Young Hongkonger builds aid organization for migrants

March 23, 2016 17:43
Society should focus on four things to support migrants: language, healthcare, sports and professional development, says Pradyumn Dayal (inset). Photos: Ducky Tse Chi-tak

Meet Pradyumn Dayal.

At 16 years of age he has founded the aid organization Move4Migrants.

Born a native Hongkonger to Indian immigrants working in the banking sector, Pradyumn is one of the few South Asians in Hong Kong with a privileged upbringing.

As Pradyumn tells it, growing up he did not feel any connection to the wider immigrant community of 500,000 souls, consisting primarily of underprivileged minorities.

Rather, he was part of the “expat” community (the “nice word” for minorities as he says), and attended an international school as he was growing up in Hong Kong.

Simply put, he did not move about in the circles of the street salesmen, or attend one of the poorly funded and de facto segregated schools for minorities.

He wasn't part of their lives, and they weren't part of his life, a world apart. How could he be, when 51 percent of them couldn't even communicate with him in Cantonese and 32 percent lived under the poverty line?

But four years ago his perspective changed.

His doctor grandfather, a decorated war hero who runs free clinics for the poor, urged him to take an interest in humanitarian concerns.

And so 12-year old Pradyumn began visiting medical camps, community centers, temples, mosques and churches.

There he learned that the philanthropists of Hong Kong were engaged in providing the most basic healthcare, such as insulin injections, to impoverished families.

Some parents simply could not afford the injections for their children and went without, with severe consequences to their long-term health.

Other examples included teaching adults and children about basic hygiene, giving dietary advice and teaching young women Cantonese phrases, so that they might be able to at least ask for a female doctor, even if they'd likely still be denied by the government.

There was room for someone to do more, Pradyumn felt. He had to found an aid organization to help deal with the problem.

But before he could get started he would make sure to educate himself on the problem.

The next few years he spent much of his free time reading articles, observing minority children in schools, and meeting and talking to people in their communities, working out how some of them managed to buck the trend in rags-to-riches stories.

It became clear that the root problem was primarily one of integration, both in society and the job market, fueled primarily by a language deficit made only worse by the corrosive effects of poverty, poor healthcare and limited career options that are the natural consequences of unemployment.

The schools purportedly made it easier on minorities by relegating Cantonese to second language status. But in many cases these schools were running such severely substandard second-language classes that their students often graduated without fluency in any official language of their place of birth.

Without tools to integrate themselves the younger generation could not climb the walls that isolated them.

Yet the success stories Pradyumn encountered told him something different. The students from poor, linguistically isolated families who broke free, had Chinese friends and continued their studies were typically involved in some form of sports.

The language of sports established bonds where none had existed before, less obvious than education and healthcare but nonetheless essential to marginalized youth with nowhere else to belong.

Pradyumn had realized, through his studies, that the four things he needed to focus on were language, healthcare, sports and professional development.

Creating Move4Migrants, his organization has already partnered with United Christian Nethersole South Asian Health Services and Youth Diabetes Action to provide immigrant children with quality healthcare.

In order to help raise awareness and funds, Move4Migrants is organizing a number of activities, the earliest upcoming event being a sponsored Walkathon on June 19 that will recruit migrants and sell tickets to volunteer walkers.

The walkathon will start at the Hindu and Sikh temples in Happy Valley, and the Mosque in Kowloon, eventually crossing the Star Ferry as a symbol of their journey to Hong Kong from their old countries.

Following on the walkathon, a squash tournament will be held on Aug. 28, giving the minority youth a chance to play sports with other like-minded youth in Hong Kong.

Several months might seem like a long way off, but talking to Pradyum leaves me feeling genuinely inspired.

He's clearly got a robust organization under development with focused, concrete goals that will actually help the children for whom they are planning to provide healthcare and enrollment in sports programs.

For those who feel like buying a ticket and going for a walk with friendly, exotic foreigners, the email for registering for the activities is [email protected], and for any enquiries their contact number is 9231-3350.

Come and join these worthwhile events.

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A Hong Kong-based writer from Norway