A refugee from Shanghai, where he had spent his life, Gus BORGEEST and his
Chinese wife, Mona, landed in Hong Kong in 1951 with two Hong Kong dollars
in their pockets. Having to start over himself, he was yet mindful of the
needs of others in more dire plight in keeping with his Quaker philosophy:
"My neighbor is my business."
Formerly a production expediter in a textile mill, he soon found employment
in the Government vegetable marketing and social welfare agencies. For
thousands of families crowding into Hong Kong from the mainland, there then
was little more in store than a food dole and shelter in a squalid squatter
camp until they could be accommodated in housing the Government was
beginning to construct.
Visiting regularly these impoverished refugees, he learned that many once
were proud farmers. Convinced that "welfare with best intentions was subtly
enslaving them," he determined to find a self-help route to rehabilitation
that would be economically sound and restore their dignity.
All good land was occupied, but he found an island of 200 rockstrewn acres
so barren no one lived there. Leasing it from the Government for 180 Hong
Kong dollars a year, he then studied books and sought the help of official
agriculturists to learn about farming marginal land.
Using savings of two frugal years to buy tents, cots, a few tools and some
food, he, his wife, their adopted daughter and two refugee families
transported themselves by rented sampan to the island in mid1953. Defying
the first stormy night, he renamed their new home "Sunshine Island,"
symbolic of his aim to bring light to darkened lives. A typhoon washed out
the first grass huts and tediously planted gardens. Financial crises were
chronic. Some new arrivals were unprepared for the hard labor. But the
struggling settlement survived to prove its practicality.
As the venture became known, students from refugee colleges and Royal Air
Force men volunteered to dig fishponds, build irrigation ditches and
reservoirs. The Agriculture Department has given valuable advice on farming
and piggery and the Forestry Department is planting 10 acres annually with
trees. Tinned food, milk and cash have come from religious groups, CARE and
private donors. Social welfare agencies now select and sponsor refugee
families for training on "Sunshine Island."
Today, there is a steady turnover of refugees who are taught the skills of
resourceful self-support and "graduated" with small savings to pioneer on
Government-assigned plots on other marginal land in the Colony or to enter
the construction industry. A modest effort in terms of the enormous refugee
population, "Sunshine Island" is heartening evidence that one man can
instill among his fellows the will to conquer adversity.
With each passing year there has been material progress. But more
consequential than the new stone houses replacing grass huts is the example
of human concern and courage that has become the Island's trademark.
In naming Gus BORGEEST to receive the 1961 Ramon Magsaysay Award for
Community Leadership, the Board of Trustees recognizes his establishing of a
model for resettlement and rehabilitation of refugees that enhances their
self-respect and productive capabilities.