Our series of online people profiles covers a wide range of backgrounds, careers and personalities. In this instalment, we chat with RUN Hong Kong co-founder and managing director Virginie Goethals about the NGO and how it helps refugees in Hong Kong.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I’m originally from Belgium and grew up in the countryside of the Dutch part of the country, spending all my free time outdoors with my family and loads of animals. I had the opportunity to move abroad 13 years ago and have spent almost nine years in Hong Kong after living in Beijing.
What is RUN Hong Kong, and what’s your role there?
I support all the operations at RUN Hong Kong as managing director. Together with Brenda Sawyer, we founded the Hong Kong NGO in 2015 with the mission of supporting vulnerable refugees in Hong Kong, particularly women, to build resilience and nurture self-reliance for a more hopeful future. Sport, education, essential support like food, housing, medical and psychological support are at the centre of our work.
What have been the surprises and challenges the role?
Working with the most vulnerable refugees in Hong Kong who have been victim of sexual violence is a very humbling experience. Their strength and resilience inspires our team every day. It also puts a lot into perspective in our own lives. Holding their hands, sharing laughs and tears is a privilege.
As for challenges, they are mainly linked to the poverty in which they are forced to live here with their children, as well as the lack of psycho-social support. The best day is when we can hug them goodbye at the airport when they leave to restart new lives abroad after years of limbo in Hong Kong!
Give us an insight into a typical working day for you.
I never know how my day will look as I support all the emergencies on a daily basis. I therefore always need to be very flexible and adapt my schedule. On a typical good day, I will lead our fantastic team, support sport activities, work on legal cases and have a coffee and run!
How can EL readers contribute or volunteer?
Please sign up on our website – our organisation is driven by volunteers!
What neighbourhood do you currently live in, and why did you choose it?
I have lived in Shek O with my family since I moved to Hong Kong. It’s quiet, the community is very close-knit and the trails are in my backyard!
What’s new at RUN Hong Kong?
We adapt our work all the time to the changing environment for refugees in Hong Kong and asylum seekers here and worldwide. Our focus at the moment is to provide more individualised support, targeted education, sport goals and increased support for refugee children with PTSD and related symptoms.
Outside of work, what are your hobbies in Hong Kong?
Spending time with my husband and three children. I also enjoy hiking and running, and I’m trying to finish a degree in NGO management.
Find out more about this Hong Kong NGO and the next RUN Hong Kong charity race at runhk.org.
Liked this article? Find more interesting profiles in our Living in Hong Kong section.