Dear supporters – You might have wondered why our website wasn’t loading fast enough. You were right, there were issued and this afternoon we left them in our digital wake. Now we’re hosted on a super fast server that guarantees our web-visitors the best experience. We are no longer street-bound and ambulant, but adjusting to the more complex dynamics of a Homebase, where members drop in, consult with privacy and have a go at our widescreen Playstation 3 system (a kind donation of Donough’s) which unexpectedly has become a focal point. When Vision First was just a concept in our mind, we planned a ‘boutique operation’ with 150 members tops, as we wished for a personalized service on a first-name-basis. That target was quickly reached and surpassed as our family grew to over two hundred. The challenge will be maintaining a personalized touch as we reach new milestones: yesterday we added three very deserving refugees (one from Cameroon and two from lawless Egypt), closing 2011 Q1 at 287. There’s always the fear funds won’t be enough, but on the other hand our philosophy of ‘build and they shall come’ has proven a winner and somehow – by Providence and serendipity – good things always happen for Vision First. This week we added two more apartments: one in the heart of Causeway Bay, which to our surprise has cheaper “tou fong” (Chinese for suit-room with bathroom/kitchen) than Saiyingpoon; the other on Fa Yuen street, courtesy of the best landlord in town, who visits his tenants with groceries, after fitting out kitchens with all necessities. This guy is so great that when he visited ISS, they attempted to poach his services that of course remain exclusive for our most deserving families. For the record: we now have 24 home/shelters and are blazing trails in the provision of this support.
To be perfectly honest I started this blog to share a sad update, though a positive spirit to the better of me. The picture of today’s success is marred by a bitter defeat: this evening one of our first members, and a dear friend, boarded a flight to return to Mogadishu, the heart of a twenty year civil war which forced his exile three and a half years ago. The first thought that naturally comes to mind is: was he an economic migrant who simply wanted to better his life and gave up? No! He was recognized a refugee by the UNHCR over two years ago, so there is no questioning his background. I spent many afternoons with this cheerful and spirited young man, whom everyone would agree was quite a personality, yet I may never understood the depth of his despair against his decision to leave. As a recognized refugee, he had only one hope: that of being resettled to North America, with no option of HK residence, a temporary work visa or anything other than ‘being hung to dry’ as he waited. His favorite place was the raised garden-podium by the Walk of the Stars, where he hoped for a miracle sitting through rain and shine on a bench he affectionately called his. No matter how hard we try, we won’t appreciate what forced idleness means when endured year after grinding year. Maybe it’s like being in prison, but a lady told me Wednesday that in detention it’s easier to forget the outside, even your children, because there is nothing you can do about it, whereas living as outsiders inside a bustling city is outright maddening.
As my friend flies to Dubai on his way to the wartorn Horn of Africa, my heart aches that our cashed up government sits on 600,000,000,000 HKD of reserves, yet fails the just 100 refugees who would be allowed to work and integrate in any other advanced country. Let’s not mince words: if this Somali refugee takes a bullet to the head in a Mogadishu market tomorrow, can we truthfully exonerate HKSAR from all responsibility? What would a CNN news crew say about his Hong Kong issued, UNHCR Refugee Certificate … his proudest possession in a wallet always thick with shop cards, phone cards, discount cards, but never a banknote. I know his wife and three children skyped him often. I know he felt responsible and guilty and powerless. In the end his desolation was greater than the ‘glimmer of hope’ the HKSAR refuses to give desperate foreigners seeking refuge – too different to be accepted and too poor to be welcomed as VIP in our wealth-obsessed society. We can reflect on this event in the context of self-immolation: when a Protester douses himself in petrol and dances with death as a human torch, the reality of his hardship slams into our comfort zone. By the same token, when a refugee damns Hong Kong’s hospitality to return to a warzone, what does it say about the care, support and acceptance he received? Is this the way we would like to be treated if, God forbid, we became political or nuclear refugees? As for you, my dear friend, I wish you Godspeed and may you be safe with your family!