Club meeting — Lai Chi Wo

The Duty Rotarians arrived early on June 9 and ready to receive our speaker Professor Danny Lam. During the club activities report, Past President Eddie remarked how two days of volunteering on June 1 & 2 at LINKS Café and Holy Café, respectively, has improved his fitness. Packing, transporting and distributing 360 gift bags was indeed a hefty job. Then, led by Past President WT, we sang Happy Birthday to Past President Kay whose birthday was on June 14. Charter President Patrick gave the introduction of the speaker. Professor Danny Lam is currently Professor, Department of Politics and Public Administration, The University of Hong Kong (“HKU”). As Director of the Policy for Sustainability Lab at HKU, Professor Danny, in partnership with HSBC, headed the rural rejuvenation project of Lai Chi Wo which turned it into a working farm and co-operative. Professor Lam first explained the background which he had to work with. About 40 per cent of Hong Kong’s total land area is protected from development by the Country Parks Ordinance. The down side is that basic infrastructure development in villages, or enclaves, surrounded by country parks is also bound by these rules. The result is that many villages are abandoned. Younger generations are likely to have moved or emigrated. There is not much motivation to develop the villages even among the property owners. Lai Chi Wo was one such village. Lai Chi Wo is a Hakka village located around the northeast coast of New Territories. Built over 300 years ago, today it is one of Hong Kong’s oldest, largest and best-preserved rural settlements. The village won UNESCO’s prestigious 2020 Special Recognition for Sustainable Development award for promoting cultural heritage conservation. How did Professor Lam do it? For Professor Lam, Lai Chi Wo is about sustaining an old community and engaging a new, wider community within the process. You cannot just preserve the environment, you need to build a community. It is not just villagers and farmers but the broader community of Hong Kong. First, from 2013 to 2017, the project reintroduced agriculture, examined biodiversity and researched the river water. In 2018, the project emphasized social and economic aspects. A variety of Lai Chi Wo products were developed for sale locally and at supermarkets. Today, rice, coffee, turmeric, ginger and others are grown in Lai Chi Wo. There is a cooperative kitchen which Lai Chi Wo and nearby Sha Tau Kok residents take part in food processing. Besides being recognized as a success story on the world level, Professor Lam sees Lai Chi Wo as a model for future revitalization of abandoned villages. He concluded by inviting all club members to a special VIP tour of Lai Chi Wo. Our President Elect Eliza committed to organizing such trip in 2022-23. Finally, Vice President Kelvin gave our club’s vote of thanks.