Back in Vancouver for the holidays, I've been reading the newspaper and in the last few days, many pages were devoted to charity.
This is not the kind of philanthropy where a donor writes a cheque and that's the end of it.
It's profiles of people, young and old getting out into less privileged communities and spending their time, knowledge and know-how to help make these places better.
There are teenagers volunteering to help elementary school students struggling with English and mathematics. The teens are given training on phonetics and teaching before pairing up with students to help them on their reading, writing and math.
Another is the Adopt A School program which started last year when an inner-city teacher wrote a letter to the local newspaper detailing how her students were struggling to learn because they didn't have basic school supplies, let alone enough food to eat everyday. The newspaper pitched in to help highlight not only this school but many others that were in need and encouraged philanthropists to take on their individual causes.
The latest article talked about a family whose father is an investment banker and his son goes to the top private school for boys in Vancouver. They adopted a school by helping to donate and raise money to help provide a new children's playground. The son acknowledges he comes from a privileged background, but doing these acts of charity makes him realize he should help others in his community. I would also like to add the family is not Caucasian, but South Asian.
Then there's a social entrepreneur who owns a butcher shop and three restaurants, a gallery and clothing store who has teamed up with a high-profile fundraiser to raise enough money to feed 1,000 down-and-out people in the Downtown Eastside for a year. They figure they need about $750,000 and he says they should raise the money first because if they just rely on grants and donations throughout the year they are not going to be focused on their main goal of feeding people.
He also hires people who have difficulty entering the work force or have a physical disability or mental illness, which proves he not only talks the talk, but walks the walk too.
What struck me most was the genuine interest in helping others.
One would be hard-pressed to find the same can-do attitude in Hong Kong.
As one of my parents' friends observed on a recent annual trip to Hong Kong, he was struck by how unfriendly wait staff and taxi drivers were, that even "please" and "thank you" went unnoticed.
"Everyone is just concerned about survival," he remarked, saying people in the city were obsessed with making money. With property prices constantly rising out of reach of first-time home owners and depressed salaries, he believes Hong Kong people, particularly the young ones are having a very tough time.
He also added an astute comment that the influx of mainlanders into the city has had a psychological impact on Hong Kong people.
It used to be that Hong Kong people were the rich, sophisticated cousins to their country bumpkin cousins to the north.
But now it is the reverse, with mainlanders snapping up designer handbags, milk powder, flats and just about anything else they believe is authentic, while Hong Kong people are forced to serve them. This sudden wealth has shocked locals and it has shaken locals to the core; they are no longer in control of their destiny -- it is their rich cousins who determine their economic fates.
All these pressures have added up, making Hong Kong people pretty much depressed and pessimistic, and pretty much in survival mode.
As a result there is no interest in helping others but themselves.
The Hong Kong government coffers are so rich and yet the authorities are too miserly to release some to bring more comfort to the elderly and support to the working poor.
And so it's where NGO's must step in and do the dirty work.
It's great companies and corporations step up in Hong Kong when it comes to fundraising because they can boast about their corporate social responsibility achievements in their annual reports.
But it's not enough to just write a cheque. They must do more and actually go into the communities see their money put to use. Then they can see for themselves how broken Hong Kong's social system is and hopefully advocate for change. The poor cannot do that on their own and the NGOs feel like they are broken records, repeating the same laundry list of things to fix, over and over again.
Hong Kong must change and become a more compassionate city. Almost 10 years ago was SARS and the impact that had on the city was a more caring one.
Where did it go?
It's time to bring it back. And I hope to do my small share in 2013.