Sun, Jul 19, 2009 - Page 5 News List

HK global charity changes tack

THE WORK CONTINUES After an absence of 36 years, a family charity is returning to the bustling financial center to help children with sponsorship programs


When Paul Chan was six years old he got a lucky break and began a life which mirrors the success of his hometown, Hong Kong.

Chan? family had fled to the then-British colony to escape terrible poverty in southern China and worries about the new communist regime, which took power in 1949.

Like many in the wave of refugees that flooded into the city, they lived in terrible conditions. The family home was a wooden squatter hut with no running water.

Chan, who was born in 1955, was supported by a US military officer and his wife, although he never met them. Their donations were administered through a charity called Foster Parents Plan.

Workers at the charity also helped him change school, a move that allowed the self-confessed ?aughty schoolboy?to flourish. He became a qualified accountant, runs his own firm and has risen to become one of Hong Kong? 60 lawmakers.

?he school move changed my life substantially. It taught me discipline,?he said.

The charity, which has since been renamed Plan International, helped more than 12,000 children and their families in Hong Kong before it left the city in 1973.

Now it is returning to the 苑ustling financial hub, but this time as a fundraising operation to collect cash that can help people living in poorer countries.

For Darwin Chen, a board member of the Hong Kong operation, the return of Plan shows how quickly Hong Kong has developed into a first world city.

?e were in Hong Kong at a time when Hong Kong really needed help, with lots of refugees coming in,?he said.

?Our return] demonstrates how Hong Kong has changed from a city that needed overseas support and charity, to a city that is now able to give our support to needy people elsewhere,?he said.

Plan was founded 70 years ago during the Spanish Civil War to help children, often through a sponsorship program linking the poor with specific donors. It now operates in more than 49 developing countries, providing education, healthcare and micro-finance for vulnerable communities.

It has extensive operations in China, where it is aiding curriculum reform, teacher training and improved school nutrition in various provinces.

The fundraising operation aims to tap the growing philanthropy in Hong Kong, which has often been directed at large buildings or institutions rather than grassroots charities.

As part of the drive, Plan is trying to track down the 12,000 people who received help from the charity during its first incarnation here.

One who benefited from Plan? work in Hong Kong was actor and film director Alfred Cheung. He lived with 34 other people in just four rooms after some of his family fled to Hong Kong from the mainland in the 1960s.

Cheung remembers Plan? rule that all those who received money had to write monthly letters to their sponsor families.

?erhaps that is why I became a script director,?he said.

George Ross, who founded the Hong Kong branch and returned to the city for the recent launch of the fundraising office, said the charity provided dignity to the refugees.

?he families that we enrolled here in Hong Kong lived under the most outrageous circumstances,?the 84-year-old US citizen said.

?any, many of them lived on a bedspace in a tenement. Children slept on the bed and parents under the bed. Others lived in a shack on the hillside,?he said.

He said simply providing clean school uniforms for the children was hugely important.

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