Tuen Ng Festival is one of the most popular on the local calendar and it gives residents yet another excuse to get altruistic. Sam Agars reports.
DB dragon boaters are out in force, with early morning and late afternoon training sessions intensifying as Tuen Ng Festival on June 9 approaches. The Dragon Boat Festival is an iconic day in Hong Kong and an event that has gained significant traction in DB’s short existence – just ask anyone who has been involved and they will tell you just how special the experience is.
But it’s not all about the paddling and drum beating. DB dragon boaters have a long history of charity and community work, with a number of teams over the years using their participation to benefit those in need. This year, we speak to two local teams, the Latin Dragons and Ripple Effect, who will be going just that little bit harder as they use the thought of those less fortunate as motivation to drive them on.
In it for the kids
Loaded with DB-based parents, paddling to help children is a no-brainer for the Latin Dragons, and the team alternates between supporting a chosen foundation in Latin America and a charity organisation in Hong Kong. “The good thing is we all have families, so we are all sensitive to issues related to kids and we are very lucky, all of us,” four-year team member and current team treasurer Stefano Passarello says. “So it’s time to give back – not just to clean our souls but with the intention of contributing a little bit to society.”
Last year the Latin Dragons raised around HK$20,000 for a school in Bolivia and this year they have decided to do their bit to assist The Society for the Relief of Disabled Children in Hong Kong. The society provides medical, surgical, rehabilitation and educational services to disabled children at the Duchess of Kent Children’s Hospital at Sandy Bay, Pokfulam.
The team uses its annual salsa party, held two weeks before race day, as the main vehicle for its fundraising. “Our boat is quite international, but the vast majority [of the crew] are from Latin America and Spain, so they are big party people,” Italian-born Stefano, a four-year DB resident, says. “We combine our partying with our money raising.”
Rather than deliver cash directly to the foundation it is supporting, the team uses the funds raised to buy something that’s needed. Stefano says this minimises the risk of people thinking the money may be misused.
This year the Latin Dragons are aiming to raise HK$50,000, which they will use to buy toys for the children at the Duchess of Kent Children’s Hospital. “We want our kids to go there and deliver them personally,” Stefano says.
The team is also looking at making a difference for sick children through The Crayon Society, an organisation founded by the Passarello and Ortiz families in May this year. The idea is to collect old crayons, mould them into new ones, and then sell them to raise funds to buy hospital equipment. DB drop-off points for old crayons include Bookazine and Dymocks.
The charity aspect of their dragon boating is crucial to the Latin Dragons and something Stefano says drives the team on when they compete. “It gives it an extra meaning, you paddle extra strong,” he says. His words are borne out by the fact that the team, which was founded in 2012, finished third in last year’s Community Cup.
Stefano himself is a distinguished runner, in 2014 he was the first Hong Kong resident to cross the line in the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, and he is quick to sing the praises of dragon boating. “It combines physical health with commitment,” he says. “There is a very strong correlation (I’m a runner and I do believe this) to wellbeing and also mental health. If you work out you feel better. It’s a very direct and straightforward link.”
Paddling for awareness
Another DB crew that uses dragon boating to do something good for those in need is Ripple Effect, the Discovery Bay International Community Church (DBICC) team. Competing allows the church to raise awareness about the many and varied charity and community causes it supports.
Unlike the Latin Dragons, the team competes only in DB, rather than entering other competitions around Hong Kong, to focus purely on giving its charity work as much exposure as possible here. Recent beneficiaries include World Vision Hong Kong, MediCare Resources and Evangel Children’s Home, as well as a range of local community programmes.
Having one of the most creative names on the DB dragon boating scene certainly helps this cause. “It’s a bit of a play on words, because it is exactly what you don’t want to happen in a dragon boat,” quips three-year team manager Brent Wallace.
For Brent, who runs the team with his wife Pamela, DB’s annual dragon boat races play a vital part in ensuring the charity work of the church is as effective as possible. “It targets individuals that are not in a lot of our other outreach things,” he says. “Here it’s a lot of athletes and it does bring the awareness to a different group of people.”
The team is certainly serving its purpose, improving every year since 2006, to the point where it made the plate finals of the mixed competition last year, Ripple Effect’s first finals appearance. Competing purely in the mixed competition and made up of mainly church members, the team could even lay claim to being the best in DB after victory in last year’s inaugural Community Cup.
Brent, a six-year DB resident, is hopeful the confidence gained by winning last year’s Community Cup will see the team turn in another solid performance this time around. “Once you start making it into the finals, you never want to fall back out,” he says.
• Discovery Bay International Community Church, www.dbicc.org
• Latin Dragons, [email protected]