Please note: Effective 12 March 2018, Vine Community Services Limited (VCSL) has changed its official name to Branches of Hope.

‘I feel like I’m at home at VCSL’ 

Silvia was forced to flee her home in Uganda in 2007. She came to VCSL in 2010, since then VCSL have not only helped improve living conditions for her and her children, both of whom are attending international kindergartens through our Keeping Kids in Kindergarten programme. From being a single woman with no friends or family, no one to sought out in a foreign place, Silvia now has a community of friends who support her and a place she can call home at VCSL. Her son is also attending a prestigious secondary school that welcomes and promotes diversity.

Married with two sons, Ra* from the Middle East is a pharmacist by profession. Charitable at heart, he made sure his company donated enough medicines to see the under-privileged get cure. Due to the political crisis, the Muslim Brotherhood extorted controlled drugs from pharmaceutical companies he worked for and sourced them to drug addicts to fund terrorism. Ra was adamant about his principles and refused to comply with the evil works of this movement.

Sadly, his family was viciously threatened due to his conviction of doing what is right. Ra bore scars from the ordeal and his family was traumatised. To save themselves, they fled to Hong Kong. This safe haven, where Ra and his family sought refuge, was not kind to them at first. Language barriers, a high cost of living, the lack of working rights due to his asylum-seeker status, and the uncertainty of his kids’ education were just some of the challenges they faced.

Eventually, Ra found hope in the initiatives of Branches of Hope. “We began to feel that everything will be ok,” Ra remembers. Our Education Programme Manager recognised his kids’ intellectual gift and reached out for scholarship opportunities with several international schools. At last, our efforts and Ra’s kids’ potential were realised.

Through our development programmes, Ra and his wife received advancement in their skills. Another affirmation he received was that he successfully secured visas for his wife and kids and they were relocated to another country safely. Ra graciously shared, “You are not only awakening hope in refugees like me and my family when you give; you are also helping us become self-reliant and changing our lives in the process.”

Ra’s story may be unfamiliar to many but it is present in our city. There are many like Ra who are in need of that out-stretched arm to experience hopefulness in the midst of trials. Admittedly, we will never be able to understand the lives they lead, but what we can do is bring light to their existence and acknowledge their needs.

One of the many challenges refugees and asylum seekers face is not being able to work.

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the asylum seeker

My story started long ago when I escaped to Hong Kong and met other refugees here from different parts of the world. We all have different stories to tell but have a common fear, the fear of persecution and death. This fear increases as social stigma and prejudices towards refugees become more prominent. The threat of deportation back to where they were persecuted arouses pure terror in the hearts of refugees everywhere. Their hopes start to fade and they would rather live on the streets than face the prospect of being deported.

People like me who decided not to feel bad about our situation focused instead on fighting back and holding on to our dreams. I did my best to integrate into mainstream society, learning the language and the culture, and loving the people and society. I also attended local gatherings and tried to understand why certain societies are hostile to refugees. I noticed one thing, they do not understand what refugees are. When different cultures come together, the host culture may sometimes feel threatened. I realised later that locals do not really hate refugees, they just do not understand who these people are and why we are here. From then on I adopted the strategy of going out and sharing our stories. Even now I reach out to schools, community events and individuals just to raise awareness about refugees.

There is an ever-present misconception about refugees. Some media representatives and politicians turn against refugees, doing their worst to paint them in a bad light. They create negative labels to drive people away so that nobody would want to support them. If you did offer support, you live in fear of being singled out by society, shunned by those who are ignorant to the situation. Many locals have fallen into this trap; they care about refugees but are afraid to break through the social prejudice and stand up for us.

Refugees are everywhere, globally. In the past, some that were rejected by the Hong Kong government have been accepted by other countries like Canada, US, Australia and New Zealand. The same people, the same story, rejected by one authority yet accepted by another. There are many refugee stories, and mine is one of the rare ones that has a happy ending. I received Permanent Residency in Hong Kong after my story reached a lady who showered me not with prejudice, but with love and compassion, because she knew my story and understood who I really am. 

This lady took the heat from Hong Kong society because of her convictions, much like a refugee. She heard hate speeches and some of her friends deserted her. Despite it all, she proved to the world that neither a person’s skin color nor social status matters. What matters is his or her personality and reputation. This woman met me at the lowest point of my life, the moment when I thought my hope was completely gone. She took the risk no person her age would normally take and broke the wave of social stigma. I still remember the day she stood her ground against a huge man who said nasty things about me. She defended me with all her passion.  I realised then that in society not everyone hates refugees. This reinforced words my father once told me, “Not everyone will love you and not everyone will hate you. Let those who love you influence your life, and learn from those who hate you to do better.”

I experienced the meaning of true love in a society that initially rejected me. I found a young woman whispering true love into the ears of a young man. We both vowed to make Hong Kong a more welcoming place for migrants of all kinds. We are both engaged in a peace-making project to remove the social stigma that society imposes on refugees. Today I can bring the message of love to Hong Kong because this society also brought the message of love into my life. She is my wife.

I believe in humanity. People like my wife, people like you, people who are far stronger and more influential than she is. People who embrace diversity and have compassion for the weak. We need people like you who will stand up and speak loudly for refugees and social justice in this city. If my wife can stand up for us, you can stand up even higher.

The refugee crisis is international in scope, but here in our own backyard it is our responsibility as justice-loving people, to help the thousands of refugees affected by war, persecution and human right abuses. Social inclusiveness is a culture that we all need to cultivate and embrace in this day and age. We must nurture a culture without prejudice to race, age, gender and beliefs, a culture that sees the world as one big community.

As Branches of Hope’s Manager for Refugee Opportunity and Development Programme, I am happy to contribute in transforming the lives of hundreds of refugees in our community and making our world a better place for all.

One of hundreds of refugee students in this fantastic city, I arrived Hong Kong in 2014.

When I first came with my family, I did not know anyone or anything. Everything was new to me, the language, the culture, the people etc. It was very difficult to communicate with people, as I had zero proficiency in the English language back then. It took me a long time to adapt to the new living environment.

Due to language requirements, I started my journey in secondary school, although having almost completed my secondary school in my home country. The education system was very different between my country and Hong Kong. It was very difficult for me to maintain my level of academic achievements; I was upset and frustrated as I tried my best in my studies. Within 6 months, I was able to communicate with my classmates and teachers. My progress surprised my teachers and my principal even told me that China offered me a scholarship since I was such a fast-learner!

Unfortunately, I was not able to leave Hong Kong due to my refugee status. I did not give up and kept going. Whatever I faced, I took them as a learning opportunity. The life of a refugee is not easy at all and I was forced to be in the situation. I thank God for saving my life and giving me this chance to a new one even though it is full of struggles and challenges. Through these experiences, I learnt a lot.

Another difficulty I faced was my living situation. The cost of living in Hong Kong is very expensive and since I am the eldest son, I felt the responsibility of providing a comfortable living environment for my family. However, for many reasons I cannot work, this means that I have no income. This made me nervous and I felt inefficient in terms of trying to maintain the quality of living for my family.

 It is not easy when you move to a completely new country as a refugee. I did some internships in Hong Kong and I joined different human rights courses as well as spend my weekends teaching refugees English. I strongly believe that without education, I am nothing and I will have no value.

All these experiences have made me stronger and I have become a leader in my community. I am a co-founder of an organisation that stands for refugees in Hong Kong, providing good education to the people that do not have the opportunity and supporting young asylum seekers and refugees build their skills and equip them to become leaders. Along with our organisation, I am also leading a programme that feeds the homeless in Hong Kong. I proudly fight for our rights to live as human beings.

My current worries are the uncertainty of my life as a refugee, whether I can ever get out of this situation, I worry also for my family and our future. I am doing my best and taking action to find a way to help my family and myself. With this situation, I cannot do whatever I aspire to be doing and that is really hard for me.

What I worry most is how I am able to complete my higher education. My hope is to complete my education and to fight for human rights around the world. I want to create a platform for these people to speak up, to let the world hear their voice and for refugees to be seen. I am hopeful; I will not give up and will continue to take action.

By sharing my education journey, my message to refugees is “DO NOT GIVE UP!” Whatever happened, work hard, think positively, tomorrow will be better. Take an action to help yourself. Do not be ashamed because you are a refugee, you have no choice and you were forced to be in this situation. Use these challenges as life lessons to gain knowledge. We may be victims, but we fight to live through all the challenges we face every day!

To the people of Hong Kong, I love you from the bottom of my heart. I love Hong Kong city and I am very glad to be here despite my difficult living situation. I have hope that we can fight together to distribute love, justice and human rights that are missing in our lives.

Together, let us achieve equality.


*Photo is used for illustration purpose only.

*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

“If you were in our shoes, would you not also ask to be given a chance to live a dignified life?”

This year, eight of our girls began taking ballet classes at the Chinese Language Arts and Culture Academy. For all of them, it was their first time in a prestigious school like this, to experience the rigour, discipline and expectations of Beijing Conservatory certified instructors.

Regardless of status, this is not only an amazing opportunity to be treated like any other student in Hong Kong, but also to receive the quality instruction all other kids have access to. The parents appreciate that their children are given the opportunity to expand their horizons beyond their academic schools.

The parents took time to share their thoughts with us.

Malory*: “Ballet class has been a big help in boosting my child’s self-confidence, realising the importance of time management, and most importantly, developing self-discipline. It is also a big step, as it makes her explore doing things outside of her comfort zone.”

Clara*: “My child told me that she became like a popular student at school, because in the beginning of the class, Ms. Jennifer took a picture of them, and my daughter posted it on Instagram. The next day her classmates knew that she has ballet class, and she was really happy.”  Jennifer is Branches of Hope’s Education Officer who has worked closely and tirelessly with the kids of our community.

Experiencing a dignified childhood, filled with hope and opportunity to flourish and learn is invaluable to human development.

Mary* shared: “My kids have become friendlier through the ballet class, and have developed the confidence to communicate with other children, especially those who are older.”

We received a few words from our new ballerinas and their parents.

“We are also human beings like you. We are also parents like you, who wish and struggle for the sake of our children. We are all humans with dignity and respect, and have love and faith inside our hearts.  It is not our choice to be asylum seekers and refugees; we do not wish to cause any disturbance or be a nuisance to your society, as some assumes of us. Our wish is for freedom and dignity, and for our children to see the value of responsibility and build good relationships with their instructors and peers. We also have talents and skills that we can offer, if we are given a chance. Our children… they also show talents and potentials that need to be nurtured and developed, which will benefit Hong Kong society too!”


*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Ahmad* recently completed his associates degree and is now pursuing his bachelor’s degree in Business and Technology.

Before any of these achievements, he faced major challenges navigating through the education system as he did not have access to support. There was a time when he was accepted into one of Hong Kong’s top universities; however, upon realising his status, his registration was withdrawn. The tuition money he had saved and raised was returned to him. He had to start all over but he did not give up. He succeeded in obtaining special permission from the government to allow him to attend university.

Currently, Branches of Hope supports Ahmad* through the Post-Secondary Education Assistance programme. Despite the challenges faced, this process of fighting for his right and access to education made him more confident to socialise in society. The experience also contributed greatly to the development of his skills.

Due to his asylum seeker status which does not allow him to work, his biggest worry is not being able to find a job after he graduates. Nonetheless, this does not hinder his dedication and hard work as he understands that education is the key to his future.

Through education, Ahmad* seeks to gain wisdom and knowledge in order to support him through his entire life, even if he may not be able to work immediately.

He would like to encourage the people of Hong Kong to be more open and understanding towards other cultures, society and people. Many things in this safe region might not last forever, but individuals may form lasting relationships.


*Photo is used for illustration purpose only.

*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Ali* has been in Hong Kong since 2001, he fled his country due to religious persecution from his conversion to Christianity.

For two years, his application for a refugee status has been an ongoing process of repeating the appeal. As a result of this, he suffers from chronic headaches, sleepless nights and he constantly worries for his children.

Ali married his Filipino wife in 2003. His first child was born in the Philippines while the other three were born in Hong Kong. All his children have birth certificates but they neither have passports nor ID cards. Ali was told that if a passport registration needed to be lodged, he would need to take it to the Pakistan Consulate.

In 2010, he attempted to apply for a passport for his first daughter but was met with many trials. Since it was so difficult, he lost the will to return with his other children’s application.

Although International Social Service (ISS) provides HK$1500 rental assistance per adult, it is hardly sufficient for a family of six. Ali could only afford a two bedroom apartment which does not offer enough space or privacy for his family – his son is turning 16 and his children do not have room to study in private.

He also feels a pressing concern from his son’s education. While his daughters go to a neighbourhood school, his son has to report to one that is far away from home.

As his children grow older, they started to question their father’s situation. His son’s classmates would casually ask about his father’s profession and to that, the son would reply that his father runs his own business, in attempt to hide their situation in Hong Kong. Sometimes when his classmates buy snacks, his son would not have the means to take part in the social activity.

Ali’s son is a talented player in football and basketball. However, the few opportunities that the school offered for a friendly exchange in China, he would not be able to participate. He was unable to go since he does not own a passport, therefore, when his classmates inquired, his son had to suggest that it was due to Ali’s’ disapproval towards the exchange.

Many times, Ali’s’ son would ask why they had to live like prisoners in Hong Kong and why his father is not allowed to work.

Sometimes during holidays, the children would want to go out for a nice meal but Ali will try to tame the request by promising his children that their mother would cook whatever they wanted for them. His daughters would also ask why they cannot live in a bigger home.

He keeps secrets from his children because he does not want them to feel ashamed in public or at school. He will try to reassure them that he will have his visa one day in which he will be able to start working.

Although his son understood his father’s flee from religious persecution, he would still despair in the thought that there is no way to be free in his family’s situation. He dreams of having the luxury of affording nice food like KFC or even new clothes.

Ali wants to treat his family out for a nice meal from time to time but due to the reality of their financial situation, it would be a big expense for a big family and that would take away many essentials from their budget.

Due to limited assistance, he does not spend on himself to save up for his children’s needs in education, transportation as well as their regular visits to immigration etc.

Till this day, Ali has been waiting for his application to be approved.

*Photo for illustration purpose only.

*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Megh* came to Hong Kong in 2015 from Bangladesh, and her son was born three years later with a serious heart condition. While her son struggled with his heart condition, Megh’s daughter also began kindergarten. Without the ability to work, she struggled to pay for her daughter’s external kindergarten costs.

However, after Megh became connected with Branches of Hope, she was able to receive assistance from the Keeping Kids in Kindergarten sponsorship for her daughter. With support from sponsorship, Megh was able to pay for her daughter’s school books, stationery, uniform, registration fees, and other costs not covered by the government.

The situation changed drastically during the pandemic when schools closed and students were asked to study online. Megh was once again at a disadvantage. The technology she had access to at home was limited, so her daughter had to use Megh’s phone to watch class recordings. Volunteers from Branches of Hope went on a home visit to see Megh and became aware of her limited access to technology and its impact on the daughter’s schooling. Branches of Hope realized the value of setting her up with a laptop. 

Through assistance from the sponsorship, Megh was able to alleviate some of the difficulties of simultaneously raising her ill son and funding her daughter’s education. Amidst the pandemic, the type of support she received evolved, so her daughter could continue to learn despite the technology divide.
  *Name has been changed to protect her identity, and photo is from stock image.

Mohamed Afser is one of the amazing youths we are supporting for university studies this year. Originally from India, Mohamed and his family fled to Hong Kong 9 years ago. He entered school at the Primary Five level and eventually completed his secondary education at a local high school.

“This experience transformed me that after I graduate high school, I shouldn’t just give up, I should somehow try all my best to enroll in the college even if it’s just for a year.”

Mohamed believed that life begins after high school but he encountered many hurdles in his pursuit for his dream. When he was accepted into college, he approached many organisations for financial assistance with his tuition fees; but was turned down. Due to his status in Hong Kong, his resources were limited.

One fateful email from Mohamed brought Tom, our CEO, in touch with his situation. During this time, Mohamed came to know about our Refugee and Opportunity Development Programme (ROAD). Although ROAD’s assistance did not start until the following year, Mohamed focused on the hope that was restored in him.

True enough, when he shared his encounter with his teachers, they in turn took on the baton to support this hopeful young man with his first year degree tuition fees!

“I thought even if I could just step into college for a year that would still be enough but since I approached right people and had network with right people I got the opportunity to further study in Hong Kong.”

For many that are like Mohamed, the government only provides assistance to the extent of secondary education. Students that desire to further their education face many uncertainties, discouragement and the lack of support from the government.

Mohamed believes that for those who share the same walk as him, he can be their guide and he will use his knowledge to help others.

Mohamed is currently pursuing his second year degree in Professional Accounting. His dedication is evident in the achievements he acquired along the way.

Read about some of Mohamed’s achievements on SCMP here and here.

 “My education experience in Hong Kong is a mixed one. In the beginning, I struggled with language, discrimination and social exclusion when my family and I first moved to Hong Kong. Over time, with the help of some good people, I was able to overcome some of those struggles. The education in Hong Kong provided more learning opportunities and developed my skills as well. After Form 6, I struggled getting into college. I feel hopeless most of the time.”

Despite facing all the challenges, Mohamed Afser received a full scholarship to university.

“One of my worries is about tuition fee for my 3rd and 4th year. I am afraid that if I am not able to get a higher GPA this semester, I might not be able to continue my scholarship. My other worry is about my internship opportunities. I am afraid that due to my identity, I would not be given the permission to learn during my internship. My biggest concern is being deported back to India before I finish my studies. 

I wish to gain knowledge, skills and experience to help me both in my career and in my life. I know this might sound cliché but I want to help people in need with my knowledge and skills; that is my goal.

Providing higher education and employment opportunities to asylum seekers and refugees in Hong Kong would have a variety of benefits that do not simply affect the individual but also have a positive impact on the community. Higher education would equip refugees with the knowledge and skills to contribute to the community as role models and in turn transfer these benefits to their communities through employment in fields that enable them to have a lasting impact upon reconstruction and sustainable development in the refugee community and Hong Kong.”

Photo is used for illustration purpose only.

*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals

Robert* came to Hong Kong as an asylum seeker from an African country. When he first arrived, he did not know anyone in the city and ended up stranded on the street. Fortunately, he was directed to our organisation by a stranger he met there who knew about our work with refugees.

Soon after being referred to us, Robert attended an ARISE fellowship and with the financial subsidy from Branches of Hope, Robert was ableto leave ‘survival mode’ and think about his future. He dreamed of developing new skills and learning another language, eagerly enrolling in our language lessons, management and computer skills, and vocational training courses in warehouse. He met other African refugees. ‘I was soexcited to see a community in Hong Kong that supported, encouraged, and cared for one another,’ he shared.

ROAD staff met Robert after he was recommended by a friend to apply for financial assistance. He was unableto legally work as a refugee, and the government subsidy was not enough to pay for rent. He was nearly evicted by the landlord just as the financial subsidy from Branches ofHope came through.

After a few years, Robert’s dedication paid off; he had learnt valuable new skills and learnt to speak English. And shortly after that, he was recognised as a mandated refugee, giving him the ability to apply for a work permit in Hong Kong. With the newly mastered skills he learnt from our programmes, it was no time at all before Robert successfully found work and becameindependent of nancial subsidies.

Despite the hardships he had faced coming here, Robert was able to get back on his feet and strive for a better future. All he needed was the support and care of a local community.

*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals