Highlights Part 3: Block Activity

On Wednesday before break we had our last Block Activity of the year. It was an unforgettable and very emotional experience. But before we hopped on the bus that would take us to Hong Kong Park, we packed boxes with food and basic supplies, such as toilet paper and toothbrushes, for the residents of the caged homes in Hong Kong. Caged homes? Yes… The caged homes are a a type of residence that is of bedspace size and surrounded by a metal cage. There are about 100,000 people living in caged homes. The residents are mainly low-income people, such as the elderly, the low-skilled, and the non-skilled laborers. Former reports from the Legislative Council of Hong Kong also mentioned in a report that the people who lived in caged housings were those who cannot enjoy social welfare, nor subsidy on rent, electricity bills, and salaries tax. For me it is incredible to think that people have no choice but to live in one of about a dozen wire mesh cages resembling rabbit hutches crammed into a dilapidated apartment in normal working-class neighbourhoods, such as Kowloon. It is even harder to believe that these cages, each measuring about 6ft by 2.5 ft, are stacked on top of each other. Safety and living conditions of caged homes are, as you can imagine, poor, and such homes are located in urban old districts in Hong Kong, such as Sham Shui Po, Mong Kok, To Kwa Wan, and Tai Kok Tsui. At LPC we have a Quan Cai, named Cage Dwellers, led by Hayley, that aims to reach out to a fraction of the city’s cage home residents. On a weekly basis, students pay visits to the cage home units and tutor and spend time with their children, who have no space in their 6 x 2.5 foot homes to do their homework.

100917_hongkongcages

Photo: asiasociety.org

We filled up quite a few boxes and after we brought them to the car, it was just about time to go to the roundabout in front of the Academic Block, where the bus was already waiting for us.

_DSC0595

 

 

 

 

 

 

_DSC0592

 

 

 

 

 

It took us to Hong Kong Park. I had never been to Hong Kong Park before and I must say, that I was quite amazed to see such a green slice of peace and quiet in the mayhem of Hong Kong’s urban jungle. We walked through an aviary with beautiful birds, which reminded me of Jurassic Park, and then enjoyed strolling through the landscaped gardens which looked like impeccably groomed parade of trees, flowers, fountains and ponds but you won’t find a blade of grass to set up your picnic on. I fell in love with the lake in the park that was home to a colony of turtles that spend their days lounging around on the rocks.

DSC_0726

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_0648

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_0627

DSC_0687

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_0701

Once it turned dark, the Christmas lights were turned on and the park started shimmering in different colors. We sat around a fountain, where we then had the school cooked dinner – delicious chicken fingers with grilled vegetables, bread and bananas. Our dessert was an incredibly fudgy brownie.photo 1 (2)

After our time in the park it was time to head towards our “surprise”, the highlight of the block activity which Hayley kept secret from us. The bus took us to a big building, illuminated with lights and once we hopped off the bus, we finally found out where we were: the Jewish Community Center. It is situated in the heart of the city, in an area where urban houses try to reach the sky, cars and buses fill the streets and Christmas lights illuminate the space between skyscrapers.

DSC_0759

 

 

 

 

 

 

No matter how long the night, the day is sure to come. – Conglese proverb

We toured the building and then arrived at a beautiful synagogue behind it. It is the oldest of its kind in Hong Kong. After enjoying the breathtaking architecture of the synagogue, we went back to the foyer were we were greeted with delicious Jewish food and the sound of African drums! It was a special night – Hong Kong refugee performers had prepared a performance, called “SPEAK – The Performance of a lifetime” and indeed, it was. They came from various countries in Africa- Eritrea, Rwanda, Somalia – and the Philippines. The show consisting of drama, dancing and singing, told the story of their journey and the hardships in their new life in Hong Kong. I was aware of the difficulties that came with being a refugee in Hong Kong, however I could not have imagined the situation to be so dreadful.

photo 2 (2)

DSC_0762

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention defines a refugee as someone who has fled persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or being a member of a persecuted social group. But in contrast to most developed nations and most members of the United Nations, including mainland China and Macau, which have signed the refugee convention, it has not been extended to Hong Kong. Refugees do not have legal status in Hong Kong. They are not allowed to work, volunteer or attend school! And even more shocking: they have to survive on approximately 1000 Hong Kong Dollars a month and only receive minimal assistance with groceries. Refugees are deliberately kept on the brink of destitution. The Hong Kong government provides just enough to prevent them from becoming destitute, not more… In that context we were introduced to Christian Action, an organization that runs a comprehensive service center for refugees and asylum seekers in Hong Kong’s Chungking Mansions. The show was amazing and in certain parts I had tears in my eyes. One of the Filipino refugees sang a song in Tagaluq, her home language, to her dead husband. It was a sad song about loss and love, and while at first she was hesitant, after only a few seconds she became comfortable on stage. For all performers it was a very moving experience, one of the few chances to show their own culture. When the African refugees performed songs and dances, the room was filled to the brim with energy – with happiness, clapping hands and moving bodies to the sound of the drums. We participated in the traditional dances, rocked to the sound of Swahili rap paired with Indian beats and watched one of the little refugee children run across the room dancing to the music. The highlight of the evening was a singer from Rwanda. When he told the audience where he was from, we immediately looked at Odilon, our co-year from Rwanda. After a few seconds of hesitation we started saying his name as loud as possible, until he stood up. It was a moment I will not forget easily. The Rwandan singer turned to Odilon, then jumped off stage and hugged him, happy to have someone from his own country here in Hong Kong and with tears in his eyey. It was wonderful. Never have we seen Odilon so happy, moving his lips to the songs and dancing. The song that stuck in my head from that night is Malaika, meaning “Angel” in Swahili.

Malaika na ku pende malaika

Malaika na ku pende malaika

Na me nee sen yeh yeh

Nekka na mum see oh

Nassin dwala mali sinawy

Ingge ku owa malaika

Nassin dwala mali sinawy

Ingge ku owa malaika

Aside from having an unforgettable block activity, we were also overwhelmed with the feeling of happiness and joy. Our Block Activity ended with lots of music and a happy crowd dancing to the beat of African drums.

photo 4