Responsible for the Fund’s governance as well as grant allocation, our Trustees and Directors are all actively involved in the Order’s work, bringing depth of knowledge as well as a global perspective.
We spoke to Désirée Jebsen, a member of the Fund’s US Board of Directors and Hospitaller of the Hong Kong Association, to discuss the upcoming Asia-Pacific Summer Camp, the Order in Asia and what her experiences as a volunteer bring to her role at the Fund.
How did you first become involved with the Order of Malta?
I’ve known about the Order since I was very young; my father was the Order’s Ambassador to Brazil, so it’s been part of my life as long as I can remember. I went to Lourdes for the first time when I was 18, and it really changed my life. Each time I go helps me to understand the important role the sick have in all our lives as they teach us humility. When the Hong Kong Chapter started, I was happy to get involved.
Your three daughters were in Lourdes with you this year, what was that like?
When in Hong Kong my daughters have been actively involved in our projects. I believe it’s important for them to have the experience of helping others. My experience has been that young people love to get involved. If they are in a peer group, they can do anything. You work together, you laugh together, you are exhausted together, you share your experiences together and you feel so incredibly empowered. To lose the natural fear of dealing with people who are in a different situation is the constant miracle of Lourdes, which they carry into the whole world.
Does your experience of being a volunteer affect your role as a Director of the Fund?
Certainly. The work of the Fund becomes even more meaningful when you understand the nature of the Order’s work. The Order with all its affiliations is an important NGO and needs to be managed as such. The Fund is playing an important role as a fundraising vehicle, but because of its pivotal role at the crossroads between raising and distributing funds, it needs to market the essence of the Order. This is particularly important in Asia where I have lived for the past 30 years.
What is it like being part of the Order in Asia at the moment?
The Order is growing very rapidly here in Asia. Very few people know about the Order. My standard phrase when explaining is: “It is the oldest charity in the world”. In a place like Hong Kong where you have more then 8000 registered charities, people take notice.
The relationships between the different parts of the Order in the region are strong – we travel to Lourdes together with Australia, Korea and Thailand, for example. There’s a lot of good communication, which allows things to develop.
How do you see your role as Hospitaller of the Order’s youngest Association?
One of the main priorities is to help people understand the essence of the Order itself. There’s a strong tendency in Asia to feel that signing a cheque to support a project is where your responsibilities end, but we believe that personal involvement is equally important. A donation can be forgotten within a week, but the experience of helping someone is something you remember for the rest of your life.
Having said that, once somebody decides to go down that avenue the commitment is stunning. Hong Kong has very long working hours and very little paid holiday. Once our volunteers are hooked, they give a great deal to help the least privileged in our society. They are giving up their free and family time to help.
What projects are you currently developing in Hong Kong?
We currently have two projects that we are building up. One is the Lok Yi School project where a group of volunteers go to the school one Wednesday evening a month and sometimes on Sundays to teach the children how to deal with people outside of their comfort zone. Also there are always special events like games or outings where every hand is needed. This is an amazing group led by a new member in the Order and very successful.
The other one is the “Flying Young” project. Everybody has heard of the housing crisis in Hong Kong. There are not enough flats, so people live in very crammed but expensive conditions. The result is that many of these families do nothing out of the ordinary because it might involve costs. So we are trying to provide them with these out of the ordinary events. We give the families and their children an exposure they would usually not get, to open their horizons and fire their imagination.
We are planning at the moment to start a First Aid Programme for schools and hopefully to embark on a First Mental Aid Programme as well, mental health issues being such a big need in Hong Kong.
How are the preparations going for the Asia-Pacific Summer Camp next month?
We are very much looking forward to it! Our organising Committee has done an amazing job in bringing it all together. We have an adventure ship outing, Ocean Park (which is a huge amusement park in Hong Kong), the Christopher Cup and a visit to the Peak of Hong Kong.
As we speak, we are looking forward to welcoming guests from Australia, Cambodia, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore and South Korea, and for the first time Mainland China. We even have two from the Netherlands!