We sit down for a chat with the founders of The Hub, one of Hong Kong’s most important charities that’s giving back – in a unique way – to the underprivileged youth of the city
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Roughly 229,000 children aged 18 and under live below the poverty line in Hong Kong. If you’re lucky enough to live on many parts of Hong Kong Island, you’re probably shocked by this figure. Head over to Sham Shui Po, however, and reality will sink in. After working and being based in Hong Kong for many decades, Australian businessmen David Boehm and Bruce Stinson decided to start The Hub to give back to the local community, and to offer support and empowerment to the underprivileged children of Sham Shui Po who had no place to play, had never set foot on Hong Kong Island or had ever seen grass.
#legend was proud to be a media partner for this yera’s The Hub’s annual charity ball at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong on October 19, where we talked to the two founders about what we can do to create a better future for Hong Kong youth.
How did The Hub get its start?
David Boehm (DB): It was early 2011 – I was having a chat with Bruce in my office and we said, “Well, we’ve been living in Hong Kong for most of our working lives; we should do something to give back to the children of Hong Kong.” We did some investigation and worked with a charity called Against Child Abuse, and we found that there wasn’t really a problem with street kids here in Hong Kong, but we were really shocked to learn that there were more than 200,000 children living below the poverty line. So that’s when we decided to do something to help those children – and we discovered that the poorest district in Hong Kong at the time was Sham Shui Po, so that’s where we opened our centre.
Are many people surprised to learn about how many children are living in poverty here?
Bruce Stinson (BS): I think most people are absolutely stunned when they hear that statistic. It’s closer to a quarter of million children now living below the poverty line and people just don’t realise that, because
Hong Kong’s the “money city”. People come here to make money, but we don’t have a welfare system as you might find in other countries. I guess it’s a responsibility for those who come here to make money to actually give something back, because there is a bottom end of society that does struggle.
I think the thing that really stunned us and confirmed what we wanted to do was by going to some homes. We went with some of the children here in Sham Shui Po and – having been brought up in Australia, where almost every child has a backyard and a home where he can bring his friends – we saw five or six families living in one place with a room each, sharing a bathroom and a kitchen. And in their room, they only have a bunk bed and a small table. In fact, there were four to five of us on the visit, and we couldn’t all get into the room. And what struck me as an Australian was: where do they go? Where do they play? Where can they bring their friends? So The Hub provides all that.
Instead of donating clothes or offering medical services, The Hub offers services that one doesn’t usually think of when supporting a charity.
DB: This is the place that we have the children come and we want them to experience everything. A place where they can get educational support, play with their friends, get exposure to art, music, sport… and our excursions are very popular. When you live in poverty, you have no money to go and do things. One time we took a group of kids to Legco to see the government in Hong Kong. Most of them had never been to the Hong Kong side. We organise trips to country parks and some of the kids have never walked on grass. So can you imagine – a nine-year-old boy has never walked on grass in his life?
He’s always lived in a concrete jungle. So we really need the physical space to be able to do all these things.
How do you think millennials and the younger generation can get more involved?
BS: I don’t know what it is – maybe it’s the ease of communication – but millennials are really switched on; they know what’s going on and they’re really compassionate.
DB: I think there’s a lot of hope with the millennials. They’re amazing and a lot more socially conscious compared to Bruce and my generation. So I think there’s a big push in Hong Kong towards those who have a good life to help those that are not so well-off. I would hope that in the not-so-distant future, we can go out of business because all the kids are happy, healthy and financially secure.
Tell us a bit about your annual charity gala.
BS: We started planning them in 2012 and we’ve had six now; this is our seventh one coming up. We’re both involved in horse racing, so we dragged the horse racing community with us and put on our first ball. David has a connection with Hollywood and we ended up with the late [actress] Carrie Fisher there. She was amazing and so supportive, and each year we’ve had a Hollywood star courtesy of David’s connections, as well as the support of the Jockey Club. This year, we’ve been extremely lucky because David’s friend in Hollywood produced Crazy Rich Asians, so we had some of the stars come to the ball in October.
If there’s one thing you could share with potential supporters who aren’t familiar with your charity, what would it be?
DB: I think the message is that Hong Kong still has far too much poverty and it’s affecting far too many children. So we’re trying to get that message out as well as the message of what we do at The Hub. I think we have a vision to create additional Hubs, because there are still so many children who don’t have access to these services. As you mentioned earlier, a lot of the charity is focused on their food and clothing, whereas we want to make sure that our children have a chance to become productive adults in society and not feel that their situation is hopeless.
BS: I think another thing is that there are a lot of charities working in this space, doing different things, but that’s because there’s a need. We don’t have a big welfare system in Hong Kong – and we shouldn’t. So it’s up to us as individuals. We’re following in the footsteps of charities that have been established for a long time because there’s still this great demand. The fact that we attract so many children and provide so many services indicates that there’s a huge need, and that’s the message that we want to get to our potential supporters.
What have been some of the best experiences that have touched you the most while working with The Hub and underprivileged children and families?
BS: I’ve got one story that isn’t really about the children and families we help, but it’s always really stuck with me. In the very early days, we had a company here doing a service for us for the gala and they had a charge. I went to meet them in their office, these two young guys, and my mission was to talk them into donating their services. I started my story, telling them all about The Hub and what we’re doing, and the children that are living in very poor circumstances. One of the young guys said to me: “Don’t worry, Bruce, you can stop there. We’re going to donate this service because I was one of those children.” It was very moving for me.
What’s next for The Hub?
DB: We’d like to open more centres. We’ve been talking to the Hong Kong Jockey Club about sponsoring another centre. So hopefully next year we can start the second Hub and keep building on the success that we’ve had. We regularly have 500 kids coming here, so we’d like to do that for more children around Hong Kong. The kids are all from the surrounding district because if they’re not, then they can’t afford to come here, so that’s why we’d like to go to different areas – maybe Kwun Tong or somewhere like that, where there’s also a lot of poverty – and make it easier for them to get access. #