Kids across Lantau are experiencing the gift of giving in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Sam Agars reports on Box of Hope’s 10th anniversary.
From humble beginnings in founder Nicole Woolhouse’s living room, Hong Kong charity Box of Hope has grown into something of a phenomenon, and it doesn’t look like slowing down as it reaches its 10th birthday.
An annual initiative, Box of Hope sees children, aged three to 18, fill shoeboxes with new, useful and educational gifts, which are then distributed to underprivileged children across the region. This year’s collection date is November 6 to 10, with collection points set up in schools across Hong Kong.
The DB connection
Discovery Bay kids are in full swing preparing their boxes, looking to better the 1,780 boxes collected here last year. Kindergartens and schools eager to do their bit in DB are Discovery Bay International School (DBIS), Discovery College (DC), Discovery Mind Kindergarten, Discovery Mind Primary School, Discovery Montessori Academy, Hong Kong International Learning Academy, SHK Wei Lun, Discovery Montessori School and Bayview House of Children.
“I do Box of Hope because people around the world are less fortunate than us,” DC student Zali Saunders says. “They don’t have good resources for studying and learning or fun activities to do. Giving them something educational helps them learn. It makes me feel happy that someone else is going to get the same happy feeling that I get when I get a present.”
Box of Hope also thrives elsewhere on Lantau, with a total of 260 boxes collected in Tung Chung last year and 250 more throughout South Lantau. Schools involved for 2017 are Discovery Mind Kindergarten, Discovery Mind Primary School, Little Lantau Montessori, Lantau International School and Bui O Public School.
What the teachers say Box of Hope aims to up kids’ socio-economic awareness and show them how they can make a difference. It’s no surprise then that so many DB schools have made the initiative a key part of their curriculum.
“Box of Hope is a great initiative for our children, as it supports them in thinking about the lives of children who are a similar age to themselves and in locations which are incredibly close to their home country of Hong Kong,” says Hannah Cole, deputy head of DBIS. “The initiative goes beyond raising money for a cause and supports children to think carefully about the ‘giving’ process as well.
“Students are always so surprised to hear how grateful children around the world would be for basic accessories, such as soap and toothpaste,” Hannah adds. “The children absolutely love the videos of the receivers opening the boxes and the joy it brings. We have a great focus on internationalism and service to others within the school, so Box of Hope supports our children in developing as global citizens, as well as supporting a very worthy cause.”
DC primary student counsellor Tracey Chitty coordinates Box of Hope at the school and says the students are always eager to get involved. “We had 520 boxes come in last year, which is huge, and that’s just in the primary school,” she says. “I think children just love it because they love Christmas, and we also know giving is good for people and it makes people feel good.
“Even though not everyone has got lots of money, our children are so privileged compared to lots of other children,” Tracey adds. “For that reason alone, I think it’s an amazing opportunity for them to give in an authentic way; the children really get behind it.”
How it works Initially launched by Nicole Woolhouse and Harriet Cleverly as a way to teach their children the value of helping others, Sian Trodd came on board as director this year after four years’ involvement with the charity. “I was delighted to be able to take it over,” she says. “It is proof that children want to help and want to do a little bit that makes a difference. The main thing it shows is that Hong Kong is a very giving society.”
When Nicole and Harriet started Box of Hope, they had no idea just how popular it would become. In the first year they were expecting about 50 boxes and collected 800, with the number up past 15,000 within five years. After the initial spike in growth, box numbers have plateaued to a degree, but are still increasing steadily each year.
For 2017, kids have until November 10 to ready their boxes. Then, from November 13, four or five vans circle Hong Kong for a fortnight, picking up boxes and bringing them into Exchange Square, where the charity has a donated office. “Every box has to be opened and checked for shipping purposes,” Sian explains.
Boxes find their way to the Philippines, Cambodia, China and Macau, as well as Hong Kong, with the Philippines receiving the majority of the boxes and China only a small percentage due to customs restrictions. Around 34% stayed in Hong Kong in 2016, something Box of Hope is looking to expand.
Children helping children
For Sian, it is clear to see the impact these boxes have on their recipients. “There is that little bit of hope that somebody cares,” she says. “I’ve had the privilege of going down to the Philippines to hand out some boxes; the charity that we go through there looks after the low, low income group. They live in bits of tin made into a hut and then they receive a box – somebody has thought of them.”
The charity is lucky enough to have a number of donors and sponsors who help keep things ticking over, and more than 120 schools and kindergartens are taking part in Box of Hope this year.
Balls, cuddly toys and drawing utensils are common objects found in the boxes, while there are guidelines that ensure all boxes are similar and contain the basics. A toothbrush, toothpaste and bar of soap must be included in each box. “You help a whole family with items like that, it’s not just the kids,” says Sian.
“The whole ethos of Box of Hope is children helping children,” Sian finishes. “It’s no coincidence, of course, that the campaign runs just as the festive season is approaching. Children understand the importance of gift-giving and sharing, and they can make the connection between filling a Box of Hope and their own anticipation of the holidays.”
• Box of Hope, boxofhope.org
Images courtesy of Discovery Bay International School, Discovery College and Dicovery Mind KindergartenTags: box of hope, schools, charity