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  Interviewed by: Or Wing Man

  Edited by: Fu Tak Iam Foundation Editorial Board

  Translated by: Stacy Mosher

 

Is it a poverty-alleviation programme?

 

Is it a Health programme?

 

Is it a Depression-prevention programme?

 

Is it a Family service?

 

Is it an After-school tutoring programme?

 

Is it a Legal counselling service?

 

Is it a Financial and technology Literacy class?

 

In fact, it’s all of the above. Welcome to the Caritas Kwai Chung Residents’ Mutual Aid Centre!

 

 

With the full support of the Fu Tak Iam Foundation, the Caritas Kwai Chung Residents’ Mutual Aid Centre launched a five-year service programme in July 2018. The Mutual Aid Centre provides multifaceted services to Kwai Chung’s low-income families, grassroots workers, children from low-income families, people suffering from depression, and single-parent families, aimed at enhancing their capacity to resolve difficulties and improve their family relationships. The long-term plan is to build a community of harmonious neighbourhood.

 

Photo by Drew Willson on Unsplash

 

In Kwai Chung’s Kwong Fai Circuit, many women bring their children to the park to relax in the shade and play. For the casual observer, this is a very ordinary scene, but it reflects a hardship in the lives of these women. “Kwong Fai Circuit is made up of sub-divided flats, and the living environment is very cramped; they need to get out.” Lee Siu-kan (Kelvin), Project leader for the Caritas Hong Kong Community Development Service, shares what he has observed.

 


 

Outreach to five districts breaks through geographical boundaries to serve

 

The Mutual Aid Centre focuses on outreach services. Mainly covering Kwai Fong, Kwai Hing, Kwai Shing, Kwai Chung Estate and Tai Lin Pai Road, the centre’s social workers make contact with blue-collar workers at public housing estates or other places where they gather. They initially get to know them through activities such as free blood pressure checks, occupational health kiosks, and assistance with applying for working family allowances, low-income working family allowances and utilities allowances. Many neighbourhood residents work long hours and aren’t aware of the community resources available to them. Outreach services give them access to the community resources they need right where they spend most of their time. Even more importantly, the social workers respectfully listen to their views. The Senior Supervisor of Caritas Community Development Service, Mui Kwan-wai (Terence), adds, “Government allowances make life less difficult, but the application process is complicated, and many people don’t know how to fill out the forms. Our street kiosks can help with this.”

 

After residents become acquainted with social workers on the street, they visit the Mutual Aid Centre and allow social workers to gain a better understanding of their problems. Social workers carry out assessments and provide assistance geared toward the entire household.

 

Ah-Ching, around 55 years old, took part in occupational injury and emotional assessment activities organized for workers downstairs in her housing estate. After that, she contacted the Mutual Aid Centre and joined its eight-lesson programme on “Preventing and Easing Workplace Injuries.” Keeping her hair cut short and usually in a track suit, Ah-Ching says she’s always enjoyed sports, but her work at the factory leaves her too tired and with too little time to exercise. “My shoulders ache, and so do the joints of my fingers, so I don’t feel like exercising.” Ah-Ching went to a public hospital for treatment of her body aches years ago, but the brief 15-minute therapy sessions didn’t resolve the problem.

 

 

Fig.1 : Counselling service for individuals under high stress

Fig.2 : Employment Service

Fig.3 : EQ Training Course for children

Fig. 4: Stress Management workshops for women

 

The Mutual Aid Centre’s programme is carried out in cooperation with the Nursing Department of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Each segment is devoted to teaching stretching exercises for the shoulders, neck, back and other parts of the body, and a physical therapist teaches the best ways to lift and carry heavy objects. The classes emphasize using motion to ease pain and avoid medication. This was one of the things that attracted Ah-Ching to continue with the classes. “After taking the workplace injury class, my shoulders have become much more relaxed.”

 


 

Organizing support groups focusing on mental health

 

The mutual aid centre is especially concerned with the mental health of grassroots residents, and uses various activities to understand people’s mental state and provide guidance at the earliest opportunity. But neighbourhood residents don’t like to talk about their mental stress, so how can social workers learn about their needs? Kelvin uses the example of the workplace injury classes. The first half of classes teach fundamental exercises, but the second half discusses work and family pressures and the problems that participants are experiencing. “Neighbourhood residents worry that health problems will affect their ability to earn a livelihood, but these classes tell them that they need to reinvest in themselves.” Kelvin shared that women are a main target of the centre’s services. While learning about their mental pressures, the centre guides them to not focus all their attention on their families or children, but to also appreciate their personal worth. “We want women to pay more attention to their own needs and take a breather from the strenuous demands of their household duties.”

 

Emotional assessment and brief counselling service also start with social workers at the street kiosks. This programme can be considered a Caritas specialty. Over the course of nearly ten years, the Mutual Aid Centre has brought many women back from the brink of depression. Kelvin says that apart from an initial one-on-one meeting, other contact is through small groups. This encourages women or workers to establish relationships of mutual aid and trust among themselves. “When neighbourhood residents know there are others with similar backgrounds, it makes them feel less alone. This allows people to speak out more freely and talk about their family or work pressures.” The project begins in the streets and continues with seeking support at the Mutual Aid Centre, and then forms mutual aid networks to jointly solve the problems they face.

 


 

Pro-bono legal services

 

Health, economic and family problems are connected, and when one reaches crisis mode, it has a domino effect on the rest of a person’s life. Kelvin says that about 5% of the district’s households consist of single-parent families, and most of these women are tangled in divorce issues. Many blue-collar workers also need to submit claims for workplace injury reimbursements. “Problems relating to divorce or workplace injuries always involve complicated paperwork and processes that have a major effect on a person’s emotions and livelihood.”

 

The Mutual Aid Centre’s pro-bono legal counselling service provides answer to the legal puzzles of confused and vulnerable residents. Hong Kong’s legal fees are very expensive, and even middle class people find them overwhelming, not to mention the working class. Terence adds, “A lot of women know absolutely nothing about the divorce process and are worried about legal fees, so they inevitably feel terrified. That makes the monthly legal consultations we offer here especially valuable.”

 


 

Establishing mutual aid networks to jointly resolve difficulties

 

Social workers regularly visit Kwong Fai Circuit, where there is a heavy concentration of subdivided flats. They organize residents to come together to discuss the problems that affect them, such as rodent infestation. “Now we’ve gotten to know the landlords and tenants of the entire building, and we’re discussing how to make improvements. Earlier we held a residents’ meeting.” Because many grassroots workers leave home early and return late, neighbours don’t know each other, and even when they face common problems, it’s hard for them to solve them together. The Mutual Aid Centre’s social workers help draw neighbours together and hold regular residents’ meetings where people can get to know each other, hear each other’s views, and build an atmosphere of “all being in the same boat.” “Dealing with rodent infestation is difficult enough, but what we most hope to accomplish is for them to establish relationships as neighbours. Some tenants are afraid that expressing their views will affect their leases, but we’ve discovered that landlords also want to improve the environment, and that helps form a dialog between them,” Kelvin says.

 

 

Fig.5 Caritas Community Development Senior Supervisor Terence Mui (left) & Project Leader Kelvin Lee (Right)

 

 

Fig.6 Outreach acitivities in the neighborhood

 


 

Extended hours, flexible and multifaceted services

 

The Mutual Aid Centre is open Monday through Saturday, from 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM. These unusually extended service hours are meant to allow neighbourhood residents to visit the centre and participate in its various activities after work or during breaks. All of the activities are tailored to their needs. One example is the smart phone class. Kelvin observes that some older people have difficulty using smartphones, and this causes friction with their children. This group enhances their knowledge of how to use smart phones. “What’s interesting is they initially worry about friction with their children, but once they learn how to use WhatsApp, take photos and so on, it draws them closer to their children.” The finance class is another example that is very popular among women. Many low-income women have limited education and understand almost nothing about money management and investment, or about share trading, mutual funds, fixed-term deposits and other such concepts. This keeps them from effectively planning their own savings, and sometimes makes them fall victim to fraud schemes.

 

A year into the programme, more and more neighbourhood residents have become aware of the Mutual Aid Centre. Kelvin and Terence both find outreach work more challenging than “sitting in the centre” – at least it requires more physical strength and stamina. But as they see the centre increasingly solving problems for working-class residents and enhancing their happiness index, they say in unison, “The challenge is worth it!”

  Interviewed by: Or Wing Man

  Edited by: Fu Tak Iam Foundation Editorial Board

  Translated by: Stacy Mosher

 

Is it a poverty-alleviation programme?

 

Is it a Health programme?

 

Is it a Depression-prevention programme?

 

Is it a Family service?

 

Is it an After-school tutoring programme?

 

Is it a Legal counselling service?

 

Is it a Financial and technology Literacy class?

 

In fact, it’s all of the above. Welcome to the Caritas Kwai Chung Residents’ Mutual Aid Centre!

 

 

With the full support of the Fu Tak Iam Foundation, the Caritas Kwai Chung Residents’ Mutual Aid Centre launched a five-year service programme in July 2018. The Mutual Aid Centre provides multifaceted services to Kwai Chung’s low-income families, grassroots workers, children from low-income families, people suffering from depression, and single-parent families, aimed at enhancing their capacity to resolve difficulties and improve their family relationships. The long-term plan is to build a community of harmonious neighbourhood.

 

Photo by Drew Willson on Unsplash

 

In Kwai Chung’s Kwong Fai Circuit, many women bring their children to the park to relax in the shade and play. For the casual observer, this is a very ordinary scene, but it reflects a hardship in the lives of these women. “Kwong Fai Circuit is made up of sub-divided flats, and the living environment is very cramped; they need to get out.” Lee Siu-kan (Kelvin), Project leader for the Caritas Hong Kong Community Development Service, shares what he has observed.

 


 

Outreach to five districts breaks through geographical boundaries to serve

 

The Mutual Aid Centre focuses on outreach services. Mainly covering Kwai Fong, Kwai Hing, Kwai Shing, Kwai Chung Estate and Tai Lin Pai Road, the centre’s social workers make contact with blue-collar workers at public housing estates or other places where they gather. They initially get to know them through activities such as free blood pressure checks, occupational health kiosks, and assistance with applying for working family allowances, low-income working family allowances and utilities allowances. Many neighbourhood residents work long hours and aren’t aware of the community resources available to them. Outreach services give them access to the community resources they need right where they spend most of their time. Even more importantly, the social workers respectfully listen to their views. The Senior Supervisor of Caritas Community Development Service, Mui Kwan-wai (Terence), adds, “Government allowances make life less difficult, but the application process is complicated, and many people don’t know how to fill out the forms. Our street kiosks can help with this.”

 

After residents become acquainted with social workers on the street, they visit the Mutual Aid Centre and allow social workers to gain a better understanding of their problems. Social workers carry out assessments and provide assistance geared toward the entire household.

 

Ah-Ching, around 55 years old, took part in occupational injury and emotional assessment activities organized for workers downstairs in her housing estate. After that, she contacted the Mutual Aid Centre and joined its eight-lesson programme on “Preventing and Easing Workplace Injuries.” Keeping her hair cut short and usually in a track suit, Ah-Ching says she’s always enjoyed sports, but her work at the factory leaves her too tired and with too little time to exercise. “My shoulders ache, and so do the joints of my fingers, so I don’t feel like exercising.” Ah-Ching went to a public hospital for treatment of her body aches years ago, but the brief 15-minute therapy sessions didn’t resolve the problem.

 

 

Fig.1 : Counselling service for individuals under high stress

Fig.2 : Employment Service

Fig.3 : EQ Training Course for children

Fig. 4: Stress Management workshops for women

 

 

The Mutual Aid Centre’s programme is carried out in cooperation with the Nursing Department of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Each segment is devoted to teaching stretching exercises for the shoulders, neck, back and other parts of the body, and a physical therapist teaches the best ways to lift and carry heavy objects. The classes emphasize using motion to ease pain and avoid medication. This was one of the things that attracted Ah-Ching to continue with the classes. “After taking the workplace injury class, my shoulders have become much more relaxed.”

 


 

Organizing support groups focusing on mental health

 

The mutual aid centre is especially concerned with the mental health of grassroots residents, and uses various activities to understand people’s mental state and provide guidance at the earliest opportunity. But neighbourhood residents don’t like to talk about their mental stress, so how can social workers learn about their needs? Kelvin uses the example of the workplace injury classes. The first half of classes teach fundamental exercises, but the second half discusses work and family pressures and the problems that participants are experiencing. “Neighbourhood residents worry that health problems will affect their ability to earn a livelihood, but these classes tell them that they need to reinvest in themselves.” Kelvin shared that women are a main target of the centre’s services. While learning about their mental pressures, the centre guides them to not focus all their attention on their families or children, but to also appreciate their personal worth. “We want women to pay more attention to their own needs and take a breather from the strenuous demands of their household duties.”

 

Emotional assessment and brief counselling service also start with social workers at the street kiosks. This programme can be considered a Caritas specialty. Over the course of nearly ten years, the Mutual Aid Centre has brought many women back from the brink of depression. Kelvin says that apart from an initial one-on-one meeting, other contact is through small groups. This encourages women or workers to establish relationships of mutual aid and trust among themselves. “When neighbourhood residents know there are others with similar backgrounds, it makes them feel less alone. This allows people to speak out more freely and talk about their family or work pressures.” The project begins in the streets and continues with seeking support at the Mutual Aid Centre, and then forms mutual aid networks to jointly solve the problems they face.

 


 

Pro-bono legal services

 

Health, economic and family problems are connected, and when one reaches crisis mode, it has a domino effect on the rest of a person’s life. Kelvin says that about 5% of the district’s households consist of single-parent families, and most of these women are tangled in divorce issues. Many blue-collar workers also need to submit claims for workplace injury reimbursements. “Problems relating to divorce or workplace injuries always involve complicated paperwork and processes that have a major effect on a person’s emotions and livelihood.”

 

The Mutual Aid Centre’s pro-bono legal counselling service provides answer to the legal puzzles of confused and vulnerable residents. Hong Kong’s legal fees are very expensive, and even middle class people find them overwhelming, not to mention the working class. Terence adds, “A lot of women know absolutely nothing about the divorce process and are worried about legal fees, so they inevitably feel terrified. That makes the monthly legal consultations we offer here especially valuable.”

 


 

Establishing mutual aid networks to jointly resolve difficulties

 

Social workers regularly visit Kwong Fai Circuit, where there is a heavy concentration of subdivided flats. They organize residents to come together to discuss the problems that affect them, such as rodent infestation. “Now we’ve gotten to know the landlords and tenants of the entire building, and we’re discussing how to make improvements. Earlier we held a residents’ meeting.” Because many grassroots workers leave home early and return late, neighbours don’t know each other, and even when they face common problems, it’s hard for them to solve them together. The Mutual Aid Centre’s social workers help draw neighbours together and hold regular residents’ meetings where people can get to know each other, hear each other’s views, and build an atmosphere of “all being in the same boat.” “Dealing with rodent infestation is difficult enough, but what we most hope to accomplish is for them to establish relationships as neighbours. Some tenants are afraid that expressing their views will affect their leases, but we’ve discovered that landlords also want to improve the environment, and that helps form a dialog between them,” Kelvin says.

 

 

Fig.5 Caritas Community Development Senior Supervisor Terence Mui (left) & Project Leader Kelvin Lee (Right)

 

 

Fig.6 Outreach acitivities in the neighborhood

 


 

Extended hours, flexible and multifaceted services

 

The Mutual Aid Centre is open Monday through Saturday, from 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM. These unusually extended service hours are meant to allow neighbourhood residents to visit the centre and participate in its various activities after work or during breaks. All of the activities are tailored to their needs. One example is the smart phone class. Kelvin observes that some older people have difficulty using smartphones, and this causes friction with their children. This group enhances their knowledge of how to use smart phones. “What’s interesting is they initially worry about friction with their children, but once they learn how to use WhatsApp, take photos and so on, it draws them closer to their children.” The finance class is another example that is very popular among women. Many low-income women have limited education and understand almost nothing about money management and investment, or about share trading, mutual funds, fixed-term deposits and other such concepts. This keeps them from effectively planning their own savings, and sometimes makes them fall victim to fraud schemes.

 

A year into the programme, more and more neighbourhood residents have become aware of the Mutual Aid Centre. Kelvin and Terence both find outreach work more challenging than “sitting in the centre” – at least it requires more physical strength and stamina. But as they see the centre increasingly solving problems for working-class residents and enhancing their happiness index, they say in unison, “The challenge is worth it!”