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Mainland Migrants Fight Depression in Hong Kong

  • Prospero Laput

Thousands of women from mainland China come to Hong Kong every year to live with their Hong Kong husbands and gain a chance at a better life in the wealthy Chinese territory. But for some, dreams turn to tragedies. In recent years, several gruesome murders and suicides have claimed the lives of mainland women and their children.
But while some women succumb to depression and despair, others are fighting it. Producer Prospero Laput reports on how one mother's attempt to break her depression became part of another man's crusade to give hope to the troubled Hong Kong village of Tin Shui Wai. VOA's Heda Bayron narrates.

Hong Kong is one of the world's wealthiest, most glamorous cities.

But at the edge of the city, in Tin Shui Wai, a cramped high-rise community, that glamour is far away.

Instead, thousands of residents struggle with poverty, isolation and joblessness. Many are migrants from mainland China, including women who joined their Hong Kong husbands.

The despair is seen in the headlines, such as on one day in October, when a mainland woman bound her two children, and threw them from the 24th floor of her apartment building, before jumping off herself.

It is one of a string of murder-suicide cases to shock Tin Shui Wai in recent years.

A group of mostly mainlanders practices traditional exercises regularly in the community's little park. But experts say thousands of mainland women stay home each day, trapped in a city where they can not escape poverty.

Social workers say mainland women often struggle to cope with their new lives. Some can not speak the local Cantonese dialect and find it hard to make friends or find jobs.

Mainland migrant Lo Lai-Heng says, "At Tin Shui Wai, many people do not get support. Many husbands are jobless or they have affairs. (That is why) so many women are upset. These women, they are not used to Hong Kong lifestyle."

Forty-year-old Ah-Heng joined her husband in Hong Kong in 1997 -- only to be abandoned. Jobless, she relies on government welfare to feed her three children. She says, "If committing suicide were the way to solve problems, I would have died many times over."

But social workers here say only a few women are willing to speak up about their problems. Often, mainland women lock themselves up in their apartments and refuse help.

"We want to bring out depressed women through activities and gatherings. Through community activities and counseling, it may encourage optimism and put depression behind," explained Lam Kwan-wei, who is with the Oblige and Self Help organization.

Lam Kwan-wei knows about desperation. A former businessman, he lost his life savings during the Asian financial crisis 10 years ago. He too lives on welfare. Instead of a posh office, he now works in his daughter's bedroom, running Oblige and Self Help, a small group helping Tin Shui Wai's neediest.

He says the problems Tin Shui Wai's residents confront are partly the result of a lack concern for each other and their failure to integrate into the community.

He says he wants to gather the housewives, the elderly and the youth together, so they can talk about their problems and help each other.

Winter is coming and Lam's volunteers give scarves to the elderly. In small steps, he wants to raise awareness, gather support, and bring together the whole community in similar activities.

While Lam says there is still much to be done, one volunteer says the efforts already are working, and easing isolation. "I have to do something to calm down my emotions and let go of the pressure. If I don't do anything, I'd feel like I'm useless, which might make me crazy."

Now, Ah-Heng says she no longer feels alone.

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