HandsOn Hong Kong recently came together with fellow affiliates from India, Japan and Philippines to discuss the topic of Inclusive Volunteerism in Asia, as part of the Points of Lights Global Network Affiliate Preconference. Sophy Lai, our Program Director, shared our team’s experience developing and running programs that connect groups in Hong Kong who are often overlooked or face a lack of opportunities. From the diverse range of experiences shared, it was clear that ‘inclusive volunteerism’ has different meanings across Asia but we can learn from each other’s experiences and challenges along the way. Check out the full virtual panel discussion here.
We believe that highlighting some of the insights and learnings will benefit other volunteer-focused organizations--and hopefully serve to inspire!
Supporting inclusivity in Hong Kong: Connecting generations
“Volunteer” in Chinese is “yee gong”, in which “yee” holds an additional implication of justice and morality, and not simply serving those in need.
Generation Connect -- Empowering families and elderly to support each other’s well-being by providing social connection, companionship and joy. Hong Kong elderly who live alone are a group whose social-emotional needs are often overlooked--50% of the city’s elderly are lonely. The program features a combination of regular virtual and in-person interactions all managed by the HandsOn Hong Kong team, ranging from check-in phone calls and video calls to accompanying each other to the market and children delivering care packages to the doorstep of their elderly friends’ household. At the end of the program the child presents the elderly friend with a book they have made about them and their lives.
With school resuming, both parents and children’s schedules have ramped up, making it difficult for them to commit regularly. In-person interactions also remain challenging due to pandemic restrictions, and contingency plans need to be in place.
- Strengthening parent-child bonding
- Understanding others through regular interactions
- Building empathy in children
- Reducing loneliness in the elderly by establishing social connections
- Improved mental health and emotional well-being
Flexibility: To encourage inclusive community, we at HandsOn Hong Kong learnt to be flexible and adaptable throughout all our service programs. In order to cope with the ever changing restrictions of the government regarding public safety, we learnt to be open-minded to adjust and shifted many of our programs from in person to virtual modes.
This is a ‘high touch’ program which requires a great deal of driving and support from the HandsOn team. So it was vital that this be a funded grant program for us to ensure our time was covered.
Supporting inclusivity in India: Leveraging the talents of the transgender community
Apart from a flexible spirit, our friends from iVolunteer in India mentioned that the eagerness and unity of their people was a key component to inclusivity.
- Empowering Bangalore’s transgender community to distribute food kits
- Sending handwritten letters to the police in India from the city’s youth
- Hearing and speech impaired children in Mumbai making ‘rahkis’ (bands given to brothers by sisters as a symbol of protection) to army personnel serving on the front lines
- World Youth Day—A beach cleanup in South Mumbai with youth from marginalized communities
- World Environment Day— Children learning how to upcycle shirts, bags and masks virtually to support the habit of saying no to plastic bags
In rolling out these programs, iVolunteer encountered a number of challenges which they frequently face including class divides, lack of economic stability and discrimination for marginalized groups. Bangalore’s transgender community (who identify as being the ‘third gender’) struggle to make a living daily, often resorting to begging or prostitution.
iVolunteer was able to mobilize a range of often overlooked and disadvantaged communities in India. They also succeeded in reaching the transgender community, who live on the margins of society, and empowered them to distribute food kits and set up health checkup centers to support other vulnerable groups.
Differences can be embraced. The iVolunteer team saw the strength and spirit of their people throughout this range of programs. In spite of the pandemic, their team has seen COVID-19 break down some pre-existing barriers and allow people to look past their differences and work hand in hand to support the local community in India.
Supporting inclusivity in Tokyo: Reinvigorating children’s spirits in the face of disaster
The culture of Japan places importance on the idea of volunteering ‘Hito wo omoiyaru kokoro’, meaning to empathize and feel for others. The concept of helping and respecting others is greatly valued within the community.
- Providing relief at Tohoku with underprivileged children—The project aims to rebuild and revitalize a community severely affected by natural disaster. Life skills programs were also offered to support the city’s children and youth.
- Helping local farmers to run their farms and rebuild their lives.
- Provide first hand learning experiences in natural disaster awareness and preparedness training.
Japanese culture holds values of community support and helping one another. Yet, there is also the culture of ‘in and out’, in which volunteering is deemed as something external, thus, it is not often translated into their daily lives.
- Children who are the beneficiaries of volunteer activities have an opportunity to experience volunteering, gain new skills and life experience to further develop their self-confidence and self-esteem.
- The Tohoku community had a workforce mobilized to support their rebuilding and the opportunity to understand and acknowledge the role and importance of children in the society.
Trust takes time. HandsOn Tokyo recognized that establishing relationships and trust is essential for inclusive volunteering, particularly amongst underprivileged children.
Shared experience and mutual understanding. To connect to a community, especially children, sharing personal stories is extremely helpful, for both the volunteers and the children themselves.
Supporting inclusivity in the Philippines: Counteracting poverty through kindness
In the Philippines, “Bayanihan” is part of the Filipino custom of helping one another and instilling a spirit of communal unity, work and cooperation to achieve a goal.
- Providing free vegetables and goods at community pantries
- Good Deeds Day: Families and the homeless uniting together to cook and distribute meals to the under-resourced communities
- Serve-a-thon 2020: Setting up vegetable gardens in public schools
The importance of a tight-knit community that fosters inclusivity is strongly emphasized by HandsOn Manila. Through Serve-a-thon and Good Deeds Day in 2020, they saw the discipline of the entire community as people took only what they needed and waited patiently in-line for their turn. The elderly were also eager to donate their own items after getting food items from the community pantries, showing that volunteering goes both ways.
Spread kindness: Through the numerous programs run by HandsOn Manila, the style of volunteering remained non- discriminatory. Kindness is a key ingredient to true inclusive volunteering. A quote that resonated throughout the whole program was “Give only what you can afford to share and get only what you need.”