Members of the Variety family do wonderful work in improving the lives of disadvantaged children around the world. However, many of our tents are well established with good resources and infrastructure, which has been developed over many years.
This is a story about one of our recently established tents in Asia.
When it was established in 2015, Variety Hong Kong had nothing more than a Board of volunteers from various backgrounds who had decided to give their time and energy to establishing Variety and helping it grow into a major children’s charity in Hong Kong. They had no sponsor, no funds and no staff. The Board of Variety Hong Kong made a conscious decision to proceed at a measured pace to ensure that they would be able to build a foundation for a tent that will stand the test of time.
While Hong Kong is known for its generous philanthropy, there are more than 8,000 registered charities in a population of around 7 million. Many of these are very well established and very well resourced. Many of these charities receive substantial funding from the Hong Kong Government or from major corporate and/or individual donors and operate on a large scale.
As a new charity in Hong Kong, Variety HK needed to be innovative, to build awareness of Variety and start raising funds within the limited resources available. They needed to start building credibility with major potential donors and beneficiaries.
In 2015, Variety HK decided to establish the Variety Butterfly Program as a flagship program to provide early assessment and interim treatment of children and adolescents with mental health problems from financially disadvantaged families who do not have the means to seek medical or psychiatric services outside the public health system.
Children suspected to suffer from mental health problems currently have to wait more than a year for clinical assessment in the Government’s public clinics in Hong Kong. If they are diagnosed with autism, attention deficit disorder or other mental health conditions, they have to wait for another 14-15 months on average for treatment at Hong Kong’s public clinics, and in many cases the waiting time for public psychiatric outpatient services can be as long as three years. Those years can be critical, and treatment often comes too late.
Variety HK has recruited a network of psychiatrists (currently 12) to provide early assessment and treatment to children and adolescents who are awaiting admission for public outpatient treatment services. We also work with other charities to provide counseling and coping skills for families and carers.
Financial support was provided by Café Deco Group, a leading restaurant group with 16 upmarket outlets in Hong Kong, through their “HKD1 Charity Campaign”, under which a voluntary donation of HK$1 (approx. US$0.13) is included in every customer bill to be donated to the Butterfly Program. As Variety is a new charity with no track record in Hong Kong, this was a major leap of faith by Café Deco and they have been a strong supporter of this Program. This program has raised around HKD350,000 (approx. US$45,000) to date, all of which is committed to the Variety Butterfly Program. The Program is gaining momentum and has attracted very favorable comment.
To date, the Butterfly Program has covered 42 children, including eight who received accelerated admission into a Government treatment program – and one whose suicide is believed to have been avoided by Variety’s intervention.
In addition to supporting the Butterfly Program, Café Deco Group sponsored the 2016 Variety Christmas Party in one of their outlets, with Café Deco staff joining in as volunteers. About 35 disadvantaged children and their families, including several from the Butterfly Program, joined a “Make your own Pizza” party hosted by Café Deco. The children were taught by the Café Deco chef to make their own pizzas, which were then baked and enjoyed by the kids and their families.
Variety HK also undertook another very different project: Art in the Children’s Wards.
Following a discussion at a Board meeting about the conditions in children’s psychiatric awards in the Hong Kong public hospital system, we decided to explore possibilities for co-operation with the FarGo Foundation, an NGO which works with at-risk youths by channeling their energy into street art. The objective was to use street art to brighten up the children’s psychiatric wards. This was seen as a win-win-win-win situation: to brighten up the children’s wards; to provide an opportunity for at-risk adolescents to work with children who have other challenges; to provide an outlet for children under psychiatric care in the hospitals to work with other kids; and to provide a low-cost way of gaining some exposure for Variety.
After several months discussions with the Hong Kong Hospital Authority, which administers the public hospital system in Hong Kong, it was decided to proceed, and on 14 January 2017 a team of volunteers from Variety and FarGo Foundation completed a project in a newly renovated children’s psychiatric ward at Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung, a major port and industrial area in Hong Kong.
Variety provided the paint and several volunteers; FarGo provided the designs and artists.
Early feedback from the Hong Kong Hospital Authority has been extremely positive, and a second project at another public hospital is planned for later this year.
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