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Inspiration island: Meet the Lantauers working hard to make a difference

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A melting pot of cultures from around the world, Lantau is full of people working hard to make a difference. We asked four inspirational islanders to share their stories.

DB-based domestic worker Liza Avelino proves the sky really is the limit if you set your sights high enough.

I arrived in Hong Kong from the Philippines in 1996 to start a new job as a domestic worker. At first, I spent my Sundays sitting in Central, but I soon found that wasn’t for me. Instead, I headed to the public library, where I stumbled across a book about hiking. On my next day off, I set off to walk the Wong Nai Chung Gap, and so began a whole new chapter.

My new hobby soon became a passion, and I became a hike leader for a local hiking group. Since then, I’ve gone on to climb mountains across the world – Mount Yarigatake in Japan, Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia, Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and Mount Everest Base Camp in Nepal.

I’ve tackled many hurdles along the way – I had never seen snow before, let alone walked on it, and it can be tricky getting a visa with me being a domestic helper; I had to save for eight months for my first trip, but I would have done anything to realise my dream, and that was the first step.

My hikes haven’t all been straightforward either – bad weather and sickness prevented me from reaching Island Peak on Everest in 2015, however I didn’t give up and went back to tackle it again the following year.

When I left the Philippines, I couldn’t possibly have imagined the path my life in Hong Kong would take. One of my biggest achievements was when I addressed 500 people at a TEDx event last year. I now hope to become a motivational speaker (and continue climbing mountains), while helping to raise funds for charities that support the wellbeing of domestic workers in Hong Kong.

My advice to fellow domestic workers is to grab every opportunity that Hong Kong has to offer. Use your days off in a meaningful way – do something that makes you smile.

Dedicated to helping those less fortunate, Hong Kong native and eight-year DB resident Nikki Boot has put community thinking firmly on the agenda on Lantau through her social enterprise, DB Mothers & Friends.

nikki boot

I founded DB Mothers & Friends in 2013. The initial idea was to try and connect DB residents so that they could share tips and create a convivial community, but we soon discovered that there was an opportunity to do much more.

In 2014, we registered as a social enterprise and began collecting unwanted furniture, initially from DB, then later from across Lantau and Hong Kong, which we redistributed to charities. Since then, we’ve helped over 5,000 households and offices clear unwanted items from furniture and appliances to toys, clothes and other useful items. The items collected have been used to support over 50,000 beneficiaries, including charities, schools, churches and individuals.

Most of the people we have helped are here in Hong Kong, however we’re now at a point where  we can help people in third world countries too, and in March this year we sent a 40- foot container to Burkina Faso in Africa, where the literacy rate is one of the lowest in the world. Among all the pre-loved items were thousands of books for a local school. Of course, it’s an honour to be able to help people in need, but there are other benefits too. For example, I love how our initiative encourages a green lifestyle, and it’s great to be able to help the unemployed by creating job opportunities. DB Mothers & Friends has come a long way since 2013, and I’m looking forward to continuing to expand our network and supporting the community through socially beneficial causes.

A popular, well-known figure in Lantau, Jacqui Green has been championing the rights of animals on the island for nearly three decades.

jacqui green

I arrived in Hong Kong in October 1979 and moved to Lantau on a full-time basis in 1989. PALS (Protection of Animals Lantau South), or SLAP (South Lantau Animal Protection) as it was originally known, was founded in 1998 to try and address the local attitude towards animals, especially cats and dogs. In those days, it was not uncommon to find villagers throwing away live litters of kittens in rubbish bins or dumping puppies in paddy fields or at refuse collection points.

I haven’t kept a record of how many animals we’ve helped over the years, but it must run into the thousands. I strongly believe that animals need humans to speak and act on their behalf. No one should condone cruelty in any shape or form, however animals, although sentient creatures, are all too often held hostage to the whims and misdeeds of humans.

I’m happy to say that PALS has achieved a lot since its inception. Joining the TNR (Trap/ Neutar/ Return) scheme for feral cats has made a tremendous difference to the number of unwanted kittens being born in South Lantau, and we’ve been able to initiate a fledgling programme for dogs, too. We’ve also worked with other animal welfare organisations to vigorously lobby the government to update and improve animal welfare legislation, to increase fines and penalties for animal cruelty, to enhance public education of animal rights in society and, most recently, to push through revised animal trading laws.

This year, I am planning to retire, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my work on Lantau, and it has suited me well. My brother-in-law used to say of me, “She’s  barking mad!” – so very English and probably very apt!”

South Lantau’s Merrin Pearse arrived in Hong Kong in 2007 and has been fighting the good fight for Lantau ever since.

merrin pearse

How would I describe myself? I’m a Kiwi passionate about reconnecting people with nature and raising awareness of more sustainable development options in business. After moving to South Lantau, it soon became clear to me that there was potential for negative developments in the area and surrounding waters, so I joined Living Islands Movement (LIM) to try and make a difference.

LIM’s mission is to campaign for outcomes from Hong Kong planning and management processes that enhance the quality of life on Lantau. Over the years, LIM has been instrumental in stopping the super prison proposed for Hei Ling Chau, raised public awareness around the LNG terminal proposed for the Soko Islands, lead alternative options to building the incinerator next to Shek Kwu Chau, participated in regular meetings to help inform government officials and hosted numerous community events.

In terms of personal motivation, I get annoyed by poorly designed projects that waste energy or destroy nature when there are better alternatives. Of course, things aren’t always straightforward – not speaking or reading Chinese means I have to rely on others for translations and can miss out on some of the finer points of why people are concerned, but I enjoy getting people together to talk through issues for the good of the community.

To anyone concerned about the environment on Lantau, I’d say talk to your neighbours, share your concerns on social media and write in to the government’s 1823 enquiry service to ask what is going on or to point out possible illegal activity. And if you’d like to take a more active role, the LIM committee is always looking for volunteers – translators, graphic designers, writers – whatever you have to offer, you can make a difference for Lantau too.

Photos by Andrew Spires and Duey Tam

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