Accidental hero of HK$6,000 handouts
A man who spent his HK$6,000 government handout on buying food for Hong Kong's hungry has accidentally created a new movement to help the city's poor.
Benson Tsang Chi-ho was making a simple personal protest against the government's decision to give all permanent residents cash instead of using the money to help the people he believed really needed it.
He used his money to buy tins of food and hot meals from small, independent stores and restaurants in Sham Shui Po to feed the local poor.
A few of his friends decided to join in, using their HK$6,000 "as it should be used - back into the community".
Tsang, an interior designer, posted some pictures of their efforts on Facebook and then arranged some other "people's handouts" using the social network site.
The turning point came in February, after a government clean-up operation swooped without warning on street sleepers in Sham Shui Po. Their belongings, including bedding, identity cards, phones and clothes were confiscated and thrown away.
Tsang said: "I got so mad about it I started ranting on Facebook. That night, I brought clothes down to Sham Shui Po for [the street sleepers] but they were nowhere to be seen. It was really cold that night."
His outrage saw his actions gather momentum and now, a year and two months since the first "action" last March, 150 to 180 people gather once a month to try to make a difference. Most of them have never met each other before. And as of yesterday, 678 people had indicated on Facebook that they were taking part in the next of their planned events.
Tsang said: "It's completely decentralised and anonymous. No one needs to commit and everyone's encouraged to bring the idea back to their own neighbourhoods, or start their own actions."
Tsang said the aim wasn't just to "feed the poor" but to change the way people see others and to realise how powerful one's decisions can be.
"This is not about being sympathetic - we don't need that. It's about sharing. We are trying to rebuild community and relationships within a neighbourhood," he said.
Nise Sou Lai-sim, who does community development work in a church and has become a regular participant, said: "We don't raise funds, we don't need commitment, we have minimal organisation.
"Rather, we hope this experience will create bridges between people of different backgrounds.
"Our aim is to bring back the sense of neighbourly friendliness which Hong Kong has lost."
Sou became involved last October - at which time about 40 people were taking part - after coming across Tsang's Facebook posting about a "mooncake event", where the group was giving out 800 mooncakes which had been donated.
On Christmas Eve, she added, about 100 people turned up. She said talking to store owners, street sleepers, the elderly or cubicle dwellers was just as important as giving out food. "When you talk to people, your heart will change," she added.
She said it was also important to spend donations within the community itself. "If we buy cans of food from ParknShop and Wellcome, then the meaning is lost.
"This exercise is actually about bringing awareness. I changed the way I see, and so changed the way I consume.
"We want participants to realise this," added Sou, who said the movement had also spread to To Kwa Wan and Kowloon City.
Cyrus Hu Kwok-chum, who joined for the first time in December, said the initiative had made him aware of where food was made, and who would benefit from the money he spent.
"My eyes were opened," he added, saying he now counted street sleepers, local store and restaurant owners as well as the people collecting cardboard among his friends.
Hu works for a food import and export company and his bosses now donate food and drink which is close to their sell-by date and therefore cannot be sold to supermarkets.
Another participant Ban Chung Wing-sze, who works in publishing, was moved to act a year ago after seeing Tsang's pictures of elderly people collecting cardboard to sell in order to be able to eat that night.
"I was looking for a way to serving people, and saw that this was a good one," she said.
Tsang said 80 per cent of the people who indicated they would come to an event turned up.
Without a structure, Tsang said, he had named what was happening an "equal sharing initiative".
There are now around 20 people who help put together events.
The next one climaxes on May 26 and is all about "rediscovering your little neighbourhood stalls".
People are being asked to purchase five to 10 cans of food from different small, local shops, label them with the stores' addresses and paste pictures on Facebook.
On May 26 in Sham Shui Po, which has the lowest average household income in the city, participants will swap the cans of food then return to their own districts to hand out the tins to the local needy, said Tsang.
"We will create a network and map of all the local surviving stores all around the city, supporting them, while using our money to ultimately support the needy," added the man who started it all.