Swedish student Sebastian Lindstrom has successfully forged an ongoing relationship between the University and the West African nation of Ghana through an NGO he helped found to assist vulnerable children, especially those infected with HIV/AIDS. Sebastian, a International Business and Global Management graduate, credits HKU with giving him the "strength, encouragement and inspiration" to forge that relationship. Here he describes how he made it work.
"After setting up the non-governmental organisation, Light for Children, in Ghana along with two Ghanaians, I moved to Hong Kong to start my studies. Soon after arriving, I felt a need to bridge the cultures of Asia and Africa, and knew that this could best be done by organising a field trip. After talking with a few different student groups at HKU focusing on everything from orphans in Cambodia to HIV/AIDS in China, I realised that it was much easier than I thought to apply for money for my own field trip. A few weeks later, I had successfully mobilised HK$80,000 that covered a majority of the flight costs for 12 students travelling to Ghana to experience first-hand the impact of AIDS in the community.
"The team of 12 students were from a good mix of places: Hong Kong, Sweden, America, Iran, Germany, Taiwan, Korea, England and Mainland China. Two of the group were exchange students and the rest were full-time students. People from all walks of life chipped in to help raise awareness of the AIDS issue prior to the trip and the most important support came from HKU staff in all faculties. The University also paid for the flights for two members of the Hong Kong production firm, Mirror Productions, which has now finished a documentary based on the field trip. The documentary strives to inspire the young, multicultural generation of today to contribute to positive change on a global level. It highlights the similarities between cultures, while reflecting on the values, attitudes and motivations of the students themselves. And it demonstrates how the field trip bridged the divide between two worlds.
"In Ghana, more than 9,600 children under the age of 15 are living with HIV/AIDS. Nearly 170,000 children under age 17 have lost one or both parents to AIDS. Only a few of the children receive assistance such as food aid, health care, educational or social support.
"One child who is always on my mind is Vincent Foriwaa. He was enrolled on the Light for Children programme, and all the HKU volunteers loved to play with him during their stay. Two weeks after all the volunteers were home in Hong Kong, we received the sad news that Vincent had died.
Vincent did not like taking his medication and would often spit it out without his mother's knowledge. He was therefore defaulting and this was making him more ill. After a period of refusing to eat and becoming increasingly weak, he very sadly died.
"After his death it was recommended to the mother to get her daughter tested. She tested positive, and Light for Children have enrolled her in Vincent's place. The mother of Vincent and his sister earns a small wage as a petty trader. Her husband has absconded and has no contact with the family. Life is a constant struggle for them.
"Thanks to the University's support there was another six-week field trip to Ghana, and the Faculty of Social Sciences also sent five students on full scholarships in the summer that followed for a two-month period to conduct volunteer work. The adventure started with only one trip and later at least two trips were planned per year.
"Success and true change will not happen overnight, and Ghana requires as much support as it can get. By participating as a volunteer working with Light for Children, by teaching, working with the healthcare system in an HIV/AIDS home or orphanage, volunteers from abroad can really make a difference. And HKU is showing the way."