Interviewee: Rebecca Lee (Senior Programme Officer)
Interviewed and edited by: Jojo Poon
Devotees in the development industry often started out with a calling derived from a unique personal experience. For Rebecca, our Senior Programme Officer, that special experience took place during her university years. She was pursuing a degree in International Politics, and one of the subjects was International Relations. It was her first time acknowledging the wide disparity between the world’s rich and poor, “I didn’t think God intended the world to work this way: while some people were starving to death, others enjoyed excessive abundance. This was clearly wrong. I wanted to do something to make the world a better place,” Rebecca says. Since then, to make a difference for God (MAD for God) has become her motivation in serving the poor.
The journey to serve in Shaanxi followed by public education work in Hong Kong, to the eventual devotion to supporting overseas development projects, had taught Rebecca the discrepancies between ideals and reality, and the importance of local perspective within the development work, “We often came across results that are different from our expectations. I was visiting a village in Tanzania where we had implemented a development programme for over a decade. It looked the same on the outside comparing to neighbouring villages, except there were several grocery stores within the village.” To Rebecca’s surprise, the humble grocery stores made of clay were actually important achievements by the villagers, after forming self-help groups, setting up small loans, and learning to run businesses. “Normally, we don’t credit something other than the erection of concrete buildings as development, but to the villagers, an upgrade to metal sheet houses from straw ones was a huge step forward… We need to look at development from the perspective of the locals and recognise their struggles and needs.”
It seems like we are the one who brings changes to the poor on the surface, but those who have been among the poor and experienced poverty and local development would gladly share with you their broadened horizons. “I had a renewed perspective towards my neighbours, the poor around us, and the people and events surrounding urban renewal projects in Hong Kong,” says Rebecca, “My experience in development work led me to appreciate the uniqueness of Hong Kong and how blessed we are. We have a government that is doing a great deal of planning… When I went abroad to project sites, I realised there are only a few fortunate people.” She remembered her first trip to Africa was a trip to Kenya, “It was so deserted that people could only find muddy water after digging a 2-storey deep well. It made clichés like ‘Don’t waste your food’ and ‘Cherish what you have’ that much more palpable.”
Rebecca says that the responsibility to help the poor is not exclusive to only the development workers. Each of us could practically care for the poor in our everyday lives, “Hong Kong’s economy is largely driven by consumers and we as consumers can make use of our influence, for example, we could boycott companies that were engaged in sweatshop labour or child labour, or companies that adopt harmful farming practices to the environment. Consumers possess great power to impact how companies run their businesses.” Though there is a price to pay, “If we want the labourers to be paid fairly, we may need to pay more for the final product. We could also choose to simplify our lifestyle and consume less. These are all tangible choices we could make,” says Rebecca.
MAD for God. The question is not how big of a difference could we make for God, but if we are willing to make a difference in our everyday life for God.