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.

Hong Kong University Research Project: “Health practices, problems and needs among African refugees in Hong Kong”

Apr 29th, 2012 | VF updates, programs, events | Comment

Who are we?

Dear VF members. In the coming months you will meet me hanging out at Vision First. My name is Ms. Sealing Cheng. I am part of a research project on asylum-seekers’ health-related issues led by Dr. William Wong of the University of Hong Kong.

What are we researching? 

This project seeks to identify and understand the health practices, problems and needs of refugees from Africa in Hong Kong. We understand that refugees live under very challenging conditions in Hong Kong – with no right to work, volunteer or study (except for children), refugees are dependent on the government and NGOs for housing, healthcare, food and other necessities. The current level of support for Hong Kong refugees is for basic survival. The impact of such conditions on your physical and mental health must be tremendous. How do you cope? How do you optimize your limited resources for your own physical, psychological, and social well-being? How are different kinds of health knowledge, practices, and access utilized – for example, folk medicine, over-the-counter medication, and public healthcare service? What kind of problems do you encounter when accessing the public health care system? These are just some of the questions we have in this project.

Refugees experience being rendered largely invisible in Hong Kong. But the focus of this project is on those from Africa because, unlike the largest group of asylum-seekers in Hong Kong who are from South Asia, those from Africa do not have access to any support and resources made available by a local ethnic community. Furthermore, their appearance also subjects them to greater scrutiny and discrimination in Hong Kong, given society’s very minimal interaction with people from the African continent. This may mean that African refugees experience a distinct set of issues and concerns regarding their physical and mental health.

What are our goals?

– to gain insights into health-related experiences of refugees through their stories and in their own voice. Your personal stories and the survey will provide both depth and breadth to our understanding of the health practices, needs and level of access. These will help identify areas of health problems, patterns of health behavior and risks as well as institutional, social, and cultural obstacles to health-seeking behavior.

– to contribute to developing solutions for some of the health-related problems faced by refugees in Hong Kong. The findings will certainly raise public awareness and hopefully inform future policies concerning this group. Would setting up a refugee clinic be ideal? Or should the focus be on making the public health care system more inclusive?

– this project is hopefully the first step in understanding the much larger refugee community and to building a more appropriate infrastructure to address their health needs. It is our conviction that addressing this aspect of refugee life is a crucial step to treating you with humanity and to assume our obligations to protect the rights of those seeking asylum.

What will we do?

The project will take about one year to complete. It is divided into 2 parts.

Part I – will take place between May and September 2012. This is the part where Sealing will be running around trying to meet and talk with people to explore the range of health attitudes and practices of refugees as well as problems with seeking health care services. It would be great if you could allow Sealing (with her research assistant who speaks French) to hang out with you – from everyday routines to picking up groceries and visiting local hospitals. 30 in-depth interviews will take place in August and September.
Part II – involves a survey that will begin by the end of 2012. Based on the findings from Part I, a questionnaire will be designed to identify patterns of behavior as well as demographic information in the population. Questions may include: places of origin, length of residence in Hong Kong, age, gender, education level, work/ income if any; specific information on family structure and relationships, health attitudes and practices, sexual relationship, smoking habits, alcohol/ drug use, condom use; general health status, access to health care, including sexual and reproductive health service. 320 questionnaires will be administered.

Naturally, the absolute confidentiality of respondents will be guaranteed. Pseudonyms rather than real names will be used for the transcription and archiving of all interviews. All information will be used for the purpose of this research only. No part of the project will be accessible to any government agents.

Mothers and babies find great support at Vision First