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Their Stories

Biju: A Former Youth Drug Addict

A second-generation Nepalese immigrant, Biju moved to Hong Kong when he was seven.

Due to the language barrier and because his parents were too busy with their work to look after him, he became addicted to drugs at the age of 12. He was arrested by police at the “canteen” (where drug addicts get together to take drugs) in Jordan .

When I first met Biju's parents at a police station, I could see their sense of helplessness and loss. Biju was terribly regretful and scared. Apart from giving support and comfort, I applied for a child protection order immediately and arranged for Biju to undergo rehabilitation and continue his study at Zheng Sheng College .

Biju sat the HKCEE after three years at the college. He also found his own interest and direction in life. He is now in second year at an university in the United States and plans to come back to work upon graduation.

Over the years Unison has handled more than 200 drug addict cases involving ethnic minorities. Often when they needed help, all they found was apathy and discrimination. Our help and support brought them hope.

We believe that most ethnic minority youths are willing to behave well and contribute to the society with more equal opportunities, care and less discrimination.

"Your donation & support lighten the lives of countless ethnic minorities youth, and are the very foundation that allows Unison to continue its services for the socially disadvantaged ethnic minorities in Hong Kong ."

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Mohammand: Dedicated Chinese Language Learner Who Wants to be a Fireman

Mohammand, a Pakistani youth, is an easy-going, upright student who attended this year's HKCEE. His dream is to be a fireman.

Being a civil servant is mostly a dream to many ethnic minority youths with a poor grasp of the Chinese language. Mohammand is an exception. Through hard work, he can not only speak fluent Cantonese but also read and write the language. He got an “A” in Chinese in GCSE.

Ethnic minority youths used to have little chances of learning Chinese. But following the intense lobbying of Unison and the ethnic minority community, the government changed its policy in 2004 to allow ethnic minority students to attend mainstream schools using Chinese as the medium of instruction. Schools also offer Chinese courses for them to help prepare them for future employment and studies.

Because of the policy change, Mohammand will have a different future from that of his brothers and sisters. Of course, there is still room for improvement in the new policy, eg. the lack of teaching materials, uniform curriculum and assessment criteria etc. Unison will continue to urge the government to enhance the quality of Chinese education so ethnic minority students will be proficient enough in the language.

"Your donation & support lighten the lives of countless ethnic minorities youth, and are the very foundation that allows Unison to continue its services for the socially disadvantaged ethnic minorities in Hong Kong ."

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Ahmed: Integration Through Volunteering

Ahmed has lived in Hong Kong for more than 20 years. His parents returned to Pakistan earlier, leaving him here to make money for himself and them.

As he was not educated in Hong Kong , Ahmed does not have any education certificate recognised here. Hence for more than 10 years, he has only been able to do scaffolding work at construction sites, confined to a salary lower than that given to Chinese.

Ahmed gave himself the Chinese name “Wah Zai”. Still he told Unison that he did not feel he belongs to Hong Kong , nor any help and concern from the society. When he became unemployed, we encouraged him to take part in Unison's volunteer programme, offering services at various places and helping with organizing street protests, petitions to fight for his countrymen's interests..

Today, Ahmed is the official photographer for our activities. He also feels our concern for ethnic minorities at Unison. Being a volunteer also makes him feel being part of Hong Kong and live a more meaningful life.

"Your donation & support lighten the lives of countless ethnic minorities youth, and are the very foundation that allows Unison to continue its services for the socially disadvantaged ethnic minorities in Hong Kong ."

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Bilai: Cherishing Further Study Opportunity

When I met Bilai the first time, he looked lost and frustrated. He had finished secondary education for three years and yet could not further his study.

Bilai is a Pakistani born and raised in Hong Kong capable of speaking fluent Cantonese. But because he did not have the chance to learn how to write and read Chinese in school, he faces much difficulties in finding jobs or furthering his study.

Before 2004, almost all ethnic minority students at public schools had to leave after completing Form Five. Like other ethnic minority youths, Bilai wanted to further his study. We therefore looked hard for “Post-Form Five” studying opportunities for them. Finally in 2005, we raised enough funds to commission IVE (Haking Wang) for two consecutive years to run a one-year foundation diploma (hotel management) for 70 ethnic minority youths.

Bilai finished the foundation programme with excellent results. He then moved on to a two-year diploma programme and is now doing community work for a non-governmental organization. His next goal is to get an associate degree in social work so as to contribute substantially to the society in the future.

"Your donation & support lighten the lives of countless ethnic minorities youth, and are the very foundation that allows Unison to continue its services for the socially disadvantaged ethnic minorities in Hong Kong ."

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Thirteen dollars & 10 cents

To many people, $13.10 may be a small amount, not even enough for a full breakfast. But to 17-year-old Anjala, she often tries hard to save as little as that to support the daily transportation cost of traveling between her home in Hung Hom and the IVE campus in Cheung Sha Wan, where she studies.

Anjala comes from a single-parent family. Her mother died a few years ago, while her father has remarried and set up another family. She lives together with her brother and sister, supported by their father's meager income.

To help her concentrate better on her study, Unison has since 2008 given her a monthly subsidy of $500. Pleased with the kind offer, Anjala is well-driven and aspires to be an accountant one day.

"Your donation & support lighten the lives of countless ethnic minorities youth, and are the very foundation that allows Unison to continue its services for the socially disadvantaged ethnic minorities in Hong Kong ."

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Simple Home sweet Home

The dining table is indispensable to any family – it is where family members gather together to share their thoughts and feelings. But to the nine-member Arif family, their home is empty except their beds. Arif, the father of seven, is a truck driver who works 13 hours a day, reluctant to depend on government handouts. After learning about the family's situation, Unison bought them chairs and a folding table, where the children now dine and do homework at. They are also learning Cantonese and Putonghua . Their only wish now is to go on an outing to the beach during the summer holidays.

Your donation will not only make their dream come true but also help provide necessary household appliances for other ethnic minorities families, and subsidise their much needed recreational activities.

"Your donation & support lighten the lives of countless ethnic minorities youth, and are the very foundation that allows Unison to continue its services for the socially disadvantaged ethnic minorities in Hong Kong ."

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Urgent Hands for our children

Twelve-year-old Marsawar and his sisters, 9 and 10, live in a run-down building in Jordan and have been taken care of by their grandparents since their mother was convicted of child abuse in 2004. Their father passed away a few years later.

The Indian family survives on the Government's Comprehensive Social Security Allowance, but can hardly integrate with the local community being unable to speak English or Cantonese. It obtains much emotional, social and additional financial support from Unison, which raised funds to cover the funeral expenses for Marsawar's father and uncle, who died one after another. It is also helping with the family's application for public housing. Enjoying a friendly relationship with the family, Unison has organized free Cantonese classes for Marsawar and his sisters, and encouraged them to learn, with gifts of toys and books.

The advocacy body is in close contact with the family to offer help with it is needed. It has put pressure on the Social Welfare Department to provide adequate services, psychological and learning assessments for Marsawar.

"Your donation & support lighten the lives of countless ethnic minorities youth, and are the very foundation that allows Unison to continue its services for the socially disadvantaged ethnic minorities in Hong Kong ."

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Bamboo accident distress

kamala, a 32-year-old Nepalese mother, was distressed to find that she had to pay a huge amount of compensation to a government officer injured by a bamboo that fell from her flat when he was on patrol in the area.

With her husband working as a security guard, the woman's family survives on about $7,000 a month, and lives in a crammed flat shared with the families of the husband's brother and sister. Unable to understand Chinese or English, kamala had no access to an interpreter at the police station where she was asked to sign a witness statement concerning the incident. She was shocked to learn later that she had to pay an amount in excess of $14,000 to the injured officer from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. The several government letters that came over the past two years urging her to pay almost pushed her to the brink of depression - until a friend introduced her to Unison. We have provided her with free legal advice through a volunteer lawyer and raised her case with the Department of Justice, protesting against the neglect of her rights to dispute the heavy financial liability, and the police's handling of her case. We offer counseling, legal support for many other ethnic minorities residents who have suffered injustices because of their language barrier. We are also hoping to hire an additional social worker to look after their needs.

"Your donation & support lighten the lives of countless ethnic minorities youth, and are the very foundation that allows Unison to continue its services for the socially disadvantaged ethnic minorities in Hong Kong ."

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I am not the School Principal

I am Fermi Wong. I wish to tell you a story. It took place in 2001. It was not long after I helped find school placements for some ethnic minority children. They did not know Chinese as a language and could not catch up with the others in school for the Chinese class, failing to complete even the most basic homework. I therefore transformed my office into a small tutorial centre, giving supplementary Chinese lessons to about a dozen of primary 4 to 6 ethnic minority children who came after school.

Among them was a 6-year-old Nepalese boy who came with some other Nepalese children senior in age and who spoke neither Chinese nor English. He was sweet and well behaved. When I asked, with the other children translating, why he was not in school uniform, He did not say anything. But on the following day, he came wearing a white shirt and grey shorts. I asked him again, what about your school bag? He said he did not have one. So I gave him one as a present. He came in with the school bag on the third day. In there were an exercise book and a pencil case. And don't you have books? I enquired. So on the fourth day, he had in his bag a few used storybooks. “How come there is no school badge on your uniform” was another of my questions. He did not say anything but continued to come learn Chinese everyday. He always completed the exercises I gave him as homework. Another week was past when a Nepalese man came for me in the class. He introduced himself as the father of the boy and said he wished to see and thank the “school principal” in person for allowing his child a chance to study. Thinking that he might have come to the wrong place, I was about to take him to the school when he uttered my name, “Fermi Wong”. I instantly clarified with him that I was no school principal but a social worker that wished to help ethnic minority children learn Chinese by giving free tutorial classes. The father was surprised at my explanations. If this is not a school then where could the boy have been all these days always since early morning? I told him what I saw over the past two weeks. He listened; much taken aback but soon came to realize what actually had happened. I saw tears running down the face of this man in his thirties.

The man had arrived in Hong Kong for about 6 months. He worked in a construction site for more than ten hours a day. His wife was still in Nepal . He did not have any time, nor did he know how, to find a school for the boy. But then one morning, while he was still unsure of what to do, he found the boy was going to school with other children in the neighborhood. The kid came back that evening saying that the school principal had required him to put on the school uniform. With heartfelt gratitude, the father thought his fellow compatriots had helped to secure a school place for the boy. It was at that point that the man came to realize what could have been the story: every morning, his 6-year-old boy would travel from Tsuen Wan where he lived to Yaumatei where the school was with the other children, only to stay and wait for them outside the school till it finished.

Every morning, this little boy would leave home at 7 am, and from 8 am to after 3 pm; he would be sitting outside the school waiting to come to my tutorial class with the others. No wonder the boy had told his father that he had to wait for a long time before he could attend classes, and that classes were always short. I listened to the man speaking in tear and my heart was saddened. I was sorry for my misunderstanding and promised to do my best to find the boy a school place. But before long, the man decided to send the boy back to his home village in Nepal where the mother was. I saw this kid again recently. The whole family is going to move to UK . He still does not know much about Chinese but he continues to take me as his school principal.

Every youngster I have met in the ethnic minority community has an untold story of his or her own. Every face, every eyesight, every drop of tears, every laughter tells a true story of life and dignity. I have promised myself – I will not again allow any child I know be deprived of the chance of education either because of my heedlessness or as a result of the faulty system.

"Your donation & support lighten the lives of countless ethnic minorities youth, and are the very foundation that allows Unison to continue its services for the socially disadvantaged ethnic minorities in Hong Kong ."

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“Dim Sum” Leftovers

One day in the summer few years ago, I and my friends were on the 6 th floor of a car park in Temple Street , Yau Ma Tei, collecting our car. As the lift door opened, I saw the following scene:

A youth aged 16-17, with no clothes on his upper body, was scavenging for food in a rubbish bin before us, with one of his hands holding a leftover drink in a paper cup and the other clutching some “dim sum” leftovers. He quickly fled, throwing away some of the food, upon hearing the sound of the door opening.

Filled with mercy for him, I immediately chased after him. I introduced myself to him in simple English. He looked embarrassed. Not wanting to reveal much, he only said he had not had food for several days and was very hungry.

The next day I went to the same car park, walking from the sixth floor to the eighth floor at the top, and discovered about 50-60 Nepalese young streetsleepers there, aged from 16 to more than 20. Most of them were born in Hong Kong and educated in Nepal , the offspring of the Gurkhas who came to work in Hong Kong before 1997. With no family here, being addicted to drug and unable to pay rents, they ended up sleeping in the car park.

Then I began to seek help for them from some social service organizations in the district, and the Social Welfare Department, but they turned down my request for help, citing various reasons. I then told the story to a reporter in hopes of arousing public sympathy and concern for them. Consequently, the Social Welfare Department called a district service co-ordination meeting involving social workers from its family service centres, other SWD and NGO social workers serving streetsleepers and South Asian youths, representatives from the police and the car park management company. I was also invited.

At the start of the meeting, I shared about the situation of the streetsleepers. After that, the chairman said: “Fermi, you are very busy. You may leave.” He actually meant that I should go. Later I learned from the minutes of the meeting that they made a joint resolution of clearing up the site. A week later I received a call from the SWD asking me to attend another meeting to discuss the plan for clearing up the site. I refused to attend such kind of meeting and urged them not to remove the Nepalese before providing services for them.

In the following weeks, the management company cleaned the floor three times a day. One morning, I received a call from the Nepalese youth. Crying, he said: “Please come quickly! They are driving us away!” When I arrived at the car park, I saw some policemen and people from the management company clearing up the place, while a few senior SWD social workers were standing next to a long desk, on which were a few A3-sized papers carrying Chinese words which said: “Those who require services, please register at the counter.”

Holding their personal belongings, several youths surrounded me and were crying. I was crying too, and angry and sa d. I could do nothing about the unfairness. The Nepalese youth later became a drug addict and developed mental problems. He is now in jail. I helped some of the streetsleepers apply for social security assistance and seek for a shelter. Others have continued to live on the streets in various places. Many are still in their twenties. How many people know about their stories and how many care about them?

"Your donation & support lighten the lives of countless ethnic minorities youth, and are the very foundation that allows Unison to continue its services for the socially disadvantaged ethnic minorities in Hong Kong ."

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