Posted by Zamira Monteiro
This week, we interview David (name changed), a refugee from the Middle East who joyfully told us about winning the elections to be on the board of the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) at his children’s school. Refugees are largely invisible in Hong Kong, and because of this, there are never enough stories about how refugees can and do positively contribute to their local communities. When we heard David’s story, we just knew we had to share it with you.
Tell us about the situation in your home country? Why did you have to leave?
In my country, there is war. There are terrorist groups which occupy many areas, and the regions are not safe. There are bombings all the time, and because of that all the schools are closed. I came here for my children’s safety, for my family. Because of the job that I had, my life was in danger – certain forces were trying to track me down and kill me – so I had to leave to make sure my family was safe.
So what is life in Hong Kong like for your children?
My children get to go to school here. They get to do activities like football. They are class monitors and also prefects, so they are doing very well. But during the vacation time, it can become very difficult because they have no classes, no school activities, so what else can they do?
I understand that you’re very passionate about education too. Tell me about how you get involved with the school’s activities.
I believe that education is for all: whether you are a local Hong Kong child, an asylum seeker or a refugee child, all children must be able to have an education. I also join in the school’s activities. I help them when they need, and I also join the sports day and the PTA. Every year, for the last three years, I have even received a cup from the school for being a good father!
So the school knows that you and your family are refugees and they support you?
Yes, the school has been very understanding of our situation, and they are very supportive and helpful. The problem is not the school, but the government policy. The Hong Kong Government does not provide enough assistance. For example, they will give money for tuition, textbooks and for transport to school, but they give this money in December and school starts earlier in September. How can we pay those costs if we don’t have any income here? Also the government does not provide money for school uniforms, stationery or after-school activities. How can I provide these for my children if I am also not allowed to work?
So how is it that you ran for the PTA elections?
The school asked if I wanted to be in the PTA elections. At first I said no because I did not know about the election. But they insisted that I participate. So I said okay, even though I did not understand the process. I went there and then realised that it was an election! It is very difficult for me because I am the only one from my country in the PTA and English is not my first language. I thought it would be very hard. I was worried because it’s the first time that I have done something like this. The other parents had come prepared with ideas for programmes they wanted to do if they won the election, but of course I did not know that I had to write a speech. Luckily, I was the ninth speaker, so I had some time to think. I had nothing to lose, so I just spoke from my heart, with passion. I said that this school is my home and that I will be the first person to help with everything. The school organises a picnic every year, but I said that instead they can take the children and even their parents to museums so that they can learn more about Hong Kong culture and history – share this with the families, not just the students. My other idea is also to have a box in the school where everyone can anonymously donate items, especially new items, so that less advantaged students don’t have to use old, second-hand uniforms or other used items.
How did it feel when you won?
I was very surprised and confused. I remember someone told me that refugees cannot go to school in Hong Kong or be part of the PTA, but we can, I can. I thought I would have no voice in the school since I am an ethnic minority and not a Hong Konger, but I won. Everyone was hugging me, it was great.
So what do you want to do now that you are on the board of the PTA?
I remember I said in my speech that I don’t like only hearing people talk, I want to see action. So now, I want to see what I myself will do. I want to meet with parents and see what they need and pass on that information to the school. Also, I want them to know who a refugee is, who we are, and that refugees can be educated and professionals. I want the Hong Kong public to know that refugees are normal people, just like them.
Justice Centre staff and refugee advocates will be attending the Hong Kong Institute of Education’s (HKIEd) Forum on “Educating Hong Kong’s Refugee Children: Policy and Practice” on November 6, 2015. Visit HKIEd’s website for more information.