The AmCham Charitable Foundation, founded in 1985 and governed by a Board of Trustees composed of AmCham’s past chairmen currently residing in Hong Kong, aims to support philanthropic and other charitable projects as a way of giving back to the community of Hong Kong. This year, amidst the 10th anniversary of a partnership with American Women’s Association (AWA), AmCham has approved a donation of HK$230,000 in support of five local charities dedicated to helping the underprivileged and needy

By Johnson Moon

At AWA's Awards Tea Ceremony: (from left) AmCham Charitable Foundation Chairman Peter Levesque, AWA's Charitable Donations Committee Chair Andrea Roth, AmCham President Richard R Vuylsteke, AmCham Charitable Foundation Trustees James Sun and Jon Zinke
At AWA’s Awards Tea Ceremony: (from left) AmCham Charitable Foundation Chairman Peter Levesque, AWA’s Charitable Donations Committee Chair Andrea Roth, AmCham President Richard R Vuylsteke, AmCham Charitable Foundation Trustees James Sun and Jon Zinke

This year marks the 10th anniversary of a very special partnership between the American Women’s Association (AWA) and AmCham’s Charitable Foundation in supporting local charities across the community of Hong Kong where AmCham’s commitment to giving back to society has made a significant impact by providing financial assistance to smaller, lesser known charities focusing on helping children, elderly, and disadvantaged groups with special needs.

Each year, AWA accepts grant proposals from local charities and conducts a vetting process to identify those that correspond with the core mission of supporting philanthropic, medical, education, and other charitable projects in Hong Kong, while a board of trustees of the AmCham Charitable Foundation reviews a list of charities recommended for a donation.

In 2016, AmCham approved a grant of HK$230,000 to support five local charities. It was made possible by the generous support of AmCham members and friends through various fundraising events, including the AmCham Ball and annual Charitable Foundation Dinner, during the year. Awards were presented at a ceremony where AWA President Marcy LaRont highlighted a total grant of over HK$1 million to 23 charitable projects.

“What brings us together is the awardees, and I want to mention that the US Consulate has the honor to work with many of the awardees here,” US Deputy Consul General Tom Cooney says, reflecting on the purpose of the celebration and what it means for the US Consulate. “I was able to realize just how much effort and work goes into vetting charities for donation and how much work it takes to put together such a wonderful event like this,” says Peter Levesque, Chairman of AmCham Charitable Foundation and COO of Modern Terminals, noting the value of AmCham’s partnership with AWA.   The award ceremony was filled with excitement and sincere gratitude for the support. Here are the five local charities which have received funding from AmCham Charitable Foundation in 2016.

19 (new)Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge

The Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge is devoted to providing shelter services (food and accommodation), emergency relief and medical assistance, guidance, counseling and psycho-social activities for Asian migrant women, mainly foreign domestic helpers. The grant will be used directly to support The Health Program, which ensures the total wellbeing of the migrant women.

“We have a Filipina who was indecently assaulted by her employer. She got sick because of a polyp in the brain and she was in coma for several months,” Edwina Antonio, Executive Director of Bethune House, recalls.   “While in the shelter, she was able to finally recover, and she was even able to develop her artistic side –   painting and photography. Janet Pancho Gupta is now a well-known artist and she has an ongoing photo exhibition entitled Finding Inner Space at the Culture Club.”

Gupta attributes her success to Bethune House, highlighting the dedication to assisting foreign domestic helpers in crisis, helping to cope with problems and empowering their psycho-social, health and spiritual welfare by offering holistic care services.

“Having a support system coupled with health seminars and sports may very well be the key to holding on to hope and faith in life, in themselves and their peers,” Antonio says, adding that migrant workers are an integral part of Hong Kong and deserve care, respect and the protection of their rights.

Enrich Personal Development 

Enrich Personal Development is another local charity dedicated to migrant women, specifically the promotion of economic empowerment among them by providing financial education, life guidance, and one-to-one counseling tailored to the needs of those in financial crisis. The grant will fund the Financial Mentoring Programme, which provides in-depth, professional and long-term financial guidance for migrant women.

The idea was born out of the realization that many migrant women in Hong Kong are faced with important financial decisions and even debt crisis but lack the practical knowledge to address those issues. Enrich aims to equip them with tools to become financially capable, achieve their life goals and create positive long-term impact for themselves, their families and their communities.

“The first thing I focused on with my mentor was to get my debts all paid off,” recalls Marivic Castillo, a participant of the Financial Mentoring Programme which ran for six months with 10 mentor-mentee pairs.   “Once I paid off my debts, I opened a savings account. I learned to stick to my budget using a formula of taking my salary, setting aside money for my savings and then using the rest for my expenses. I am now able to keep track of my expenses every day.”

“Through the Financial Mentoring Programme, Marivic was able to work on concrete steps towards her financial goals,” says Project Officer Victoria Ahn. “At Enrich we believe that through financial education, many migrant domestic workers can get out and stay out of debt and achieve their goals.”

Hong Kong Society for the Blind

The Hong Kong Society for the Blind (HKSB) aims to facilitate the equal participation of people with visual impairment in Hong Kong, with services in rehabilitation, educational support, employment guidance, information technology applications and residential care.   The grant will be used for the acquisition of vibration training platform and recumbent stepper to enhance the training for people with multiple disabilities (MDVI) as a treatment and preventive measure against osteoporosis.

The story of a 46-year-old patient previously diagnosed with mental retardation and visual impairment and later with osteoporosis following an accident in which his left femur was fractured is an example of the challenges faced by people with multiple disabilities, notes Wilson Lam, a physiotherapist at HKSB, depicting how disruptive osteoporosis can be to one’s life.

“He is now under rehabilitation and can only walk with a walking frame and with the help of an assistant,” Lam points out. “His mobility is limited, and his daily routine and quality of life are affected since the fracture. He can’t work in his job as a shopkeeper because he is physically unable to stand independently for a period of time. We are now trying to provide rehabilitation training to bring him back to his normal life.”

Lam believes prevention and proper management of osteoporosis for patients can greatly alleviate their hardship. Although osteoporosis has been shown to occur with high prevalence among people with developmental disability, exercise is proven form of effective management. HKSB therefore anticipates to establish a training platform with adequate equipment to improve the bone density and muscle strength of those diagnosed with the medical condition.


Fragile X Hong Kong

Fragile X Hong Kong is dedicated to providing support and advocacy in the community Hong Kong for individuals with fragile X syndrome, a genetic disease associated with damage to an X chromosome and intellectual disability. The grant will be used to sponsor a series of workshops designed for those affected by the disease as a way to provide accurate and timely information and to foster a sense of community among participants.

Recognizing a lack of access to experts and care specific to fragile X syndrome, Fragile X strives to build a community of affected families and to connect them with healthcare professionals and researchers in order to provide the most accurate and reliable information, helping to facilitate a positive mindset throughout their journey of coping with the disease and to raise awareness and understanding about the medical condition across Hong Kong.

One of the many families who have attended the support groups provided by Fragile X Hong Kong says they can now share resources and mutual encouragement with other families living with fragile X. Additionally, through the network, they are able to establish a firm connection with a fragile X expert who can provide them with professional advice and treatment.

With the upcoming workshop series, Fragile X hopes to build an even stronger network among the affected families through interactions which will lead to a greater amount of emotional support and a better sense of community. The organization also expects the workshops to further bridge those affected with experts in the medical field for access to up-to-date information.

Integrated Brilliant Education Trust

Integrated Brilliant Education Trust (IBET) is a provider of high quality educational support services to underprivileged children in Hong Kong for ethnic minority groups through afterschool Cantonese programs at IBET’s Education Center. The grant will help the center employ qualified teachers to supervise and manage these programs.

The IBE Center, which has gone through rigorous education assessment, is a place for an affordable, high quality supplementary education to fulfill the educational needs and to provide equal opportunities for ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, with a special focus on Cantonese language proficiency for underprivileged ethnic minorities in schools across Hong Kong.

“IBEC is one of the finest tutoring centers where ethnic minority students are getting help with their everyday homework,” Thapa Sunita, a parent whose daughter attends the center, reflects. “Teachers are qualified, friendly and helpful to the students. My daughter has opened up herself, speaking and expressing herself more than before. She is very happy during her classes. As a mother, I am also very happy and grateful.”

“Our work at the center provides an insight into the problems facing ethnic minority students in schools of predominantly Chinese medium,” Founder Trustee of IBET Manoj Dhar believes. “It also provides us with valuable feedback on their various challenges which we can help tackle at the earliest stage possible.”