Interview by Megan Foo, President of Women LEAD’s Hong Kong Chapter
Lai-Shan Sze is a community organizer of the Society for Community Organization (SoCO), a non-governmental organization in Hong Kong that supports the underprivileged through outreach and education. As part of her work with SoCO, Lai-Shan empowers cage dwellers and new immigrants to fight for their fundamental human rights. She has also been involved with voluntary advisory work for the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and is a Member of the Sham Shui Po District Council Office’s Family and Children Service Committee, Member of the Sham Shui Po District Council Office’s Working Group on Poverty, and was formerly a part-time member of the government’s Central Policy Unit. For her outstanding efforts in social work, Lai-Shan was given the Outstanding Social Worker Award from the Hong Kong Social Workers Association Limited. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (Honors) from Baptist University and a Master of Laws (Human Rights) from the University of Hong Kong.
Women LEAD: What is your background?
Lai-Shan Sze: I was born in mainland China and immigrated to Hong Kong in the 1980s when I was 11 years old. I was brought up in a poor family when Hong Kong was in the early stage of its economic boom. When I entered university, I found that many poor people were living in destitution in Hong Kong even though at that time Hong Kong enjoyed one of the world’s highest GDP per capita. Hundreds of thousands of hardworking grassroots were excluded from sharing the fruit of economic prosperity they had contributed to. It was disheartening to see that while the number of skyscrapers in Hong Kong grew rapidly, tens of thousands of poor people were living in such inhumane living conditions like cubicles and caged homes. Sadly, I have to admit that very little has improved in these aspects in the past two decades.
I began to participate in community services in secondary school and chose to major in Social Work at University. I feel an obligation to provide the destitute with assistance, make their voices heard, to encourage them to fight for a fairer society. SoCO’s mission to uphold social justice and its down-to-earth working approach resonated with me, and I became a community organizer of SoCO since 1995. At SoCO, I work to serve the poorest and promote human rights. In the past 19 years, I am proud of SoCO’s positive role in exposing social injustice and lending humble assistance to many deprived people who need help.
Women LEAD: You are a Community Organizer at the Society for Community Organization (SoCO), a non-governmental organization in Hong Kong that empowers the underprivileged through outreach and education. Can you tell us more about your role with SoCO?
Lai-Shan Sze: My main tasks are to serve, organize and empower the poor who are the tenants living in caged homes, cubicles or rooftops. These tenants are mostly the lonely elderly, the working poor, new immigrant families, children living with single mothers, and people with mental illness. My daily work is to reach out to the homes of these needy people to help them apply for public services and find out the gaps in social policies and social services for these underprivileged groups. I organize them for group meetings to build up mutual support among the poor, and provide training to them. I also plan media campaigns and social actions to advocate for policy changes and address administrative red tapes. At the same time, I conduct researches and ally with other NGOs or political parties to draw local and international concerns on the situation of this neglected group. In sum, as a community organizer, I play a variety of roles, from researcher, organizer, advocator, case worker, facilitator to educator. I see it as my duty to exhaust every legal means and empower every underprivileged person; to help the poor get fair opportunities, get rid of poverty and poor living conditions, and uphold social justice and the protection for human rights.
Women LEAD: What are your hopes for SoCO’s future?
Lai-Shan Sze: Through the projects that I am responsible for, I hope every person can live in decent housing and have equal opportunities to develop their full potential. I aspire to contribute to building Hong Kong into a society that respects human dignity, upholds social justice and is full of love and care. It is imperative that Hong Kong should eradicate poverty and caged homes as well as re-house the poor to public housing and that the new immigrants – especially the women and children –have equal opportunities to full social entitlements and social development.
Women LEAD: What motivates you to empower immigrant women in the Hong Kong community?
Lai-Shan Sze: From my experience, most of the immigrant women are hardworking and humble; they will sacrifice themselves for their family. Their expectation for life is minimal – just a loving family and a chance to earn their living by themselves. Yet, it is so hard for them due to poor family backgrounds, low social statuses, and social discrimination.
Women LEAD: Why does women’s empowerment matter to you?
Lai-Shan Sze: I think that it is very important to empower women as they are human beings and they should have human rights. Besides, these women’s development affects the development of their family and children, as well as the social development.
Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted you in your life?
Lai-Shan Sze My mother has influenced my life; she is a very hardworking and responsible person. Perseverant and eager to help others, she is a woman who can keep her words. Her attitude to life, work, family and our society has impacted me a lot.
Women LEAD: What advice do you have for future women leaders?
Lai-Shan Sze: No mater work you do, uphold the values of social justice and love.