I come from a country where 5% of the population is so powerful even unarmed they can slap a policeman who’ll run away scared clutching an AK47. Instead 80% of people live close to the ground in wretched poverty and in the middle is an middle class, close to power yet always a target of the wealthy who will kill to possess the little they don’t own. In my case it was the land my grandpa left me – a blessing which became a curse. I planned to develop it when I finished university, but a militia boss close to presidential power had the same desire. These guys are ruthless, evil, won’t stop at anything: I was arrested twice and beaten so badly I thought I would die. In the cells next-door it was worse, the screaming unspeakable, shots were fired and bodies dragged out … I got lucky. Weeks later I was released in another country, no passport, no money, but free to run away. How powerful these people are if they can arrest without charge, torture at will and dump opponents across borders?
Before I came to HK I didn’t know you could be so hungry you don’t know what to do. After being released from Immigration I spent the toughest two months of my life, homeless, hungry and helpless, yet my mother said: “That place is heaven. Don’t come home. If you come back they will kill you!” I must be honest, I ate from dumpsters every day: rice and sandwich bits outside 7/11, fruits and chapatti outside Wellcome. Hong Kong people are rich, they throw so much stuff away. I cried as I wasn’t sure I would get a meal, I had no money for my phone and I didn’t know where to wash. Daytime I slept in Kowloon Park or under the arches of the Cultural Centre. It’s too scary to sleep in the streets at night; in our country somebody might slit your throat to take your clothes. Better to sleep in the morning: when the park opened I lay on a bench by the two cannons, wore two jackets to keep warm and slept a few hours before the guards told me to sit up. The police never came, nobody disturbed me, I clutched my backpack and hoped dreams would be better than the nightmare I lived. Once dark I left the park as I didn’t feel safe; I went to a guesthouse in Mirador Mansions, where the African boss didn’t mind me sitting in the reception watching TV with the tourists.
Eventually the owner allowed me to shower and every three days, seeing I was hungry, a guest had pity and offered his leftovers – nobody bought me a meal. Again I could catch some sleep but when the place closed I had to move out; I spent half hour pacing each floor, avoided the 7/11 as there is fighting at night. I sat by the mosque and then little by little walked to Star Ferry and along the waterfront to Hung Hom, looking at the water, imagining I would drown quickly carrying my bag. Just keep walking, if you sit the ground becomes too hard and time stops flowing. Just keep moving, you suffer less, looking at stuff time passes faster and when you’re tired you sleep better daytime. “Hell Time” is 2 till 5am when minutes feel like hours! It’s weird: clocks are in slow-motion, the darkness so thick that dawn cannot pierce it. But once daylight breaks, the city comes to life, your heart rejoices seeing people around as they make you feel normal again. I walked up Chatham road to the Rosary Church for mass every single day at 6am. It felt good to pray, I loved the music and the singing as it gave me hope and I could sleep at the back afterwards. When a boy called me “Rastaman” as I didn’t have a razor to cut my hair and beard, I took out a photo from a wedding at home and couldn’t believe what a shocking change I’d made.
My first break came walking around Chung King Mansion at lunchtime. I heard guitars and singing inside, I entered an open door and the most amazing thing happened – I was offered a hot meal, the first in two months! Expecting they would ask me for money, I said NO repeatedly, but Pastor Sam insisted and I realized it really was for me. After eating out of dumpsters for months, that was a miracle. It was unreal: the first hot meal since I left Immigration detention. I fought back tears of joy. Things go better. They asked about my situation, invited me to return anytime and offered a bed-space in their Hung Hom shelter. I stayed there for four months until I received ISS rent assistance to move into this $1200 room in Cheung Sha Wan – problem is I must come up with $200 each month or Mr. Wang goes mad, but that’s tomorrow’s problem and for now … Welcome to my castle, my friend!
Gharib 26, Central Africa
“Left home at the age of seven – one year later I’m carryin’ an AK-47!”
For hip hop artist Emmanuel Jal, a former child soldier in Sudan’s brutal civil war, these lyrics are hardly empty posturing. They are the bitter reality of a young man who was “forced to sin” but determined to “never give up and never give in.” Today, wounded but still hopeful, Emmanuel Jal fights a new battle: bringing peace to his beloved Sudan and building schools in Africa. This time, his weapon is a microphone. See why audiences from New York to Berlin to London rave about the award-winning film – WAR CHILD – and have embraced the hip-hop artist with a terrifying past and a gentle soul. Interspersing original interviews, live concerts, and rare footage of Emmanuel Jal as a seven year-old boy, War Child will make viewers cry, laugh, dance, and celebrate the power of hope. To see how much he has changed and how he donates his time and resources is very powerful and above all inspires other refugees to hold onto their dreams. Above all Emmanuel has such peace and love about him despite all the troubles he suffered.
I couldn’t believe what I saw that night – they came down the river and suddenly emerging from the bush, shouting wildly, they attacked and chopped us as if knives did cut, as if people weren’t made of flesh. It was a butchery. Worst than a pack of dogs gone wild in a meal stall. Despite the heavy rain, the next day there were flies and blood everywhere: those bodies (…) scattered as proof of such mad horror. How do I explain it to my children? How can I explain this to others? Who cares WHY we are here? Can I ever overcome my past?
What angers me most is the prejudice we suffer in a modern city like Hong Kong. Last week at a church in Kwun Tong a madam chatted happily with me for ten minutes, then she asked “What work do you do?” surely expecting I was engaged in some business. When I answered “I am an asylum-seeker”, her tongue froze with her thoughts. I could see the disgust in her shocked eyes … she didn’t want to say what she was thinking … she stared at me speechless like I’d suddenly become a ghost and we hadn’t been talking friendly before. She glanced across the room for an excuse, hastily said “Excuse me!” and walked off. She never looked at me again because I offended how she wanted her safe and comfortable life to be. I cried inside. If only she knew the fate that brought me here. How could she treat me like that? One moment she wanted to make friends, the next she wished she’d never spoken to me. Her behaviour made me sink into the floor, made me wish I’d stayed home that day. People can be more cruel with their attitude than they are with weapons. If only I could show her the rotting bodies in the heat of my village – family and friends gone forever – then I’m sure she would understand the evil we escaped. In my country we are nothing to our enemies, there is no place for weakness: either you fight and kill or you will be defeated and killed. Running away is the only option if you don’t want the blood of murder on your hands. Every day I’m crushed by this desolation, this helplessness. I never sleep more than three hours and worries take me constantly to places where I don’t want to be … looking for the meaning my life has lost … looking for the hope I will never have …
Faraj 33, East Africa
I appreciate why our clients complain about rushed and inattentive care at public hospitals. When I was young I used to work there myself and young doctors, overworked and stressed out, must adjust to the fast mentality and working ethics of: “Just get the work done!” Once you enter private practice, with less workload more experience and maturity, you see a patient as a person not “work” so you empathize with them.Just by doing so already helps them feel better, which is the first step towards recovery.
These refugees are generally young, tough guys who experienced terrible situations in their countries. When people like this seek medical treatment they are indeed in physical pain and in great need. If they complain about something, I know their symptoms are real because tough guys don’t complain easily. Every complaint needs to be taken seriously, though the underlying illness might not be what the initial symptoms point to. For example: one might complain of chest pain but it’s a bowel infection; another might complain of stomach and bowel symptoms, loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, however he’s diagnose with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, resulting from torture suffered in his country, coupled with the depression caused by separation from his family (i.e., an emotional disorder requiring treatment.) Medicine is like solving puzzles and detecting crime every single time; I consider each case like a chess game where the opponent is the underlying disease and the patient’s body and mind are the chess board!
Historically and in all cultures, being a doctor is inherently an endeavour in humanity, material reward is never assumed. This sense of duty is deeply ingrained in every doctor’s mentality. I believe this is true for all doctors, all over the world. Being able to help clients seeking Vision First’s help, is naturally a rewarding experience in itself. However, this doesn’t mean I look forward to being in this position forever. I and everyone at Vision First, sincerely wish that all asylum-seekers in HK are granted refugee status soon, so they may lead a normal, rewarding life in a welcoming and safe country. Ultimately, I wish a fulminating pandemic of peace, democracy and prosperity will break out everywhere, and asylum-seeker and refugee will become a reality of the past. I look forward to the day when Vision First ceased to have reason to exist or will move on to new missions.
Saturday, 20th March, 2010 – The 2010 Charity Pub Golf, organised by The Dirty Powder Monkeys teed off from Central with a bus full of fancy dressers. First hole was at Stanley Pier and the Smugglers for a few then a long crawl over the hill to Agave in Wan Chai. Back into Central for a few more holes at Carnegies, Slims, The Cochrane, Coast and Solas and finally up to Phillia for the after party featuring DJs from Japan, Singapore and the UK.
The winning drinker was Katherine Bignold and runners up were Campbell Hedley and Elizabeth Heard. Dung Huynh and Emily Gibson were voted best dressed in their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle get up and runner up was Wincel Hernandez as Bat Woman.
The money raised during the event was kindly donated to Vision First and the Rwandan Rugby Team. A big thanks from all of us at Vision First to those who made the event such a success. 100% of all money raised goes directly to refugee and asylum seekers in Hong Kong.
I’m very grateful to Vision First for paying my electricity bill. I already owe three months and HK Electric threatened to cut the power on Friday if it’s not paid. If it happens I have no choice and would live without lights, but food would rot without a fridge so it would be terrible! It opens my heart you help me with such a huge problem that worried me sick night and day – it’s such a relief to finally solved it! Every night before I sleep I pray for everything to work out, for good things to happen, for my mother and for all the refugees … Since the new Immigration-Labour law in December, I couldn’t get an hour’s work if I wanted to, so every single dollar comes from charity and you don’t know how tough it is to beg every time … Back home my father owned two big fishing trawlers, we had work, we had fish, we had dream … then he was killed with my brother and my mother forced me to flee for my life … it’s tough to be a beggar when I know I can work, be productive and help myself. But what choice do I have? My uncle is a refugee in London but the Embassy won’t even give me an appointment … they said they don’t handle these cases here … they said “Send us an email” and never replied.
Only by laughing at the hopelessness around me, do I manage to keep my sanity after being broke for three years. The social worker ask me to move to Shamshuipo, but I hate it there. There are many dangerous people, many bad things happen at night so I’m safer living on Cheung Chau island. The advantage is getting fresh carrots, beetroot and bakchoy from the farms for just a few coins. All year I can fish and explore the jungle for fruits, like bananas and banana flowers I can cook and eat. The best are the jackfruit: you can find really big ones, which smell sweet even before opening them. You must put cooking oil on your hands and knife because the bubbly stuff inside irritates the skin real bad. The yellow ones you can eat fresh, but the white ones you need to cook with sauces and eat with rice. They are such a treat, you should come and try them!
Ebun 23, West Africa
11th March, 2010. Vision First held our first fundraiser at SOLAS for the specific purpose of collecting funds to open our first Asylum Seeker and Refugee Service Center. A 100% of the money donated will go towards purchasing office furniture and supplies within the next few months. The event highlighted the bar tending skills of John Tompkins, James Kibble, Manoj Jain, Jeong Jeong Chu and Eric Castillo who will run the LA Marathon on 21st March for Vision First. The guys and Susan Chan did a great job of infecting the crowd with their enthusiasm and willingness to dontate and make the night the great success that it was. A The raffle prizes were donated by our sponsors; Da Vino, Goccia, Concept Creations, Fine Vintage, The Hairdressers, Pure, Stepworks and Mangnolia Private Dining.
A big thanks to all the sponsors, SOLAS and all our guests who donated and gave such overwhelming support. As a new organization, we greatly value the positive feedback and encouragement we receive.
With your continued support, we are able to raise awareness of the need to assist Asylum Seekers and Refugees survive in Hong Kong as they await UNHCR refugee status and third repatriation.
Your donations go a long way to ease the daily challenges they face with the even basics of living such as food and shelter. A special thank you to our beautiful raffle ticket sellers on the night – Brooke Beatson, Belinda Flanders and Letizia Casalino and….our DJ David Sayer. A big thank you to all involved from the Vision First team.
And good luck, top fitness and speed to Eric!
Check out http://www.lifestyleasia.com/gallery/vision-first_2805.htm for more photos of the event…….
Vision First is a partial beneficiary of PubGolf 2010!!! Tee off is March 20, 12:30 in Stanley (venue, TBA). Limited to 100 “golfers”, green fee is a raffle book of 25 totaling $2500. Birdies, Bogeys and Eagles measured by the number of sips it takes to finish the assigned drink per bar!!!
For detailed rules see: http://hubpages.com/hub/How-to-Play-Pub-Golf
If you wish to purchase raffle tickets but not play PubGolf, you can do that too!
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
RSVP first come first serve to play: email@example.com
Other than Vision First, the other beneficiary is to help the Rwandan Rugby Team make their way to Hong Kong to participate in the HK Rugby 10’s tournament. See the SCMP article for their story.
See the SCMP article for their story
For the week of March 1-8, 2010, Vision First clients were granted free access to specialty dental health care. The Vision First ‘Dental Health Week’ ran in partnership with the University of Hong Kong Faculty of Dentistry’s ‘Community Health Project’, supervised by Professor McGrath and his team.
Clients were provided with transportation to the University campus where they received free dental checkups, treatment and follow up care and support. The program served 43 clients and provided a service usually out of reach to Asylum Seekers and Refugees due to the high cost of dental care and low level of priority in clients hierarchy of needs. Vision First continually seeks community service programs such as the ‘Community Health Project’ to serve and advocate for the rights of AS&R in Hong Kong.
We at Vision First wish to extend our thanks to Professor McGrath and his team for their support and expert level of care.