The founder of AFRO, Sister Ann Gray, rejoice with AFRO: “One of the highlights of my recent visit to Hong Kong was the opportunity I had to attend the 20th Anniversary Celebration of Action for REACH OUT (AFRO).
It is hard to believe that 20 years have passed since I was struggling with a few volunteers to establish AFRO as a service to women involved in the sex industry in Hong Kong. In those early years, AFRO was like a seed – and now, just like a seed, it has grown into a flourishing tree with lots of fruit.
My hope and goal in starting AFRO was very simple – I just wanted to give sex workers an experience of being treated as persons of worth, with the right to dignity and respect. As I read in the booklet which was produced to mark the 20th anniversary some of the words used to describe AFRO – ‘compassion’, ‘acceptance’, ‘concern’, ‘free’, ‘family’, ‘sunshine’, ‘sincere’, ‘lively’, ‘home’ – I realized that my hope and dream are being fulfilled. The word which I chose was ‘respect’ because this has been and still is at the heart of all that symbolizes and describes AFRO. AFRO is now very well-known and respected by sex workers, government departments and international organizations. Many of the staff and sex workers availing of the services now are different but it is heartening for me to see that the vision remains the same.
As Dr Francois Wong (Photo, rt), AFRO’s Chairperson, has stated when talking about AFRO, ‘Its impact on public health, human rights and equal opportunities has much deeper implications for society. We should think beyond any moral, religious and personal boundaries to seek for a better society with equal human rights for all.’
In the 20years Anniversary Booklet, Mrs Anne Marden – a Patron of AFRO – added: “I first met AFRO twenty years ago through Sister Anne Gray. “The word that I feel describes AFRO is ‘ACCEPTANCE.’ I believe that sex workers have the same human rights and needs that we all have. Through AFRO I am more aware of the lives that sex workers lead and the problems they face. It is encouraging that through the advocacy of AFRO some of these problems have been officially recognized and accepted.”
I myself am no longer actively involved in AFRO but I still miss the involvement. My years working in AFRO were among the happiest in my life and I carry with me deep gratitude for all that the women shared with me and taught me about life – to appreciate each day as it is because we do not know what tomorrow will be like, to be able to laugh in the midst of tremendous challenges, and to realise that when life is just too difficult; it is all right to cry together. These are very precious gifts which continue to influence me.
Left: AFRO Staff Member attending the 7th International Conference on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific in Kobe, Japan; (Right): Sister Ann Gray with old friends Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of ACTION REACHOUT (AFRO) in 2013 in Hong Kong
Sister Ann is currently the Congregational Leader of the Missionary Sisters of St Columban, having been elected to the position in the 2011 General Chapter