My experience volunteering with Vision First refugees has been really inspiring. Tiffany, who was involved in setting up Vision First, talked me through all the legalities of refugees and the services they receive from different refugee organisations and charities in Hong Kong – which are very limited. Throughout my life I have worked for many charities in fundraising and marketing and also sat on the fundraising committee for Refugee Advice Centre, so I did understand the general workings of the charity world and had an understanding of the issues refugees faced. However, this meeting focusing on the social and practical issues, rather than the fundraising and marketing really opened my eyes to the world of refugees in Hong Kong. For a change I wanted to do some work directly with them, so I did make it clear that for the purpose of volunteering, that was my goal. Tiffany talked to me about a few families from Somalia and Pakistan that could benefit from some support. The plan was to start teaching them English and help with orientation and settling issues.
I turned up at Cheung Sha Wan MTR not knowing what to expect and with just a notebook and pencil. I was a little apprehensive, but when I met the Somalian mother, I was relieved by her warm and friendly personality and also her enthusiasm to learn. It was hard to know what to teach her first, so I started with tentatively finding out about her family and sharing a little about mine as we are both mothers of a boy and a girl. I also tried to help her learn more about the geography and transport around the city, as I remember how overwhelming it was when I first moved here – even as an English speaker. On the third week I decided to ask her how she thought I was doing and if she was finding the lessons OK? I mainly asked to see what areas I could improve on. I was very happy when she told me she wished to bring her friends along too. The following week a Pakistani lady and her happy young son also joined us.
It has been extremely rewarding teaching such warm, bright people who are so receptive to learning. They have shared a little with me about the tragedy of the lives they left behind, but because of the English level it is hard to understand much. However, when someone says to you the words: “All the young girls in the whole town raped … guns … everyone dead … shooting!” – then it is pretty clear. The depth of the tragedy is revealed in their eyes, but it is hard to know what to say to counsel someone who has left her whole family behind, besides “Keep working on your English and life will get easier. I’m so proud of how brave you are to travel this hard journey to safety.” (Her first husband was killed in 2005 – her second husband was shot this year!) Sometimes it amazes me these women can stay optimistic when they have been through so much. I learnt more about some of the refugee experiences at a refugee conference organised by Vision First, where many of them spoke about the years of waiting for an application to be heard, living their life in limbo. Certainly the experience humbles you.