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That’s The Spirit! The World at Home

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Until we can go to the world, DB-based charity One World Spirit is bringing the world to us – and with it some tolerance and communication. Elizabeth Kerr sits down with the founder Shirlee L. Dickert and event organiser Hans Dickert to find out more

PHOTOS BY www.evoqueportraits.com, www.richardgordonphotography.com & courtesy of Shirlee L. Dickert

In two short years, One World Spirit Association (OWS) has made a big impression on DBers. Fully living up to its name, the non-profit, volunteer-run charity has set out to promote cultural diversity and exchange, tolerance, and harmony, while raising awareness for local charities focused on children, such as Po Leung Kuk, the city’s oldest, and Living Hope Ministry.
Working alongside an enthusiastic and growing group of volunteers, OWS’ founder Shirlee L. Dickert and event organiser Hans Dickert have focused on providing a vibrant series of multicultural events designed to appeal directly to residents. The offering has included Xmas visits from Saint Nicholas, numerous bazaars, a Hanfu parade in Western District, even a small-scale Oktoberfest, and you can bet your bottom dollar there is more to come.

Oktoberfest, community

When we finally get to meet, the Dickerts are sitting in a DB coffee shop just after the Lunar New Year. Shirlee’s dressed in traditional hanfu for the lunch she’s heading to shortly. Husband Hans is parked at the next table, tapping away on his phone, and scanning papers, catching up on some of his work with a German industrial tech firm. Aside from the paperwork, the couple looks relaxed, almost in holiday mode, which belies a packed calendar that includes their work with OWS.

OWS’ aim to promote multiculturalism within DB, while helping underprivileged children across Hong Kong is clear but interestingly enough none of this was in the original mission statement. OWS (find them at www.1worldspirit.org) was incorporated in 2011 so Shirlee could run a business teaching Salsa dance. Though she has an official career in finance, the Guangzhou native has explored her artier, more socially minded side whenever possible since relocating to Hong Kong aged 10 with her soprano mother and bassoon musician father.

Shirlee was teaching dance when she and Hans first moved to DB from Hong Kong Island 12 years ago.“We moved here because the environment is good and it’s very international,” she says, citing a stat claiming 48 countries are represented in DB. “I actually fell in love with the community when I was a student and working for the census.” She is also holding onto some words of wisdom imparted by a 75-year-old Salsa dancer she met in Hamburg years before. “She said‘dancing has no nationality, no boundaries and no age,’and I’ve carried that attitude with me ever since.”

Shirlee changed course and registered OWS as a charity in 2020 when COVID descended on the world,sent everyone into a funk and grounded normally adventurous Hongkongers. “We got to talking with friends who couldn’t go home for Christmas, and I decided to create something that would inject some positivity into the atmosphere,” she recalls. “It seemed like a seasonal, cultural event would distract people and deliver a meaningful message to them too. This is how we started.

christmas market, community


So, in December 2020, Shirlee tapped her husband’s German heritage and formalised a programme the pair had started years before as a favour for DB friends with kids – making home visits dressed as Saint Nicholas. Their version wasn’t the jolly Coca-Cola shilling version most of us are accustomed to.

After getting an idea of how many kids are in the home, ages, genders and names, Hans would show up dressed up like Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas – which he had done previously back home in Germany – with small gifts and sweets, sharing the historic folklore that gave birth to the myth of the man in red. The response was strong from the get-go: The 2020 visits were mostly online, but for 2021, in person visits were back – and the Dickerts needed three Saint Nicks to visit 27 DB families and 42 kids.

“No one can travel, and Europeans, especially the Dutch, really enjoy Sinterklaas activities,” Hans chimes in. He even offered to come with Saint Nick’s trusty – and slightly creepy – aide Krampus. “You need to be careful with him. But he can just stand in the corner, and if the kids start crying, I send him outside,” he quips. Both hope that the volunteers they have helping on the Christmas visits will keep up the tradition down the road. And yes, if COVID vanished tomorrow, they’d do the personalised Saint Nick visits next year too. “It’s not a commercial event but we’re open to doing it for more families, and maybe even in more districts,” adds Shirlee.

The Saint Nicholas visits are a prime example of what Shirlee hopes to accomplish with OWS, and it’s something she thinks the world needs more of right now. For her it’s a fulfilling second career.

“I enjoy it. I’m less worried about earning, and at this stage of my life I’d like to do something that I think the community needs,” she states. “We want to support underprivileged children in Hong Kong too, and I hope families in DB are willing to donate a bit to help others. This is how we connect with the other districts in Hong Kong.”

market, christmas

OWS’ 2021 Christmas Bazaar at Lantau Boat Club (LBC), co-organised by LBC and Living Hope Ministry, conformed equally well to Shirlee’s agenda. In addition to the community-led Xmas stalls, mulled wine and barbecue snacks were on offer for token prices. Again, proceeds from the event went to support Po Leung Kuk. OWS’ plans for January this year were even bigger – a CNY Fun Fair and Market, packed with festive food and flowers, and introducing residents to Fai Chun calligraphy, traditional tea art and Hanfu clothing. The event was scuttled by the rapid emergence of Omicron but ever-positive, Shirlee sees this as a temporary setback – and an opportunity to plan for OWS’ future.

Shirlee knows everyone loves food: “We want to do more cookery workshops and get more people, from more parts of the world involved. All cuisine has a story. Now’s not the right time but we’re definitely doing a food-based event,” she says.

A series of workshops are being planned – including one on Zen culture (with tea art and calligraphy) to help residents de-stress. “Right now, we’re also organising an online event to cheer everyone up,” says Shirlee. “We want residents of different nationalities to join our video shooting programme, sharing video clips of themselves in traditional dress.”

Of course, many of OWS’s goals depend on overcoming challenges in space, money and manpower. The clutch of volunteers OWS has collaborating with it are tireless and dedicated, but more is always merrier. The few venues the organisation has needed in the past 24 months have been lucky finds, like the LBC providing its space for the Christmas Bazaar, a DB village playground for the Oktoberfest and a private garden outside official DB boundaries for the cancelled CNY fair.

“This is for the community by the community. We don’t have any big sponsors, so we need all the help we can get. We want to do more, so if anyone appreciates what we’re doing now we would be happy to take venues,” Shirlee finishes. “It would be great if HKR could provide us with a small space where we could organise workshops… We’re planning for the long term.”

volunteers, group, community

Events: Danny Sullivan, May Wai Sze Chan, Peter Chan, Sergius Trautner, Charles Liu, Leung Cheuk, Professor Stephan Sze Man Hung and Agnes Tse and Olli Tuominen Pekka (co-founders of Living Hope Ministry).
School support: Po Leung Kuk teacher Leon Tin and the students at Po Leung Kuk Tong Nai Kan Junior Secondary school and Po Leung Kuk Vicwood K.T. Chong Sixth Form College.
Admin: Cynthia Chu, Kitty Tam, Rosanna Yip, Thomas Ng, Vincent Cheung, Wango Man and William Cheung.

To get involved, WhatsApp 6219 3817.

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