Victoria Tang-Owen On Her Role As President Of The Hong Kong Down Syndrome Association
Nathan Leung has Down syndrome, but hearing him talk about his Friday night plans—pizza, then bowling with friends—he sounds just like any 19-year-old. The King George V pupil, who graduates this year, loves bowling. He’s also into juggling, listening to Justin Bieber and, well, posing for the camera.
We’re shooting him with four others who also have the genetic disorder—Lam Kwok-wai, 38, Coco Yip, 31, Yung Yan-yee, 13, and Chu Po-i, 2—and it’s clear right from the start that the teenager is very much at ease in the limelight. “Take one more,” he instructs our photographer. “This time of me turning my back to the camera and looking sideways. Mysterious.”
Seconds later, Victoria Tang-Owen, the new president of the Hong Kong Down Syndrome Association (HKDSA), walks on set and Nathan welcomes her with open arms. The rest of the group join in and we start snapping away. The mood is cheerful, light. Everyone is nothing but a great sport in front of the flashes.
“They all have such great personalities,” says Victoria between shots. “They’re real characters in their own unique ways. We want people to understand that—and embrace it.”
Established in 1987, the non-profit Hong Kong Down Syndrome Association has been at the forefront of serving those affected by the disorder and their family members through support and vocational rehabilitation services and activities.
These range from prenatal counselling, meeting groups and education platforms to sports classes, language courses, arts and crafts, movie nights and training opportunities to introduce people with Down syndrome into the workplace.
“We work really hard to promote the understanding that people with Down syndrome are part of society just as much as anyone else,” Victoria says. “Social inclusion is essential to really create a change, both in the life prospects [these individuals face] and perceptions from the outside world.”
Victoria was appointed president in November, but she’s been unofficially involved with the association for years. Her father, the late David Tang, held the role from 1993 to 2017.
"Victoria had long been familiar with the group’s structure, mission and fundraising efforts,” says her husband, Christopher Owen, who serves the association in an advisory position to help with marketing and communication. “When Sir David passed away in the summer, she was asked to step in and continue his legacy."
And that’s something Victoria is doing remarkably well.
“HKDSA has achieved great things since it was founded,” she says. “It counts on an amazing team of people, both full-time and volunteers, and our centres really offer essential support for so many—including families, who often are incredibly dedicated and our number one fundraisers. What I am now trying to do is bring us to the next phase: greater involvement from the public at large, a stronger digital presence, engaging events that can hopefully take the stigma around the condition away and create a positive attitude instead.”
Hong Kong, Victoria says, still lags in that respect. “The more people donate, the more we can grow our community and serve it in the best possible way. The more people know about Down syndrome and engage with individuals who have the disorder, the more we can strive for better integration, a more welcoming environment and fulfilling careers for them."
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“During his tenure as president, my dad wrote a letter to the head of the civil service in Hong Kong asking why they had never employed any person with Down syndrome. Shortly after, they hired one of HKDSA’s members in a post office. Well, that person just received an award for his ten years of service. Ten years,” she emphasises.
Adds Christopher, “These people have the same value as you and I. The difference being that, for them, a little consideration and support can go a long, long way.”
The association has a series of fundraising efforts planned for the year. On February 14, it’s hosting a Chinese opera night in Sha Tin where professional singers will perform alongside amateurs with Down syndrome “to show how talented some of these people are, but also give them the chance to shine through their passions,” Christopher says.
More activities, still to be confirmed at the time of writing, are in the pipeline for next month to mark World Down Syndrome Day on March 21. Victoria is also working on a photography exhibition slated for October, which will display portraits of individuals with Down syndrome showcasing their dreams and skills.
“The photos capture them doing what they love and what they hope to one day become,” Victoria says. “So many of these boys and girls, men and women, are incredibly inspiring.”
Suddenly, Nathan jumps back on set, asking for a few more shots. “I can pose just like Justin Bieber,” he says confidently—certainly more than I’ve ever felt in front of the camera. "Inspiring" aptly sums up this on-set experience.
Donations can be made to the HKDSA through its website, hk-dsa.org.hk, and by participating in any of the association’s events.
See also: Victoria and Christopher Owen On Creativity and Kids