Volunteering Abroad

By Megan Wong

Through the Agency of Volunteer Service of Hong Kong, I delivered hot meals and necessities to impoverished families around Tsuen Wan, a market town on the outskirts. As I entered each of the homes, I was stunned. On each floor of the buildings where the families lived was a conventional flat; however, the original flat was divided into five more units, each no more than a hundred square feet in area. In front of me, I saw families living an overcrowded yet isolated existence, sparking within me disbelief and outrage. It was difficult to believe I was still in Hong Kong; how could Asia’s “World City” blatantly ignore the vital needs of its citizens.

In a prominent international finance hub, 25%  of the city’s population still lives below the poverty line. Hong Kong’s tug of war game between wealth and poverty is insidious and is symbolic of my hometown in its truest form. While walking around the city, constant reminders of poverty bombarded me wherever I wandered, be it a woman digging through the garbage for a meal, or a man kneeling on the sidewalk, begging for money.

During the visit, I learned that the rent for each flat was USD $385 per month, a hefty sum for a struggling family of four with only one principal wage earner. “What are we to do? We have no other choice but to scrape together the rent each month,” one frazzled woman said, struggling as she attempted to turn on their dingy and dilapidated air conditioner. The mother of two also explained to me that while the rent of their flat increased in USD $100 each year, her husband’s salary remained stagnant.

As I walked out of the apartment building, having heard each family’s story, I knew I wanted to continue helping. Seeing the families’ pleased faces as we handed them their dinners only fueled this passion. To witness the severe poverty in the areas where no investment banker or designer-clad housewife would dare tread has changed my perspective entirely. Though I was lucky enough to grow up in a financially stable household, I understand that many others grew up in a starkly different situation. As such, I believe that the people of Hong Kong can no longer afford for the wealthy to remain apathetic as the less fortunate continue to suffer. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing at an alarming pace; the fact that the middle-class population acknowledges the severity of this problem and frown upon it makes the matter all the more unacceptable.

Featured image by Anne Roberts on Flickr

Megan is a rising sophomore; she is currently undeclared but thinking about studying Business Administration or Communication with a minor in French. A native of Hong Kong, Megan loves living in big cities and exploring all parts of them. Having attended boarding school in a small town in British Columbia, Canada for her last three years of school, an extreme change from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, Megan can relate to adjusting to life in a new setting or place. Additionally, she is fluent in Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), and proficient in French. Megan also has a lot of tutoring experience, from tutoring younger girls in her boarding house with a multitude of subjects, to tutoring high school students preparing for the SAT in the reading and writing sections. She also has spent a lot of time traveling, and hopes to continue this at USC with a semester abroad. In her free time, Megan loves trying new places to eat in LA, spending time with her friends and family, and watching new TV shows.