Hiking to Heal was our first programme started in 2015, focusing on 12 vulnerable women recovering from severe trauma. Now, it is a weekly sports programme (alternating hiking/fitness/yoga or hiking/ swimming) for a group of 30 refugee women. 38 sport sessions were provided in 2017, including 14 professionally coached swimming classes for novice swimmers. A psychologist specialising in trauma directly supports this group. The programme is also complemented by life skills education, including sessions of Parent Effectiveness Training (PET), nutrition workshops, weight-loss support and women’s health workshops.
This is a weekly programme led by a professional running coach for 39 adult refugees (mixed gender). 11 refugee teenagers joined this group early 2017, running alongside their mothers. 48 running sessions were provided in 2017, with participants running in 15 races with distances ranging from 5 km to 32 km. This increased their sense of belonging and integration with the local community, as well as boosting their self-esteem through achieving a goal.
As our sports programmes developed, we identified the need to supplement them with skills training. In March 2017, we launched a mentoring and online university education program for 21 participants. To support this, we matched members of the local business community with refugee adult students, to act as mentors and to provide guidance and support during the study period.
As of December 2017, 5 refugees have completed 1 or more courses ahead of schedule including: Coding, Journalism, Finance, Contract Law, Business and Accounting. 10 refugees are progressing well on other courses (Principals of Financial Accounting, Introduction to English Grammar, Learning French, Social English Language Skills, Leading Healthcare, Tesol, Web Design), and 6 are being trained on the basics of computer literacy in order to start classes.
Although refugees are generally not allowed to work in Hong Kong, we have received extensive legal advice from human rights and immigration lawyer Mark Daly about the procedure to obtain exceptional permission to work from the Director of Immigration in Hong Kong on a case-by-case basis. We are currently working with the corporate community to help facilitate exceptional employment for some refugees. Meetings are being planned to identify suitable candidates, as well as move forward with the applications to immigration.
In late 2017, we launched a programme for the women involved in Hiking to Heal to support them to foster independence and learn about accountability and responsibility for the RUN operations. These groups are led by refugees and mediated by a volunteer. Committees set up so far are: Nutrition and Hygiene; Women’s Healthcare; Code of Conduct; Welcome Committee; and Children’s Education. The committees meet every 2-3 weeks after the weekly hiking activity. Each group makes presentations to the wider community of RUN women to discuss what they have learned and to share their knowledge.
As most refugee children are unable to access kindergarten, we organise childcare during the day and sponsor babysitting during the evening to enable parents to participate in our programmes. With the opening of our own premises in January 2017, the childcare is now professionally organised by experienced early childhood teachers, with the support of a play therapist in a child friendly environment. Sessions are as close as possible to a structured school day.
In 2017, 38 childcare sessions were organised for 6 children on average during the Hiking to Heal programme. Babysitting was sponsored for 6 mums on average over 48 weeks, allowing them to attend the track training every Thursday evening. Close to the summer and the Christmas holidays, two 7-week running programmes were organised for 20 refugee children aged between 4 and 11 years old.
We provide healthy food and drinks, specifically breakfast and lunch on hiking days, as well as a pre-training snack and light meal after track training. These are essential as participants often arrive hungry, particularly near the end of the month when their government food coupons are running out.
RUN also coordinates emergency support for its participants independently and in partnership with other NGOs to facilitate access to healthcare, food, and housing, including Health in Action, Christian Action, Justice Centre Hong Kong and International Social Service (ISS). For example, we coordinate urgent medical care, mainly dental or gynaecological. This has included RUN facilitating gynaecologist visits for 3 vulnerable women who were victims of Female Genital Mutilation. We also provide social and psychological support services, supported by pro bono psychologist Mariela Galli and social worker Alison Mackay.