“One of my lifelong dreams is to have the Hong Kong Government commemorate Ethnic Minorities who have contributed historically to this city like the Sikh Soldiers, Guards, Nepalese Gurkhas, the Sindhi business community”- Jeffrey Andrews
One of the very first Indians to complete an associate degree in Social Work from the Caritas Institute of Higher Education in Hong Kong, Jeffrey, belonging to an ethnic minority in Hong Kong has come a long way. Getting arrested in his early days proved to be an eye opener which led him to work with refugees and asylum seekers. Only to further make him realise that his passion truly was in helping others. Commended by the Home Affairs Secretary of Hong Kong for his contribution towards racial harmony In Hong Kong; together with Unison, he continues to bravely fight for the ethnic minority community in Hong Kong.
And we at HKYantoYan readily caught up with Jeffery Andrews to know more about his transposed life from a disillusioned teenager to an admired social worker.
Tell us about yourself – how did you get into helping ethnic minorities in Hong Kong?
I was born and raised in Hong Kong and grew up in the local education system. As a youngster, I suffered from an identity crisis. Going to a segregated school made the pathways for ethnic minorities like us struggle to fully integrate into the local community, which in effect made many of us disillusioned youths without hope. I got into serving the ethnic minorities because I had gotten into trouble as a youngster and nearly paid a very heavy price. But thankfully, a guardian angel, a local Chinese social worker named Fermi Wong saved me from the brink of losing everything and showed me a way forward.
I saw the impact she had in me and many other minority friends who also took a wrong path. I also realized there were no ethnic minority social workers serving our own community. It was then with the help of Fermi Wong I got into a college that took the first step in allowing an ethnic minority into the social work course. After four challenging years, I graduated and was honoured to become the first local registered ethnic minority social worker.
Racism and xenophobia sadly exist in Hong Kong. How does one go about trying to tackle this?
The way to solve this is through education. I have always advocated and pushed for the HK government to incorporate cultural diversity courses/syllabus and integrate minorities to mainstream schools. We are lagging behind our Asian rivals like Singapore where the respect, understanding, interactions and cultural exchanges between minorities, races and religions is a great example of racial harmony.
Children don’t discriminate, these are learned behaviours.
I truly believe that once you expose children to their neighbours who are from a different minority background whilst having cultural exchanges, form the basis of multicultural city. Even today we are being turned down in taxi’s, looked down upon, insulted with racial slurs or regarded as outsiders though many of us are second or even third generation Hong Kongers.
One of my lifelong dreams is to have the Hong Kong Government commemorate Ethnic Minorities who have contributed historically to this city like the Sikh Soldiers, Guards, Nepalese Gurkhas, the Sindhi business community. We have all played a major part in shaping Hong Kong to a world class city. Even though the likes of Star ferry, HKU, The Ruttonjee hospital were all initiated by the Ethnic minority community, yet there is not one statue, a museum or even as little as a chapter in local school textbooks. One day, someday I hope this dream will be a reality.
What were some of your personal challenges you have faced as an Indian in Hong Kong?
Since I was a young boy I was so used to being called racial slurs. Once, in my neighborhood football pitch, I was spat at; another opponent refused to shake my hand and called me a “black ghost”. I yet took it in stride, kept playing and let my feet do the talking on the pitch. Soon after, I forced myself to learn Cantonese to understand what I was being called and to really integrate so I could play football in my area.
Like I mentioned earlier, I nearly got into trouble with the law and escaped with God’s grace and with the help of my social worker. But, many minorities don’t get that lucky. Once you get caught, it’s a downward spiral and I believe not everything is the fault of the individual but that of the society and how Government policies hinder our progress.
I am always about overcoming obstacles and challenges.
Hence, since 2004 I have been battling together with my social worker Fermi Wong & through the organisation, “Unison”, founded by her, we have been challenging discrimination and institutional racism. Unison has been responsible for many of the positive changes for the EM community. We have pushed for lowering the entry requirement for certain government civil posts like the Police services. We also went public in the media for the professional football coaching licence course provided by the Hong Kong football association as they conducted exams in Cantonese. And the next day, HKFA called us and changed the exams into English. There are so many examples of how we have fought and overcome these for the greater good of the Minority community.
How can fellow Indians better integrate amongst the locals in Hong Kong? Any tips?
Firstly try and learn at least basic Cantonese; in order to be more accepted we need to integrate as much as possible, even simple phrases that makes a difference. I also hope we can do our part and contribute to the local community and take ownership, like the recent typhoon being a great example when Sikh groups, Nepalese group and even a group of refugees I serve in my Community Centre, all came out for days to help with recovery and clean-up work. I just hope we as a very influential and prominent Indian community can unite more and be more proactive in efforts like this.
What is one thing you are most proud of in life?
Going all the way to the United Nations in Geneva 2013 to advocate together with Unison about segregated schools in Hong Kong and how it is affecting generations of ethnic minorities. As much as I’ve always been critical about government policies I was stunned to find out in 2016 that they were to award me a medal (commendation) for my dedicated services and outstanding contributions to the enhancement of racial harmony and integration. And finally being selected by the US State Department just in April this year for a very prestigious leadership training called the (IVLP) where I met some amazing change makers and legendary heroes of the civil rights movement in the US.
Lastly, how can people get involved and help make a difference like yourself?
It doesn’t take much to do what I have been doing all these years, just a little faith in humanity, compassion and a heart to serve. All of us have this within us, it is just about the will to get out and make that change for those that are less fortunate than us. Over the years I have learnt that even when you start with little and help with little that goes a long way to making a huge impact on people. I have had many folks that come back to me over the years and said thanks to me as giving them a little hand up made them change their lives for the better.
You are a part of the change process, part of someone’s journey, part of something positive. In simple words “Being the change”.
Being an ethnic minority in Hong Kong, if you are on the road of accomplishing something that once seemed almost undoable, please feel free to share your story in the comments below and be the means of Inspiration to all those who need it 🙂