Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Ideas Worth Spreading

TEDxHongKong held its event tonight at Polytechnic University
I just came back from attending my first TEDxHongKong event that was held at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hung Hom.

I'd heard of TED Talks before but wasn't familiar with the locally organized TEDx events. So when there was an opportunity to attend tonight's event I decided to spend a few hours to hear speakers with "Ideas worth spreading".

One particular one was Martin Radford, a former teacher in the UK and Hong Kong, who then in 2010 got involved in a ministry full time, in particular the Inner Cities Ministries. It's a Christian mission that works with the South Asian ethnic minority community in Hong Kong, especially the Nepalese who live in Yau Ma Tei.

ICM's Martin Radford
He started off by saying Hong Kong hides its poverty extremely well, overshadowed by skyscrapers. And he explained that with poverty comes powerlessness -- the inability to change one's situation.

However he believes we as a community can help bring about transformation, which is a step beyond change. Radford made the comparison between a caterpillar and a butterfly. A caterpillar just focuses on eating leaves all day, whereas a butterfly flies over the caterpillar, beyond just eating leaves.

But he adds you can't just dig into your pockets to give money to poverty; it's like just adding wings to a caterpillar and that doesn't necessarily make it a butterfly -- it's still a caterpillar eating leaves.

So the best way to create transformation, Radford says, is to change through relationships. It is important to engage with people to transform them, and this is particularly critical for adolescents.

One of the slides he showed was that of women in a room hunched over sewing machines. Radford said these Nepalese women were taught how to sew and have so far made 500 children's outfits. Not only do they gain new skills, but these clothes have been sent to places like Bangladesh and India to people even more poor than them.

Teaching people how to cook at Taste of Grace
The mission also teaches them how to cook, which is a good way to build relationships with people. How can you share meals without talking, he asks. Some of the people who learned how to cook are also asylum seekers who aren't allowed to work until they have refugee status. But here they can learn skills they can use.

Radford says Nepalese kids have a hard time learning in Hong Kong. At home they speak Nepali, but don't know how to read the language. Then they go to local schools where they learn English and Chinese, but can't really figure out how the languages work. To them they are all disparate symbols that aren't connected. But the mission tries to help them figure it out through storytelling.

Another way to empower the Nepalese is through performing in a park in Yau Ma Tei. And he says empowerment is important because horizons are not easy to see when you are trying to look up. But when you rise up, the sun is the same for you as it is for Li Ka-shing, he says. It's a bold statement, but an optimistic one.

For example the mission took some Nepalese kids on a week-long camp. Some had never experienced having a shower, or changing their socks daily. But he says once they learn and experience more then the return on investment is incalculable.

Tutorial sessions for kids run by volunteers
That's because transformation happens when human beings care for other human beings, which is Radford's takeaway line.

We don't hear much about the Nepalese community in Hong Kong -- or is it because we choose not to? I know many typically work in the restaurant industry but where else? Are they making decent wages? What do they want to do with their lives?

But perhaps more importantly they want to be recognized for who they are and accepted into the community. And until we reach out to them, they will continue to remain in the fringes.

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