages. He is smart, patient, humorous and very good-natured. I have met with Simon many times in the past few days. Even when he is sick, he is still able to help fix my computer. I can’t believe that he is a refugee. I know he has suffered torture and is still in pain. The world is an unfair place for Simon and just because he was born into a situation he could not control. I am lucky to have been born in Taiwan, a peaceful place with opportunity and love.

Last Sunday I joined a fundraising event at Pure Yoga. Pure Yoga is friends with Vision First. The Pure instructors and members raised $27,110 just for 1 hour of fun yoga. This money will go directly to helping the lives of unlucky people trying to survive in Hong Kong. Money is important for Vision First, but, for me as I learn about refugees in person, I do believe that making friends is important, too. So, as an amateur photographer and refugee friend, I encourage you all to support Vision First. I encourage everyone in Hong Kong to contribute to Vision First. Their staff volunteers really serve the vulnerable people directly with no wasted money. Donate clothing, food, Octopus cards, anything. Volunteer your time to coordinate a program for refugee members, or hold a fundraising event with your friends - Thank you!

Fundraising can be anything you love - like yoga
Fundraising can be anything you love - like yoga

 

 

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