At 13, Kareem, a thirteen year old Syrian refugee, was the sole breadwinner for his mother and sisters. He worked in a car mechanic shop, leaving home at 5.30 am and returning at 11 pm. This brought in US$7 a day. School, of course, was out of the question. His boss took advantage of the young boy, abusing him physically, emotionally, mentally and even sexually. He also ‘sold’ Kareem to other customers, at US$1 per time, for sex services.

When Kareem heard that the Refugee Run was to be held at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, he made one plaintive request:

‘When you meet with people there, tell them ‘Don’t let the world forget us.’

After the Refugee Run, many participants, deeply touched by the simulation, were wonderfully responsive. One, herself a refugee from the Lebanese conflict in 1982, took action. She raised funds to support education in Lebanon for hundreds of refugee children. Among those now in school, wonderfully, is Kareem.

Sometimes people ask the purpose of the experiential activities we run. The answer is simple. We want to reach participants so they, in turn, can reach those who are in dire need of support.

Crossroads Foundation Hong Kong

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Recent years have seen intolerable suffering for women in the conflict-ridden country of Sudan where they have, systematically, been victim to violence and rape.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) sought ways to empower women in this troubled country. They looked at ways of creating employment opportunities, since women would be less vulnerable with greater independence, self-sufficiency, control of their lives and, of course, dignity.

As they sought ideas for women in business, they discussed the growing of hibiscus. This is plentiful in Sudan and is an ingredient used in tea products of fruit tea blends.

There was a problem with hibiscus business initiatives, however. While Sudan is renowned for producing high quality hibiscus for teas, around 18,000 tons a year, many Sudanese hibiscus farmers have remained caught in the poverty trap.  As hibiscus growers put it, “We produce the crop, then the traders come and take it on their terms.”

UNDP Sudan (3)It was a situation calling out for a Fair Trade overhaul.

A staff member from UNDP therefore posted a request on business.un.org. She asked for interested companies, dealing in hibiscus, to come together and discuss how to make trading practices fairer for the farmers. Some of the world’s leading businesses responded and the result was phenomenal. People from different levels of the hibiscus industry came together and brought significant change. This will impact the futures of at least 5,000 vulnerable women and girls in Sudan by, for example, seeing factories in Sudan becoming Fair Trade certified to ensure sustainable income for those involved.

This is a story that truly illustrates the power of partnerships!

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When the wounding is done, and you are left alone and bleeding, where can you turn in a war torn environment?

With your country impoverished by years of fighting, it probably won’t have the resources to help you. With the conflict over, the world has turned its back on your country, so little help may be forthcoming from international aid. With your family and friends dead or destitute, you may have few, or no, individuals to turn to. What options, then, are left? 2009 saw the publication of a book by a young war victim in Sierra Leone whose story has stunned readers and earned multiple awards.

Mariatu Kamara, at 12 years old, lived securely at home with her family. Although there was talk of war elsewhere in the country, her family had no indication that it was coming near them. So it was with confidence that she set out on a journey to a neighbouring village. Tragically, though, she was never to complete that journey.

On that path, she found herself confronted by rebel soldiers, some close to her own age, who were used to their powerful weapons and very adept at torture. For them, it was probably no more than another moment in a day as they cut off both her hands. For her, life was changed forever.

Mariatu, bleeding but alive, set out to find a shelter away from the fighting. As it happened she encountered a man on her journey who, out of kindness, offered her a mango. That simple act became a defining moment for her. The taste of the mango brought back to her the beauty of the life she had loved and lost, and motivated her to find a way to live again.

With blood streaming from her arms, she insisted on holding the mango herself: proof of her determination to work past the loss that had left her disabled. She would later call her story, ‘The Bite of the Mango.’

The book recounts the way Mariatu reached a refugee camp, collected survival money by begging in the streets of Freetown, and eventually, found her way to Canada. She is now an international speaker on behalf of people recovering from war.

There are few voices for those in post conflict situations and the agony they find forging a new life. Mercy Ships, a UK NGO that is part of the Global Hand network, is an exception. It provides free medical healthcare as part of its sustainable development support for the poorest nations of the world, through the use of hospital ships.

Mercy Ships has established a land-based centre in Freetown, the nation’s capital. The conflict left some 50,000 dead, and thousands more maimed or mutilated. The New Steps Centre in Freetown provides physical therapy and the creation of assistive devices as well as health care services, personal and community development projects.

So, when Mercy Ships saw an offer of crutches on Global Hand, they responded enthusiastically. These were, as it turns out, not just any crutches. Cool Crutches is a UK company that was set up by Clare Braddell when her daughter broke her back and was forced to use those supplied by the National Health Service. Their website promises coloured crutches that are funky and comfortable, helping boost people’s morale as well as supporting their mobility. The organisation sent out the crutches to Mercy Ships in pre-paid heavy-duty polythene bags.

imagelink_sierraleoneAs a Mercy Ships spokesman put it: “It’s an easy way to make a big difference.” They subsequently fitted members of the Single Leg Amputee Sports Club in Freetown at the New Steps Centre with the ‘cool crutches’ (photo, left). Many members of the club lost limbs in the war, but rather than dwell on the past, are using this opportunity to bring hope and inspiration to their country through sport.

Clare was grateful for the opportunity to partner with Mercy Ships. “Global Hand got us together”, she said. “Although I had heard of Mercy Ships, I didn’t click that they would be the perfect partnership for us. Mercy Ships need hundreds of pairs of crutches for war zones around the world, particularly Sierra Leone at the moment. If buyers of Cool Crutches could be bothered to go to the post office, when they are better, they might feel good about themselves, particularly if Cool Crutches pays the postage, and has labelled the bag, so that all they have to do is seal it!”

People of Mariatu’s ilk are an inspiration. Her very life is testimony to the fact that hope, even in the most wretched of times, can yet be found. At Global Hand, we consider the very least we can do is resource those willing to battle the odds and start over.

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“When the elephants dance, the grass gets trampled. That is the expression we use in Africa.” A worried Ugandan leader reached for this metaphor to help us understand the plight of his people. Members of our team have visited the war torn area and seen the truth of the African proverb: as the rebels continue their fight, those most impacted are the women and children.

War

Uganda’s violence is now entering its third decade, and, over this time, the women who have survived are frequently widowed. There is no employment opportunity for them in the camps for displaced persons. If they flee to the slums of the city for protection, work can be hard to find, sanitation difficult to secure for their children and discrimination, as single women, hard to bear. Worse, back In the camps, education is unavailable so any women who have grown up there, over the past twenty years, may not have had opportunity to go to school at all. Those living in the slums of the capital city of Kampala, therefore, may desperately seek a better life but the odds are heavily against them, without support. This is why Crossroads is partnering with NGOs willing to offer strategic support: they provide educational and vocational skills to women and youth, health training, water and sanitation programmes, and adult literacy classes. Without help of this kind, there is no viable way for war victims to leave the nightmare of their past behind and begin the path towards a normal life.

Crossroads Foundation Hong Kong

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Uganda Snapshot

Population: 37.58 million
Capital: Kampala

Uganda is a fertile, land-locked country in East Africa, in the Africa Great Lakes region, with a tropical climate.

Great progress has been made in fighting HIV in Uganda, but 1.5 million people still live with the disease, and there are 1 million children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

39% of girls are married by the age of 18. 37.7% of people in Uganda live below the international poverty line of US$1.25/day.

A6

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Children from a Ugandan slum district have their library bookshelves full for the first time, after a shipment from Hong Kong delivered boxes and boxes of books along with goods to boost the entire community.

It’s hard to fathom how much suffering people in this region like Maama Zawedde have seen. A widow herself, Maama Zawedde now takes care of orphans who lost their parents in Northern Uganda’s horrific conflict, as well as encouraging and supporting countless others displaced by the conflict.

Uganda_students_library

It’s children like Maama Zawedde’s charges who benefited from the school library and other school equipment sent in the container from Crossroads (above).

While Maama Zawedde’s heart couldn’t be bigger, her resources are paltry. She tries to care for her charges as well as she can on almost no income, and often goes hungry.

When aid workers offered the elderly woman some new clothes for herself, she could hardly put together her thanks. “I am speechless,” she said. “New clothes? Not old! New shoes,  toys… I just cannot say  anything.”

Uganda_classroom

“She shed tears of happiness,” said aid workers. “It was the first time she had experienced such a donation from anyone”

“We cannot express our happiness to you but we shall keep saying to you a very BIG THANK YOU,” wrote our partners after receiving Crossroads’ container. “We have distributed more than half of the goods received and the people here are so happy.”

Want to sponsor an international shipment?

We have several international shipments ready to set sail and waiting for sponsors! Your company, club, organisation or family can make a  shipment happen.

Email us at partnerships@crossroads.org.hk for a list of partnership opportunities.

Crossroads Foundation Hong Kong

Give Now!

Donate to a shipment like this one.

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Want to donate goods for a shipment like this one?

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Uganda Snapshot

Population: 37.58 million
Capital: Kampala

Uganda is a fertile, land-locked country in East Africa, in the Africa Great Lakes region, with a tropical climate.

Great progress has been made in fighting HIV in Uganda, but 1.5 million people still live with the disease, and there are 1 million children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

39% of girls are married by the age of 18. 37.7% of people in Uganda live below the international poverty line of US$1.25/day.

A6

Our food-saving superheroes

Every day, 3,600 tonnes of food waste are sent to landfill in Hong Kong, according to Feeding Hong Kong. Meanwhile, people...

read more ...

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COVID: SAME STORM, DIFFERENT BOATS  “This pandemic has magnified every existing inequality in our society,” Melinda Gates said of Covid-19. She adds:...

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