Project TOM – Inspiring Youth

Project TomFlush the Fashion is always keen to promote positive projects from small charities, volunteer projects and non-profit organisations from all over the world (especially when they involve inspiring kids).

We heard about a brilliant project in the Chinese Community in Birmingham (UK) called Project TOM, that encourages young people to raise money for those less fortunate. We spoke to organiser WaiLo Li to find out more….

What are the aims of the Project TOM?
Project TOM aims to encourage more young people to get involved into charity work – making a difference to themselves and their community.

It is based on the simple concept that doing good deeds and helping those less fortunate will help provide good role models for our future and that the world will become a better place as a result. Some of the main focuses are: emergency relief, poverty and education, especially for children, both at home and abroad.

I like this quote from Edward Everett Hale and think it’s something most of our volunteers can identify with: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

Where did the idea come from?
To be honest, this all started with an emergency fundraising appeal for the Sichuan Earthquake.
On the 12th May 2008, a devastating 7.9-magnitude earthquake hit south western China. It was the most deadly earthquake to hit China since the 1976 and causing over 69,000 fatalities.

Strong aftershocks, some exceeding magnitude 6, continued to hit the area months after the main quake, causing new damage and casualties.

We were overwhelmed with around-the-clock images that were coming through via satellite TV and social media networks – it was heart-wrenching to say the least. Like many Chinese people in the UK and other International Overseas Chinese communities, we felt compelled to do what we can, for the earthquake victims.

After a particularly horrifying image of several deceased schoolchildren uncovered in the rubble, it moved me to try and do something about it.

Project TOMWith the help of Mr Wing Yip (Chairman of Wing Yip Group) and Mr Jeffrey Yap (Birmingham Chinatown Lions Club), I’d quickly organised an emergency appeal event, via Oxfam HK to take place, in several different locations, within 2 weeks. A grand total of £8,450 was raised.

Since then we have been organising charity fundraising events since 3-4 times per year ever since. We are now coming up to our tenth event in March 2011.

The support and number of volunteers that had wanted to help out was phenomenal, aged between 12yrs to 50yrs+. It was something that had touched everyone and everyone was eager to help.

At the end of the event, some youngsters aged 12-13yrs asked if the events were a regular thing and could they get involved in the next one- it got me thinking and everything grew from there.

That marked the beginning of our partnership with Oxfam Hong Kong and I go back to have a meeting with them annually, to discuss our progress and future plans.

We are not funded in any way, so working on a shoestring is a skill I have quickly acquired – where possible, I try to cover as much of the costs as I can. When the costs have been substantial, we have asked international charitable organisations like the Birmingham Chinatown Lions Club, to help sponsor event posters or charity vests. Mr Jeffrey Yap have been one of our major pillars of support right from the outset.

Over the past 2.5 years, we have fundraised for: Oxfam Hong Kong, Birmingham Children’s Hospital and Samaritan’s Purse International for their Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Appeal. For three consecutive Christmases, we have sent over 500 shoeboxes, packed with gifts, to children of war and poverty around the world.

Is anyone welcome to get involved?
New volunteers have been signing up at each of the past 9 events and the volunteer pool is around 30 members at present. It’s been fantastic to see such positive responses, especially when I get chased to organise the next event as soon as the current one ends!

Project TomWhen is your next fundraiser?
Our next fundraiser will be in partnership with Oxfam Hong Kong and ‘Supporting Education in Poverty’, once again. This will take place in Birmingham on Sunday 27th March 2011 at Wing Yip Superstores, Nechells, and in Arcadian, Chinatown.

How much have you raised so far?
To date, we have raised over £21,503 for charitable causes both at home and abroad. We hope to raise at least £2,000 for the next event in March 2011. We also lend support to charitable projects organised by other individuals (ie; Music Builds Bridges, Birmingham Chinese New Year Festival).

Why do you think being involved in a charity can be good for young people?
I think it’s brilliant for young people to be involved in charity work- volunteering is a great way to boost your skills, such as leadership and interaction, which people will need in a job role. You’ll also get to meet like-minded people and get to make a real difference to the lives of people who are in extreme poverty.

It’s also a great way to make friends, learn to care about your community and the people in it. It’s not everyday that a bunch of youngsters give up their Sundays, to hold collection buckets out in the street but often it’s a cause that resonates to them as much, as the community itself.

For example, some of children in our ‘Supporting Education in Poverty’ project are the same ages as our volunteers. It is evident how lucky they are in comparison to people who walk miles each day just to get clean water and having to drop out of school, so they can help their families survive, it’s a real wake-up call.

Is it a good place to make new friends?
Definitely! The group of volunteers have grown vastly, both in number and age group, and it’s all to do with word of mouth and friends getting their friends involved. It’s brilliant how everyone works as a team and even if they had just met in the morning, they’ll be chatting away like old friends by the end of the day.

When we’d first started, Project TOM was an unknown and now people see us in our hi-viz vests and they smile and say ‘well done’ and ‘keep up the good work’. Parents want their kids involved so they can appreciate and realise how lucky they are here – not needing to worry about basic needs like water sanitation and putting food on the table.

Do you think some British born Chinese people are unaware of the poverty in some parts of China?
The 21st Century, without a doubt, is a materialistic one and I think we are all guilty of living in abundance, in one way or another. Many people, young or old regardless of race, may not realise how lucky they are in the West and that real poverty still exists in other parts of the world.

It’s great that Project TOM, through these charity fundraising events, can highlight some of the pressing issues in rural China.

See below video for the last ‘Oxfam HK: Supporting Education in Poverty Event’ (#5) A total of 180 teachers in Yunnan will be trained including: 100 primary school teachers, 80 secondary school teachers and 10 of them will be trained as trainers. Those trainers will train the other teachers after this programme finishes. A total 180 teachers, 9,181 students in the 9 counties benefited from the funds raised..

This is a bit off subject, but I am just wondering.. where is the best place to get Dim Sum in Birmingham?
I’m going to be biased and say my mom’s kitchen! Failing that, Chung Ying Garden Restaurant on Thorpe St is pretty damn good, serving all-day dim sum!

Find out more about Project TOM or follow them on Twitter @Project_TOM

Flush the Fashion

Editor of Flush the Fashion and Flush Magazine. I love music, art, film, travel, food, tech and cars. Basically, everything this site is about.