Bob Christian Alumnus/Alumna of the Year Award 2011
Each year we take time to reflect on the HKIS Mission and Student Learning results and to see who has been living out their true meaning. Nominated by you, awarded by HKIS, our worthy recipient is...Leontine Chuang '93
Words by Howard Tang ’94 and Jon Walsh
It was a long, hard process for the judging panel, but it was worth it – it always is. Judging this award is one of the most rewarding jobs of the year since it shows that, long after many students have left HKIS, long after they have travelled, worked and experienced life in other parts of the globe, HKIS alumni are continuing to live the HKIS Mission and Student Learning Results (SLRs). Leontine Chuang '93 is no exception.
Leontine graduated from HKIS having been with us since R2 and went on to major in Political Science and International Studies at Northwestern University in Chicago.
It was at Northwestern that Leontine began her involvement in politics and government affairs, first becoming active within the student government and in her senior year, becoming president of the student government. One of the highlights of her time there was meeting Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997, sadly only a short time before that fateful crash in a Paris road tunnel.
Upon leaving Northwestern, Leontine took up a post at Nankai University and moved to Tianjin in China where she learned Mandarin and taught oral and written English to students from all over the country, passing on many aspects of Western culture.
After a year, Leontine returned to study law at Northwestern, also serving as Editor-in- Chief of the Northwestern Journal of International Law and Business. Graduation in 2001 was followed by a move to New York where she began life as a corporate lawyer. But her thoughts of service weren’t far behind and soon she took time out of her hectic corporate schedule to act as a pro-bono attorney for battered women in Family Court and a pro-bono attorney for an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). One of the highlights of her time in New York was helping her client from the DRC get refugee status in the US.
In 2004, continuing as a corporate lawyer for the same law firm, Leontine moved back to Hong Kong. After a year and a half, Leontine decided she could do more – service was calling in the most subtle of ways. It was while she was helping a friend look for a new job that Leontine spotted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) ad that would change her life. It offered the chance to use her pro-bono experience for asylum applications and to give something back.
So, in 2005, Leontine started working for the UNHCR in their Hong Kong office, serving as a Refugee Status Determination Assistant. The role required her to make determinations about whether refugee applicants meet the UNHCR’s exacting criteria for refugee status.
Leontine has interviewed hundreds of asylum seekers and heard countless horrific stories about persecutory experiences from refugees. By working with a team to grant asylum seekers refugee status, she has helped save lives and provide a chance for a life of freedom from fear and persecution.
Leontine has also worked hard with her colleagues to help ensure that asylum seekers and refugees’ rights are protected in Hong Kong and their protection needs, whether material, physical or psychological are met.
It’s not easy - hundreds of applications come through the office each year and yet less than 10 per cent of them are approved. The decisions aren’t taken lightly. Each applicant has a story to tell, each has a unique situation – people don’t seek refugee status because they’re having a good time, it’s because they have nowhere else to turn. For Leontine, there is optimism: “I am able to give someone a chance at a new life,” she says, “I find that very rewarding.”
She has made presentations to many lawyers, government officers and police officers in Hong Kong to educate them about the plight of refugees around the world and on our own doorstep in Hong Kong. And since graduating from HKIS, Leontine has kept in contact with many alumni whom she knew at HKIS and returned to HKIS, attending one of Marty Schmidt’s classes to explain what UNHCR does globally and in Hong Kong. On Service Day, 11 March, Leontine was invited to address Grade 6 students and explain her work with UNHCR.
Leontine has not just rested with helping refugees through UNHCR. It was during 2010 that she took on the role as one of the Governors of a charitable foundation that provides donations to worthy causes across Hong Kong. No easy task with such a demanding role and a busy family life, thanks to husband Simon, son Aidan and daughter Simone.
Through her work at the UNHCR, Leontine has strived to help people understand the importance of having compassion for the plight of others, the importance of ser vice to others and the importance of doing our part to help protect the human rights of others. All of which has many parallels to the HKIS Mission: “Dedicating... our hearts to compassion and our lives to service and global understanding”.
No doubt, Leontine Chuang ’93 is your worthy recipient of the Bob Christian Alumna/Alumnus of the Year Award.
Source: DragonTales Summer Edition 2011