Building Bonds and Trust in Communities

Civil society is an integral part of democracy. The strength of civil society organisations (CSOs) is a key indicator of social development. CSOs are associated with delivery of materials and services to marginalised groups. They also take on a broad range of matters of interest to members of civil society. Their understanding of – and increasingly, presence in – the community makes them hubs for ideas for social development.

The peace fellowship programme wanted to investigate how new ideas came about plus how CSOs interacted with the community they served and how they earned trust and built relationship with stakeholders. The whole of day 3 of the fellowship was devoted to meeting leaders of various CSO in To Kwa Wan.

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ToHome: Transcending Conflict and Violence

House of To Kwa Wan Stories, ToHome for short, was set up in To Kwa Wan in 2014. Fellows visited ToHome’s space on Hung Fook Street just weeks before ToHome had to move out to make way for redevelopment. ToHome member Ah Bun was sad to part with friends made in the neighbourhood in the past seven years. "It used to take 30 minutes to an hour just to walk down this short street. Neighbours would always walk up to us for chats," Ah Bun said, tilting his head to show the Fellows a wall covered in slips of paper with handwritten names, momentos of neighbours who contributed to ToHome’s work. “The wall was not big enough to include everyone,” he added. 


When a community undergoes redevelopment, residents can find it hard to cope with loss of their home, familiar surroundings and social network, topped with the stress of looking for a new home and assuming a new routine. In many cases, they receive no or little support in the process. In some urban development projects, intervention by external CSOs took place only after conflict or violence broke out. ToHome experimented with pre-conflict intervention and established itself in To Kwa Wan before redevelopment but with the prospect of redevelopment firmly in mind. 

ToHome began by helping out with chores – for example, painting homes and fixing this and that for neighbours. Later, through documenting the culture and history of the community and providing space for communal activities, ToHome built deep relationships of trust. When redevelopment reached To Kwa Wan, ToHome was better prepared and more able to work with the community on crisis prevention. This is because a community bonded on years of trust and cooperation was resilient enough to look beyond differences and to look out for one another in times of crisis.

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Making on Loft: Feeling the Pulse of the Community

Making on Loft (MoL), a makerspace located in On Lok Factory Building in To Kwa Wan, strives to "take from the community and give back to the community". Paddy, MoL founder, explained the group’s "assets-based approach" to community development – intervention did not have to start with solving problems; rather, focusing on existing assets and talents in the community and how these resources could be mobilised better served to empower members of the community.

Paddy believed it was essential to understand the community systematically before undertaking any intervention. He drew an analogy between the process of understanding the community and the four diagnostic methods in traditional Chinese medicine: 1) observation, to inspect all the visible signs and external conditions; 2) listening, to collect information; 3) questioning, to conduct in-person interviews with stakeholders; and 4) palpation, to capture past trends and predict future development.

For example, MoL partnered with Tai Kwun to organise an exhibition that showcased trolleys, a common sight in the Central and Western District. To prepare for the exhibition, the MoL team positioned themselves in different parts of the district at as early as five in the morning to observe trolley users and map their journeys. The team also collected stories from dried seafood shop workers, postal workers, mobile vendors and other trolley users and invited them to be special guests at the exhibition.

Design with, not just for, the community, Paddy said. The MoL team was asked to design a shopping trolley for women from low-income households. They knew they had to come up with a trolley with much better functionality than those readily available for purchase in stores everywhere. The design process involved repeated experiments and extensive engagement with the end users. The final design entailed fewer parts, a more streamlined production process where no welding was required, and materials that could be obtained from recycling shops in the area. Users could repair the trolleys themselves and even for their neighbours. The project, while responding to the users’ practical needs, also allowed them to realise their self-worth.