Sunday, November 30, 2008

Banquets and refugees

A friend wondered why I was sullen at the wedding banquet. One of the reasons I was in a foul mood was a simple calculation I did on the way to the banquet: The banquet at the posh hotel probably cost $8,000 per table. With 30 tables, the banquet cost at least a cool $240,000.

Earlier that afternoon, our team met with some social workers from Caritas over a number of projects about refurbishing old computers to be distributed to students from poor families. After delivery, some minimal support have to be provided to the families. Otherwise, even very simple problems such as an unplugged cable would render the computers unusable. We discussed recruiting students volunteers in different locations to provide the needed support. Some of the computers will actually be shipped to Cameroon in Africa. They are considering sending four volunteers over there for three months to one year to handle the delivery and distribution. It probably costs $30,000 to send one person to Cameroon. Living expenses there is very low. But the airplane ticket is quite expensive.

Separately, our team have also been discussing an almost absurd problem that just arose concerning a project with another NGO, Christian Action. We have been working with them to run weekend workshops for some children of refugees stuck in Hong Kong. A series of workshops were suddenly called off because the transportation budget for taking the children to the university from home has just been cut due to some emergency. The amount in question is only several hundred dollars per workshop. These kids, whose parents cannot work and are forced to depend on handouts to survive, cannot enjoy some free diversion and training because of a few hundred lousy dollars! We did offer to donate the transportation costs from our own pockets; but some workshops still had to be cancelled or rescheduled.

The $240,000 could have financed both of these projects and more. Just one little red pocket (I was told the going rate is $500-$1,000) that each of the guests give the newlyweds is enough to finance the transportation costs for all the kids for one workshop. That’s part of why I was sullen. I am not really against posh banquets; weddings are joyous occasions worth celebrating. But we relatively blessed people in Hong Kong should have the capacity to take care of the needy among us while we enjoy ourselves.

One of these days, God is going to ask us: Why didn’t you help one of those little ones in need while you could? What did you do with the wealth entrusted to you? What are we going to say then?

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