A walk as good on the heart as the legs

by Denise Mountain

 

Volunteer Denise and former director of Amity HK, Rev. Bud enjoying their participation at Amity's Walk for Living Water 2015

On 14th March 2015 I had the opportunity to attend the Amity Foundation's 5th annual Walk for Living Water, held at the SKH Tsang Shiu Tim (TST) Secondary School in Hong Kong. It could so easily have turned out as many other sponsored walks, a fun and meaningful afternoon but forgotten once it's over. However, two things happened beforehand which struck me as seriously ironic later in the day, and which served to heighten the significance of the experiences over the afternoon...and even now.

The first was when I realised, on my way to the venue, that I'd left my water bottle at home. Boo! Now I'd have to grab a bottle of water from the shop.  How easy it is to give no more thought to this necessity of life than to the cost of forking out a little money for the privilege of buying some. Such an irony, just one hour later, to be cheering on teams in a 'Strong Man Contest', representing the gruelling challenge of carrying this precious commodity across country and over obstacles without losing any of it.  It was a fun event to observe, but the contest pointed to a several-times-daily reality for many rural Chinese who live without clean water, let alone tap water or convenience stores. This significance was definitely not lost... a humbling moment, indeed, as I sipped fresh water from my store-bought bottle! Wonderful, then, to know that the events of the day were raising funds for the Amity Foundation's projects to aid water-deprived communities in China.

Students competing with each other in Amity's Strong Men Contest

It was also very encouraging to see lots of visitors taking part in the Hong Kong Water Supplies Department's (WSD) "Water Saving Challenge", especially popular with the primary and middle school students. Staff from the WSD were keen to support Amity's conservation and sustainability programs for China, whilst at the same time encouraging the younger generations to use water responsibly in their own homes. This concern was echoed in the official opening speech by Mr. Enoch Lam Tin Sing, the Director of WSD, whose tips on water conservation set the tone for the rest of the proceedings.

Director Anthony Tong of Amity HK is discussing with Director Mr. Lam and staff of the HK Water Department. Young students enjoying the activities.

Getting back to the ironies that struck me on the way to the Walk, the second incident was a conversation that morning with a local. She was bemoaning the divide between the people of Hong Kong and the Mainland, not in physical distance but in attitude towards each other. "There's such division, and no attempt from either side to bridge the divide or try to see things from the other's perspective", she said with disappointment.  How I wish she could have seen what I saw as the events for the Walk for Living Water unfolded. What an encouragement it could have been for her to see the other side of the picture. 

Hundreds of Hong Kong locals of all ages turned out in support of this mainland-based NGO, all with the same goal to raise as much money as possible to help make dramatic changes in the lives of the people of rural China. Many of them were also willing to carry burdens of water-filled buckets around the Shing Mun River in empathy with those mainlanders living in remote areas who hike great distances every day to retrieve water for their daily needs.  Most encouraging, though, was that many participants were the next generation who could potentially influence social welfare in Hong Kong and beyond in the future. Yes, there may be some tensions between locals and mainlanders, sadly considered more news- and gossip-worthy; but the Walk for Living Water was representative to me of a greater reality of compassion and collaboration bringing hope to both parties.

People of all ages joined the Walk for Living Water

Well, as if this is not inspiration enough in itself, I have been trying to decide what the most memorable moments of the day were. Perhaps the anticipation of the participants at the start of the Walk, as they shouldered (literally) their burdens and were joyfully sent off by a cheerleading squad; or the sight of the school hall packed with excited walkers, supporters, volunteers and staff; maybe it was the teamwork amongst those carrying their buckets around the Shin Mun River embankment, or the fun of watching Balloon Castle make Oi Ducks (mascots for the walk in the form of balloon ducks) or watching the kids decorate them; or the proud smiles on the faces of the student volunteers from SKH TST who had been cooking all night to prepare tables full of snacks for fundraising.

Many volunteers and young people contibuted to this meaningful event

So many examples to choose from, but two great impressions do stand out most. The first was the humbling acceptance by a couple of macho high schoolers, who decided to sacrifice a little of the water they were carrying around the river in order to make it back with at least some still in the bucket! The load may not have seemed so great to begin with, but the strain of the weight was evident 40 minutes into the Walk. The second impression was of the tireless efforts of the army of volunteers who spent the whole day on site and were still smiling by the end of it!  Amongst the most passionate of volunteers were the staff of the Hong Kong Red Cross Hospital Schools, who have supported the Walks for Living Water since they began in 2011. Besides building teams of walkers who are so successful at fund-raising that they are invariably contenders for the largest donations competition, the Red Cross Hospitals staff provide face-painting, tattoo artistry, and bead-making workshops to entertain the crowds throughout the day. Schools Principal Sue Chan proudly watched as two of their students gave testimonies on the experience of visiting the Amity Foundation's projects in action in west China, which was the winning prize from 2014. She said it was very easy to support the work that the Amity Foundation does, as the Hospital Schools share the vision of promoting life education.

Political and church representatives and organisations attended the event

Lessons learnt for life, inspiration gained, much fun had! All in all an enlightening day. I can only imagine the blessings the Amity Foundation will continue to bring to countless lives in Hong Kong and rural China over the coming years, living up to their name evoking harmony and goodwill.