In the dusty desert near Dohuk, Northern Iraq, an oasis for refugees has sprung from nowhere, starting in the unlikely form of a shipping container. The nearby refugee camp is home to over 1,000 families from ethnic minorities. These families have trekked through mountains to escape the horrors of genocidal violence. Nobody could be more in need of a place of peace, regeneration and healing, and our partners sought to help them build one.

We have worked with these partners since 2017 to ship medical goods to Northern Iraq for distribution to clinics and refugee families. People living with injuries and illnesses have received brand new wheelchairs and walkers. We have sent hospital beds that are expected to serve around 7,000 people a year. In total, the shipment allowed them to equip five different medical centres serving refugees and displaced people.

After one set of goods was unloaded, they asked themselves what to do with the container that brought them. “Instead of letting it go to waste in the desert of Iraq, or simply it for storage, we found a better purpose,” they said. Local staff worked to transform the container into a medical clinic with a pharmacy on one side and consulting room on the other (pictured below). The oasis had begun.

 

That oasis grew. Soon, their plans included a community garden in front of the clinic, and a soccer field where young people from the camp can play. Looking ahead, they are planning a fully equipped gym, which will help the entire centre to become a focal point for the refugee community. Their aim is that, through this oasis, they can help alleviate something of the tension which leads to youth depression and even suicide. “Our hope is that all who come and go through the refugee camp will not only find physical healing and recovery, but mental and emotional healing too,” they said. “After being forced to flee their homes, in the wake of ISIS, then having to cram into a refugee camp with thousands of other displaced families, these people are not willing to let their adversity win.”

 

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It might not look like a treasure chest. But the 40 foot shipping container outside the only school in Kamwokya slum is filled with valuables that are changing Ugandan futures, one child at a time. Children in the densely packed, dangerous Kamwokya slum once had nowhere to go to school, while their parents went to work in surrounding neighbourhoods. Now, this school is a beacon of hope, educating 2,000 pupils, not just in academic subjects but in life skills, job training and children’s rights.

FABBAs container provides valuable storage space at Ugandan slum school ...

They struggle with very few resources, though. We responded with the shipment sent by Fund Managers, Asian Bankers and Brokers Awards (FABBAs). As a result, the school library in Kamwokya is now filled with text books, the boys’ soccer team wears uniforms, the students sit at new desks and chairs, and some of the poorest students, who previously slept on the floor, now have soft new mattresses and warm blankets. All have a new zeal to attend school each day.

 

It’s FABBAs – our largest single donor in 13 years – who made this possible. At their 2013 banquet, FABBAs raised a staggering HK$1.5 million for Crossroads’ operations and international shipments.

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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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Nina is 78 and one of Kazakhstan’s elderly poor. Her only family is a daughter, with whom she has a broken relationship, and she’s almost completely blind. Nina’s back was badly injured when she fell many years ago, cleaning windows. She rarely leaves her small apartment. “I’m so lonely – sometimes I forget my Russian words,” she told a Social Welfare officer.

When, not long ago, her upstairs neighbour’s water pipes burst, the water flooded Nina’s kitchen and damaged her cupboards. A team from our Central Asian partners had already been visiting Nina regularly, through their Community Care program, encouraging her and meeting her needs. So, when they heard of her need for a new cupboard they knew they could help.

Clients - Bana Nini

“We heard her before we saw her,” said one of their staff. “We brought her new cupboard up the stairs and though she couldn’t see us, she could hear us. She stood, bent, both hands upon a short, wooden stool for support. When we put the laminate cupboard in the kitchen, Baba Nina began her inspection. She stopped a moment. She put her head on the benchtop, smiled and said, ‘I could fall over with joy.’ As we watched, we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”

Even as Baba Nina, disabled and almost blind, experienced friendship and practical help from their team, her story is multiplied many times over in Central Asia, where we regularly ship containers of goods from Hong Kong to help the region’s poor, lonely, unemployed and disabled.

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Kazakhstan Snapshot

Population: 17.9 million
Capital: Astana

Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country by land area and ninth largest country in the world. The climate is continental, with warm summers and colder winters.

The GDP per capita is US$12,950 or around $35 per day. In Hong Kong, the GDP per capita is US$33,534 or $91 per day.

kazkhstan

 

When Typhoon Sendong hit the Philippines in December 2011, Merlinda and her husband knew they were looking death in the face. If they stayed in their village, Dumaguete, they and their two daughters would have little chance.

“The water was this high,” recalls Merlinda, holding her hand above her neckline. “We had to carry the kids till we got on a boat.”

They were more fortunate than many. The catastrophic flooding caused by Typhoon Sendong killed at least 1,268 people in the Philippines.

After the water receded, Merlinda and her family were doubly fortunate in finding their hut still standing. They did, however, lose all their clothes, bedding and household utensils – items our warehouse holds in abundance.

 Community Business Day of Action 2011

What this family, along with many of their devastated compatriots, most needed were emergency supplies for basic living. Within weeks, our volunteers sent a 40’ shipping container on its way to the Philippines, loaded with 1,430 blankets, more than 800 hygiene kits, and hundreds of toothbrushes, carry bags, water bottles, kitchen utensil kits and drinking cups.

Rebuilding the village could take months. Rebuilding lives will take even longer. We were delighted, though, to take the beginning of this journey with them and we now regularly ship to the Philippines to partner with its courageous people.

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Philippines Snapshot

Population: 98,39 million
Capital: Manila

Population living below international poverty line of US$1.25 per day: 26.5%

Government statistics indicate that 1.57% of people in the Philippines are living with a disability.  97% of people living with disabilities are not being reached by the public school system.A51

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When Hong Kong turns up the heat, it’s no picnic! Crossroads doesn’t stop shipping aid throughout the summer but it can be exhausting for corporate teams, community groups, and our regular volunteers to load a container in the hot summer sun. Even worse, when it rains. Since our loading area is exposed, valuable donated goods waiting to be sent to orphanages, hospitals, or other groups around the world, can be put at risk while they wait to be loaded.

Credit Suisse, longtime friends of Crossroads, saw the need for a proper shelter over our container-loading area. Having loaded containers as a corporate group, Credit Suisse knew firsthand that without keeping our volunteers safe and protected while loading containers, Crossroads couldn’t do the work we do!

They came alongside Crossroads to sponsor a large, sturdy marquee which now covers the area where our containers are loaded. The difference it’s made cannot be quantified. We no longer need to construct temporary rain shelters for the waiting goods, and our volunteers are now protected from Hong Kong’s sweltering summer sun.

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It is late at night, on Cameroon’s dimly lit streets, but young children are hard at work. Some wander the streets, trying to sell bottles of soda or newspapers to passers-by. Others work even longer hours, sold many times a night as prostitutes. It is dangerous work but they are desperate to earn enough money to survive another day.

Crossroads shipped to one Cameroon NGO that is battling this problem. They provide both a source of education for children and a voice for their rights. They believe children should not need to sell either things, or, most certainly, themselves, in order to survive. “They should be in  school!” a representative said in a recent visit to Hong Kong. “One of the principle factors holding young people back is that they don’t get a good education.”

He described parts of the country where entire generations of children go through school without having access to a single schoolbook. “Books cost money,” he said, “and these communities are poor.” When, therefore, Crossroads sent them a large consignment of books for distribution in schools and libraries in rural areas, the response seemed overwhelming. “Whole villages came out at our arrival!” our consignee said, exuberantly. “It was a historic moment for them.”

These books brought an injection of hope into rural Cameroon. There is, of course, a long way to go, but our hope is to see many more such consignments to help education in the country until it is sufficient for the country’s children. The day needs to come, and may it be soon, when they will be rescued from the horrific ‘work’ options they currently face: choices no child should ever have to make.

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Cameroon Snapshot

Population: 22.25 million

Capital: Yaoundé

Cameroon is in the west Central Africa region, with natural features including beaches, deserts, mountains, rainforests, and savannas.

Although the country as a whole has improved standards of literacy and healthcare, there is still a long way to go. Less than half of children go on to secondary education, and over 40% are involved in some kind of child labour. In rural areas, less than half the population has access to clean water and sanitation.

Cameroon_S2893_5

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“They called it ‘Black September’. Two months afterwards, you could still smell the acrid smoke in the air.” The aid worker falls silent, recalling the charred remains of East Timor’s capital, Dili, in 1999. “I saw people in the streets just wandering… wandering, like they didn’t know what to do with themselves.”

September 1999 is burnt into the memory of East Timorese people, when the horrors of the war came to a savage conclusion. As peace-keepers and aid workers later sifted through the wreckage in Dili, they found the bodies of whole families strewn with their possessions around the remains of their burnt homes.

Those aid workers had to face heartbreaking issues. How do you heal the memories of a six-year-old boy who has witnessed the slaughter of his mother and baby brother? How do you help a teenage girl who battles devastating shame and confusion after being raped by a soldier? While the country battles to rebuild its infrastructure, the people of East Timor struggle to overcome deep psychological wounds: the legacy of 24 violent years.

In July, 2003, Crossroads sent a shipment to a group in East Timor, working to help children deal with their horrific experiences. The group, a non-profit organisation, could not afford many of the resources it needed to do this work. We were able to send clothes, shoes and household items for families struggling to rebuild their homes, as well as toys and other items that will be used in the children’s counselling centre. An entire playground set was one of the larger items in the container, which the community helped to build in the grounds of the local school.

An aid worker from this group wrote to thank us for the goods, saying, “Words are not enough to describe the joy we felt upon receiving this container. We’ve been waiting for such materials for a long time.” The playground set was particularly well-received by the children, who have been deprived for so long of a normal, happy childhood. “The children in our school are very eager and excited upon receiving the materials,” he wrote. “They are specially overjoyed with the very nice playground. This playground is so important for the development of the kids, but when it arrived, it was not only the kids who enjoyed it, even the parents and adults are making fuss out of it!”

Our joy is, likewise, great, as we hear such news of lives in East Timor being changed through donated goods from Hong Kong.

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Kenya is a welcoming, sun-drenched country, known by tourists for its stunning native wildlife and safari holidays. There are many areas of Kenya, however, that are suffering in deep poverty. The region we are shipping to, in the south-western corner of the country, is a remote area of about 9,500 people, where unemployment is very high, and most people live a hand-to-mouth existence growing what food they can. Some villages have no access to clean water at all, meaning children become frequently sick from water-borne illnesses, and because education is scarce, HIV/Aids is 15% higher in this area than the national average.

The organisation we are shipping to works with women and orphans/vulnerable children in this part of Kenya. They know that statistics show when women in a community are empowered through education and business opportunities, the entire community can be lifted out of poverty.

Traditionally, women in this area who want to start a business or take out a loan for a new venture find it almost impossible to get credit, and are thus stuck in their poverty, regardless of their talent, motivation and creative ideas. This organisation, as well as running widespread successful HIV educational campaigns, has started a micro-loans scheme, helping women such as Mrs Nguono, a widow with 7 children. Mrs Nguono was desperately trying to care for her children, with no income and living in a rundown hut. After receiving a loan through this organisation, she was able to start her own small business, repay the loan, and build a new house of galvanised metal for her family. She is now proudly supporting her family comfortably.

The organisation has asked us for help, because they would like to expand their services but have no way of affording to purchase the equipment and furniture they need to do this, operating as they are, on a tiny NGO budget. They’ve asked for clothing and household items for distribution amongst the ‘overwhelming number of destitute families’, as well as furniture, computers and other specific items that they hope to use in new projects such as a handicrafts job creation scheme.

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Harriet is 14 years old and lives in a slum in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. Six years ago, Harriet’s mother died, leaving her and her three younger siblings in the care of their father. Just two years later, their father abandoned them, as the children slept at night, and has never been seen again. At the age of 10, literally overnight, Harriet became the head of her household, comforting the wails of the frightened little ones, and knowing she had no means to feed them or pay her rent.

There is just one large government school operating in the slum where Harriet and her siblings live. This school, though, is working hard to be a force for change amongst the area’s young people. 1890 students attend the school, which is primary, yet has students as old as 15, who are only now getting the chance to complete 6th grade.

 In their 16 years teaching children in the slums, the school has developed some remarkable programs to address the deep needs of, not only the children in their classrooms, but the youth and adults in the surrounding slum area, densely populated with 14,000 people.

Harriet and her siblings were some of those identified by the school as in need of help. The school appealed to their donors and the local community for any help they could offer, and people came forward with clothing and money to pay the rent for Harriet’s small slum home.  Once the children were in school, the staff began the process of matching them up with a local older woman in a ‘granny’ program, whereby elderly people living alone are matched up with children living alone, to offer stability, love and guidance. Life for Harriet’s young family has not been mended overnight, but they, and hundreds of students like them, are in a far more empowered position to support themselves in the future because of the work of this school.

The school asked Crossroads to send a container of goods to help their work in this Kampala slum. They needed more text books, exercise books and books for the teachers, computers, recreational equipment, school uniforms and other clothing that can be given to the poorest children, and others in the community, and more. The goods that we were able to send helped the school continue its existing programs, and also reach its goals for expanding their work to establish an orphanage for the most vulnerable children, enhance their programs in adult literacy amongst the students’ parents, and a more comprehensive handicrafts program for the older students.

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