Cutting the NGO link

Post Date: Nov 8th, 2013 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

Vision First is like a Private Members’ Club. We operate largely within a circle of trust where people come together to assist each other and advocate for change. It is important to note how Vision First acts in the capacity of a logistics provider. We offer the assistance refugees require to implement their own ideas. A case in point is the March for Protection: refugees demanded it, VF applied for police permit and organized media coverage. They did all the rallying and protesting.

The same drive is behind exposing the slums and food problem. These ideas germinated in the minds of members who had enough. We helped to make it happen. Our advocacy is essentially based on what refugees tell us that they need. Perhaps the VF advantage is that we listen. The recent Judicial Review action came from a Togolese member who said “I want to take ISS to the Human Rights Court”. We replied, “Sorry there is no such court in Hong Kong. But how about the High Court?”

Vision First is like a bus company that sees the demand for a route and provides the service to lead passengers to a new destination. They don’t have the resources and connections, so we become the resource provider and logistics coordinator. We are a truly grassroots organization relying on its members for new ideas, energy and approaches to advocacy. This unity leads to a powerful expression.

After the bus route is established, more members see the opportunity for change. They know they can reach the destination and come to join other people. They didn’t have hope before and now they see that something is possible. This is how our membership doubled in 2013 from 400 to 800, without counting 1000 refugees who live in the slums and don’t have 50$ to come to register.

We don’t expect beneficiaries to become activists. Vision First members already are. We simply assist and reward those who don’t have the resources to fight the system. Members rather expect that Vision First will make it happen. They put pressure on us to take action, find lawyers, fight harder. There is no exchange. ISS-HK is mandated and subvented to meet the needs of refugees. VF has no gap filling duties. While we are glad to help where possible, we neither have the resources nor manpower to assist 5000 claimants.

There is no exchange for aid. Currently if refugees need help they must go to ISS-HK. If they want more/better services, they must go to ISS-HK. VF does not intend to fill gaps in SWD service specification for ISS-HK. On a voluntary basis we do what we can, though our efforts perpetuates ISS-HK’ failures. We will never turn people away where we can – that would be contrary to our spirit of community.

We don’t have many members who are uncomfortable with protesting. There were some at the MFP who wore face masks, sunglasses and hoodies, but they are hard to find in the photos. That was in relation to 800 refugees energized by the occasion to voice legitimate demands. Rather we have to hold refugees back when they demand hunger strikes, jumping into the harbour, blocking ISS-HK shops and offices, even self-immolation!

We don’t share the view with other civil society groups and NGOs that feel the need to talk for victims who are voiceless, powerless and shapeless. Refugees can speak for themselves with more credibility and eloquence than any activist. That’s why we bring them to LegCo. That’s why they accompany us to every meeting, unlike other groups. Refugees have a clear understanding of their plight and rights. Vision First only needs to provide the bus and megaphone, both literally and figuratively speaking.

Vision First empowers refugees’ agency by providing a platform, strategies and tools that they use as they wish. We only have one paid staff and operate entirely with volunteer power. Vision First is a tiny organization, capable of reaching big goals with the support of its members and volunteers. It’s a unique structure that others are looking at replicating in other advocacy fields for its efficiency and impact. Vision First broke the old NGO mold and showed a different way to uplift the downtrodden.

We believe we don’t need to act as a link between refugees and society. Refugees can represent themselves directly and by doing so demystify the construction that they are helpless victims in need of charitable assistance. Consequently, were the government to meet their material and financial needs, refugees would find it pointless to visit NGO offices. Refugees need NGOs in a failed system, as much as NGOs need a failed system to prosper and grow. The status quo thrives on submission and fears the evolution that brings forth its own demise.

In a fair and just society, the NGO link between refugees and society is made redundant.

In final analysis, this might be the change some feel threatened by.

#48 – The slum with the wood latrine

click above to see how a failed refugee system needs NGO assistance