I was fortunate enough to represent Australia, QUT and myself during an amazing whirlwind week in Hong Kong for Humanitarian Affair’s 6th University Scholars Leadership Symposium, which was co-organised with Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU).
Whilst not my first time in Hong Kong, the opportunities afforded to me during the week made it a totally new experience, punctuated by truly inspirational speakers, great friends and eye-opening experiences.
I arrived in Hong Kong early Saturday morning on the 1 August and ventured to the hotel with a taxi driver that looked like he belonged in a hardcore punk band.
My roommates were Rita, from “the homeland of the Panda” in China, Erin from Kentucky and Ariana, from El Paso in Texas. We all got along very well and these girls were some of my closest friends by the end of the week.
Once unpacked, we ventured out with a group of approximately 20 (mainly Australians) to lunch and- unwisely- climbed 1,000 steps up the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin with full bellies and in the heat. Each Buddha was unique and the incredible views from the top made it so worth it!
That night we happened to meet Ashley and Horace (representing University of Western Australia) in the lobby and caught a taxi to Aqua Bar together to take in the amazing views of Hong Kong at night. However, the night was not complete until a trip to McDonalds and a crazy taxi ride home in which we relentlessly tried to find the radio station with the best Chinese music, but ended up settling for American music from the 80s.
We rose early on Sunday for our first day of the symposium. The Opening Ceremony was fantastic, and was an opportunity for delegates to wear their traditional costumes and listen to amazing music by the PolyU Orchestra.
We were greeted by the PolyU Acting-President, Professor Angelina Yuen, Janice Leong, the Humanitarian Affairs Regional Director, the Honourable Matthew Cheung Kin-Chung, Secretary for Labour and Welfare in Hong Kong, and the Honourable Tony Simpson, Minister for Youth for Western Australia.
In the afternoon, we listened to the Keynote Address, by Mr Haloing Xu, the Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations New York, Director for the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific United Nations Development Program.
Mr Xu discussed resilience, education and the “4 Ps – Peace, Planet, Prosperity and People”, and the UN’s goal to totally eradicate extreme poverty – i.e. those living on less than $1.25 per day (60 million people in the Asia Pacific are living in extreme poverty). He also discussed how 75% of disaster fatalities worldwide are in the Asia Pacific, and how it is therefore important to have a “Resilience Agenda” to promote early warnings and disaster reduction during peacetime, because if it’s not resilient, it is not sustainable.
In the afternoon, we listened to Dr Rosana Wong, a youth social worker, on “Living a Purposeful Life”, who discussed the importance of serving others, being courageous, and not letting money get in the way of your happiness. Ms Wong said to be successful there cannot be passion alone, and instead, we must have focused and sustainable goals.
On day 2 of the Symposium, we first listened to Francis Ngai, CEO of Social Ventures. Mr Ngai is passionate about social ventures and venture philanthropy and discussed how we should be materialising our social minds. Mr Ngai has been involved in a number of projects, including GreenMonday (vegetarian Mondays in HK), Diamond Cabs (wheelchair access taxis), LightBe (housing for homeless) and Run Our City (motivating young people through marathons). Mr Ngai has run endurance marathons in the Gobi Desert and the North Pole and how the disciplines required to train and compete in marathons should be applied to daily life.
The founder of Faith in Love Foundation, Gigi Chao, spoke to us in the afternoon about the power of giving, and shared with us her personal conversation she has daily and the two approaches she has:
1) Maximise lives saved, focus on low-hanging fruit;
2) Transform lives.
Her speech was very engaging and she shared with us many resonating quotes and stories from philosophers and historians.
On day 3 of the Symposium, we each went on our different Learning Journeys. I went with 20 other female delegates to Bethune House, a refuge for migrant women who had experienced domestic violence.
Most of the women were Indonesian domestic housekeepers who had been abused by their employees and had their labour rights violated. Most of the women had children who they had to leave behind in Indonesia while they wait for their cases to be heard. Their stories were heartbreaking but despite everything the women were incredibly kind and their optimism for the future was amazing. We were divided into two groups at the shelter, with half of the girls cleaning the inside of the shelter and the other half outside preparing their security gate for a fresh coat of paint. We took a break by visiting a restaurant for lunch that serves vegetarian food that looks like meat – was quite an unusual experience!
In the afternoon we continued to paint before parting ways with the women. I think they appreciated the work we did (which they would otherwise do themselves) and we all left hoping the women are able to return to a better life soon.
That night we went to the Peak and took in the amazing views of Hong Kong, before indulging in Burger King and heading to Lan Kwai Fong for a fun night out!
On day 4 we listened to a series of fantastic speakers.
Firstly, we heard from Chandra Nair, Founder and CEO of the Global Institute for Tomorrow on “Your 21st Century – Facebook or Face Life?”. Mr Nair is an intellectual, controversial speaker who challenged the ideals of most of us in the room through his discussion about sustainable development and how we all need to stop seeking validation through social media.
Later, I chose to attend Geraldine Cox’s session “Thinking Beyond Yourself”, which was incredibly moving. Geraldine has had a very interesting life, discussing how she lived a very self-absorbed and luxurious life until she visited Cambodia. Geraldine was unable to be a mother herself, but when she was 50 she started Sunrise Children’s Foundation in Cambodia and is now the mother of more than 400 under-privileged children. Her stories were equally tragic and uplifting, and it was great to hear how fulfilling Geraldine finds her work in Cambodia.
In the afternoon we listened to David James Begbie, the Director of Crossroads Foundation. Crossroads Foundation had coordinated the Refugee Run on the Learning Journey, and David is an incredible and engaging public speaker. He discussed the work of Crossroads and how the global community needs to be better educated and more compassionate in order to take action to protect refugees, as the only difference between us and them is circumstance.
Tonight we found a great place for dinner – Dim Tai Fung – which we returned to for more the following night!
Day 5 of the Symposium meant our time in Hong Kong was coming to a close. In the morning I listened to Kim Solomon, CEO of Humanitarian Affairs talk about the plight of street children in Mongolia and the volunteer trip that is being planned through Humanitarian Affairs.
Afterwards, we heard from Dr Thomas Chan, a Chinese neurosurgeon and Chairman of the Advisory Council of World Vision China about doing work that touches you and having a meaningful career.
Following lunch, the Closing Ceremony commenced. We heard from the Guest of Honour, The Honourable Eddie Ng Hak-Kim, Secretary of Education and Janice Leong.
We heard from the experience of several delegates, before listening to a performance by the PolyU Orchestra and the Hong Kong Performing Arts.
Everyone was very sad that the Symposium was coming to a close but we all made a promise not to return to our ordinary lives, and instead to apply what we have learnt to make a difference -however big or small- to the lives of those around us.