From Singapore to Sandy Bay
by Paola Caronni
The black-and-white house where the Italian Ambassador in Singapore was living with the family was a striking edifice of old-time beauty. Huge windows, wooden ceiling fans, airy and breezy interiors. The property was sitting on a hill, and it was surrounded by a huge manicured park, a few steps away from the equatorial jungle.
That was my first encounter, in 1998, with a fund-raising activity organized by a women-only group, precisely the ‘Italian Women’s Group’ of Singapore, and supported by the Italian Embassy. The Ambassador’s wife was a Swiss lady of rare class and composure. She was very much involved in charity-related matters. For this reason, she was really honoured to offer her house and the huge park in order to set up a beautiful ‘market’ where all things Italian were on sale, especially food, in order to raise funds for the Red Cross.
The Ambassador was posted to Zimbabwe and he left with his family a couple of years later. But things kept evolving positively within the Italian Women’s Group. The Red-Cross fundraising activity was still a yearly charity appointment, although it was held elsewhere, and the ‘Christmas Gala Dinner’ too. I was glad to have an active role within this dynamic group of women and I still treasure all the meaningful moments I spent with them.
Therefore, when I came back to Hong Kong in 2005, after my pleasant Singaporean parenthesis, I gladly approached the Italian Women’s Association. I was eager to continue my volunteering experience with them, as well as to get to know more Italian women. I had some vague memories of their major fundraising effort, ‘the Italian Day at Sandy Bay’, where I once dropped by in 1996, when I was still a young woman very busy with her hectic Hong Kong-style working schedule and not yet a member of the Association. Only after joining the Association, during my second stay in Hong Kong, I started to understand the scope of this big Charity event.
The ‘Duchess of Kent Children’s Hospital’ is the only Paediatric Hospital in Hong Kong, and for a very long time it was a private hospital fully supported by the ‘Society for the Relief of Disabled Children’ (SRDC), which is still its major fundraising body. The history of this small hospital goes back to the Fifties, when Hong Kong was struggling with poliomyelitis and tuberculosis. Tuberculosis, attacking the bones, joints and spine and spreading through the air, became the principal cause of death in Hong Kong at that time. As the ‘Queen Mary Hospital’ was offering only two orthopaedic beds for children, an alternative solution was needed in order to take care of the children after operation. In 1956 the foundation stone was laid, and a children’s convalescent home was opened at Sandy Bay, Pokfulam, thanks to the support of some very generous donors and institutions. The SRDC secured a land grant from the Government for the Sandy Bay site. The first children could thus receive free care in the two wards. Over the years, the hospital, later named ‘The Duchess of Kent Children’s Hospital’ in honour of its patron, Duchess Katharine Kent, was widely upgraded and expanded, and it is now one of the most avant-garde paediatric hospital worldwide specialized in the treatment of spinal deformities.
Even before the Italian Women’s Association was registered as a Charity organization in 1996, there was a great interest in the work of the SRDC and in the upgrading of the ‘Duchess of Kent Children’s Hospital’. There had been an Italian child hospitalized in these premises, and the Italian community’s participation in this human case surely left a trace in the years to come. There was a widespread desire to help the Hospital and raise funds to improve its facilities, so that more and more children with spine deformities and neuro-degenerative diseases could be well taken care of.
Therefore, the first Saturday of December became the most important appointment for the Italian Community in Hong Kong. The ‘Italian Day at Sandy Bay’ kicked off in 1983 to raise funds and to allow the completion of several important projects for the Sandy Bay Hospital. Since 1996, the Italian Women’s Association has been single-handedly organizing the charity event that, over the years, became a well-known happening for Italians and locals alike.
The Bazaar was – and still is- the biggest attraction. Many Italian companies donate their products, which are then sold at the stalls. In the last editions, The ‘Gourmet Corner’ substituted ‘Le Grazie Restaurant’. This new concept allows more visitors to buy tasty snacks and ready dishes and enjoy them in the al fresco area, equipped with tables and chairs. The food is offered by the best Italian restaurants in town.
Over the years, our fund-raising efforts have been paying off. From the support given solely to the SRDC, which then allocates the funds to special plans for the Hospital, we were able to widen our scope. Therefore, more and more meaningful projects, for other needy associations in Hong Kong and Macau, can benefit from the monies raised during this event.
Ever since I arrived in Hong Kong for the second time in 2005, I must say that I have been treasuring every step of progress taken in these years for the ‘Sandy Bay Day’. It was like seeing a baby grow. I love the sense of movement, of evolution, and the unique dynamics behind each and every ‘Italian Day at Sandy Bay’. I still remember when there were less ladies involved, when the market was smaller, when we did not have such high-quality products to sell, and when we were not yet so well organized in terms of project management, planning of logistics or volunteers, etc.
We can be quite proud of the results the Italian Women’s Association has achieved as a Charity Body, and not only in terms of fundraising. This is an experience that allowed us to grow, to mature, to face challenges, to cooperate and to work together for the best possible aim: helping children and people in need in a country that is not ours, but for which we feel a special sense of belonging.
I sometimes think back at the stunning black-and-white house in Singapore, where I moved my first steps as a volunteer. I feel I have been going a long way, exploring other unknown and yet charming territories, and landing in the pleasant and meaningful gardens of the ‘Duchess of Kent Children’s Hospital’.
We look forward to seeing you on Saturday 6th of December 2014, from 10am to 5 pm in the beautiful gardens of ‘The Duchess of Kent Childrens’ Hospital’, 12 Sandy Bay Road, Pokfulam. For more information: [email protected]