On the 19th of December, a group of subcommittee members from the Social Service division visited elderly living alone in the Central and Western District on a trip organised by our charity partner, Happy Grannies. Here are their reflections on their visits!
This service trip organized by Happy Grannies was one of the highlights of my Christmas break. I wasn’t expecting to be able to continue doing community service regularly after moving to London for studies. I am really grateful that I participated in this event, and to know in my community there are still many Hong Kong teenagers who care about the local minorities.
On this outing we were split into groups of 3 to visit elderlies who live alone in Sheung Wan. My group visited 2 grandpas. We brought them gifts and chatted with them. While this was not a new experience for me, I was quite surprised that both of them were very knowledgable about the world. I still remember one of them could speak fluent English and questioned us about the history of the Soviet Union. His exposure to world politics really impressed me, and this further reminded me not to underestimate the elderly. We should not stereotype that grannies are all weak, old and hard to talk to; they are very interesting people, they are unique, and there is a lot to learn from them. Many volunteers going to services think that it is a one way thing; they help the people they’re visiting. However, as mentioned by the founder of Happy Grannies, these visits are actually two way. We also get something from the elderly. I really did experience this.
Nowadays, many people, especially teenagers like us, choose to volunteer in far places like Cambodia or African countries. This trip reminded me that in the place that we’ve grown up in, our very own home, there are a lot of people in need. Just like the elderly we visited, they do not need much from us. What makes them happy is not gifts (I still remember one of the elderly kept forcing us to get money back from him for the gifts), but instead is our hour of company. Why do we tend to care more about other places, before making an effort to make our own community better? This trip has made me reflect a lot, and I cannot wait for my next visit.
The visit was wonderfully enlightening and has deepened my understanding of Hong Kong. The elderly issue has always been a prominent one in the city and I feel like I now know more about it after this visit. Though in the bustle and hustle of Central, the two grannies I visited live in solitude and below average quality housing. The contrast between the prosperous facade of the business district and the decayed interior heightens the irony even further. I find their loneliness particularly sad as they worked so hard all their lives to provide for the young (one of them is a 馬姐 without kids) but in the end these children refused even to visit them once in a while. I also find their fortitude against poverty and illness extremely inspiring: managing her own house from cleaning to cooking at the age of 93 is certainly a remarkable achievement. This prompts me to question my past attitude towards the elderly I know: have I unknowingly patronised them in the past, forbidding them to do things they like and find meaningful? Have I belittled their ability and strength? Have I rudely applied my own standards on them without listening to their perspectives? Would I not want to be treated with respect when I am old? I do not have the answers to these questions yet, but I feel like I have started to put myself in the elderly's shoes. This visit, although very brief, has truly given me new insights.
When asked about the impression of Hong Kong, I am sure that most people would come up with the delicious cuisine, crowded shopping centres or the gorgeous view along the Victoria Harbour. But how many would have remembered that behind all those skyscrapers live some lonely elderly who desperately need our help and care? This visit gave us the precious chance to take a break from our studies and learn more about our beloved city.
We visited two elderly, and the visit to Mr. Yuen’s home was particularly depressing. Mr Yuen lives in a sub-divided flat in Sheung Wan and is supported by the CSSA Scheme. The room is so small and cramped that it is not possible for the three of us visiting to fit in, and the environment is dark, moist and dirty. Both of the elderly do not have any children, but Mr. Yuen does have three nephews, of which two are doctors and the last a teacher. However, none of them are willing to stop by and pay a visit or providing support to their uncle, either emotionally or financially.
While it would be easy to point fingers as their closest family for neglecting their elders, at the same time we cannot disregard the role of the government in this issue. The Hong Kong community has been divided more than ever in recent years. Political polarity in society has made governance challenging. People like Mr Yuen and other elderly suffer as a result. With a new Chief Executive elected next year, would the issues like retirement protection be addressed more often? Would the livelihood of the elderly and the needy be improved? Only time can tell. What we should do now is to give our love and care to our loved ones and make them our “Happy Grannies”!