Aid Group Returns To Hong Kong, With Different Mission
From left to right: Film director Alfred Cheung, Legislative Council member
Paul Chan, George Ross, the director of Plan International's aid program in
Hong Kong during the 1960s, former Chief Executive of Hong Kong
Consumer Council Pamela Chan and James Murray, CEO of Plan
HONG KONG -- Non-profit organization Plan International officially opened its fundraising office last Wednesday, offering a concrete example of Hong Kong's advancement over the past 50 years.
"Today, we are announcing a comeback," Plan International board member Darwin Chen said at the press conference in late June. "In a way, this is a story of rebirth and reincarnation."
The last time the group had a presence in Hong Kong, it worked to provide aid for Chinese children in need. It closed those offices in1973, deciding that the territory was becoming more prosperous and was no longer in need of urgent help.
Returning to the territory over 30 years later, the organization will use its Hong Kong office as a base to raise funds for other countries in need, a much different objective than before.
"Hong Kong has changed from a city which needed international support to a city which is able to give support themselves," Chen said.
James Murray, the chief executive officer of Plan International, said that the decision to return to Hong Kong was not made overnight. He said the decision was based on the gradual success of Hong Kong and the organization's long history with the territory.
Plan International first opened its offices in Hong Kong in 1959, when the organization was called Foster Parents Plan. Operating there during the 1960s and 1970s, the organization was present in Hong Kong during a crucial time, when an influx of migrants fled from mainland China to the then-British colony seeking work and a better life.
"There was a time [in Hong Kong] when entire families had to sleep in one bed," Murray said. "And then in the next bed, you'd find another family."
Murray hopes that the 50-year history between Hong Kong and Plan International won't be easily forgotten among Hong Kongers.
"There's this idea that people in Hong Kong are generous," Murray said. "And that this generosity stems from what we did for them before."
Alfred Cheung, a prominent film director in Hong Kong and a past beneficiary of the organization, is an example of someone who hasn't forgotten his past with Plan International and is returning the favor to the organization.
"I will always remember that somebody helped me out," Cheung said. "Now it's time for me to help."
Cheung, who was sponsored through Plan International when his father was working in mainland China and his mother was busy taking care of three children, is now sponsoring three children of his own. The first official sponsor of Plan International in Hong Kong, Cheung offers aid to two children in mainland China and one in Cambodia through the same monthly donation he once received as a child.
"There are a lot of charity organizations in Hong Kong," Cheung said. "But this one is different for me because of my deep and profound relationship with them."
With its new office in Hong Kong, Plan International now runs fundraising bureaus in 18 developed countries across the world, using its funds to support and apply programs in 48 developing countries. Though the organization now offers aid that spans from countries in South America and Africa to the Middle East and Asia, Plan International was first started in 1937 as an effort to offer food, education and other accommodations to children who were negatively affected by the Spanish Civil War.
Though Plan International has been around for over 70 years, its method for raising funds has remained the same throughout its existence, through sponsors donating HK$200 a month (about 25 U.S. dollars), which is then distributed to separate communities in developing countries across the world. Though aiding individual children is a positive byproduct of the organization, Plan International's mission is to improve children's lives through improving the community in which they live, Murray said.
The money raised in Hong Kong will primarily be put toward a variety of community projects across Asia, which includes programs in Cambodia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and mainland China. From implementing a school nutrition program in mainland China to building water sanitation facilities in Vietnamese schools and teaching children journalism in Sri Lanka, the programs' objectives vary depending on each community's direct needs.
Another characteristic of Plan International is its method of distributing funds directly to community members who play an active role in each project's implementation, a technique which speaks of the organization's fundamental belief that a community in need will take care of itself when given the resources.
"If you give the chance for mothers to make money themselves, they will," Murray said.
George Ross, who was the international executive director for Plan International during its time in Hong Kong, agrees that the organization's method of community involvement rings positive.
"It's a privilege to work with an organization that understands the importance of working with the clients," Ross said, who spent most of his 25 years with Plan International in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is the fourth country in Asia to provide financial aid through a fundraising office. Though Plan International's relationship with mainland China is currently only to provide support, the organization hopes to one day operate in one of mainland China's metropolitan cities.
"When regulations in China permit, I believe that the day will come where we will have an office in mainland China," Murray said. "And that the people in mainland will prove to be just as generous as the people in Hong Kong."
China's role in organizations like Plan International are important for members like Ross, who note the emerging significance of China as a powerful country and key contender in world affairs.
"When I was a kid, I studied Latin as a second language. Now, my kids are learning Mandarin," Ross said. "Isn't that a fantastic change that is going on in the world?"