HIGHLIGHTS

  • For a year, depend debt on giving private lessons and teaching in other schools while tending her own, she lived on little else but bread and water until employed at Baptist College.
  • Education and welfare work involved her with Hong Kong’s workers. In letters to the newspapers in Hong Kong and England, she exposed their long working hours, crowded living conditions and rampant tuberculosis.
  • Elected to the Urban Council in 1963, she became something of an unofficial ombudsman. In 1966 elements of the police, stung by her charges of corruption, sought unsuccessfully to accuse Mrs. ELLIOTT of paying children to throw stones while demonstrating.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “her crusade for justice, making the Hong Kong Government, of which she is an elected member, more responsive to the less affluent.”

 CITATION

One of the last major colonial enclaves on earth, Hong Kong has a special public character. Committed to commerce above all else, the colony survives and flourishes because it offers facilities for all business comers. Where profit is the ultimate yardstick, inevitably many who have less will suffer. Such deprivation is compounded in Hong Kong by the pressure of inflocking refugees, mostly from China. In 30 years the population has grown from some 650,000 to nearly 5,000,000. The scramble for living in this congested manufacturing center and merchandise mart has severely strained the Judeo-Christian values basic to British law and administration.

Into this magnet for diverse humanity in 1951 moved ELSIE HUME ELLIOTT settling among the shacks of a squatter village. A Plymouth Brethren missionary for three years in China, she and associates opened for their Hong Kong neighbors an urgently needed simple clinic and school, starting with 30 pupils in an old army tent. Ultimately she left the rigidly evangelical mission society to save the school that had been registered in her name.

For a year, depend debt on giving private lessons and teaching in other schools while tending her own, she lived on little else but bread and water until employed at Baptist College. Helped by a loan, student subsidies from government, and private contributions she now has five Mu Kuang English Schools providing kindergarten, primary and secondary education for some 4,000 poor children.

Education and welfare work involved her with Hong Kong’s workers. In letters to the newspapers in Hong Kong and England, she exposed their long working hours, crowded living conditions and rampant tuberculosis. Mincing no words—where restraint was the rule—the dauntless English woman incurred enemies and criticism for attacking authority

Elected to the Urban Council in 1963, she became something of an unofficial ombudsman. In 1966 elements of the police, stung by her charges of corruption, sought unsuccessfully to accuse Mrs. ELLIOTT of paying children to throw stones while demonstrating. Four years later she called the administration to account for allowing police a “monopoly on corruption” with its Anti-Bribery Bill. It is to the credit of the Hong Kong Government and the press that the public record has since substantiated her charges and remedial action has been vested in an official Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Believing “the only way for self-fulfillment is to serve others,” Mrs. ELLIOTT lived austerely in one room of a school building until 1972 when a benefactor donated better accommodation in the new building. She inspects her schools each morning and teaches 16 periods a week. As an Urban Council member she keeps “open office” twice weekly in two settlement blocks, handling over 300 complaints and appeals each month. Continuing to speak out and write for “those whose plight is most readily forgotten,” she cites specific cases to illustrate shortcomings in housing, welfare services, playgrounds, bus service to crowded tenement areas, or licensing for hawkers. Supporters now include businessmen, government officers and academics who concede this soft-voiced, 62-year-old lady may sometimes be excessive in her challenges but performs invaluable service in mustering public opinion for public good in government.

In electing ELSIE HUME ELLIOTT to receive the 1976 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes her crusade for justice, making the Hong Kong Government, of which she is an elected member, more responsive to the less affluent.

 RESPONSE

May I first convey my sympathy, and, I am sure, the sympathy of our Hong Kong people, to your country, and especially to the disaster victims, after the tragic losses they suffered in the recent earthquakes in the Philippines. I applaud the words of your President, Mr. Marcos, that the people will practice self-reliance to rebuild what can be rebuilt of what has been destroyed. Self-reliance is the hallmark of a strong character and of an independent nation, and I am happy that your country has the pride and determination of self-reliance. This matter is my major concern on this visit to the Philippines.

And now may I express my thanks to those who selected me for this treasured award, the Ramon Magsaysay Award. The honor is the greater because this is an Asian award and I am a European. The happiest years of my life have been spent among Asian people, and I have come to respect them for their culture and spiritual values; from them I have learned much. I regret the harm that has been done to Asian countries by European nations in the past, and I trust that understanding and closer association will result in greater harmony of East and West.

An Award like this makes one stop to evaluate oneself; it makes one feel humble that others should place such value on one’s work, and this spurs one on to greater efforts to merit the honor bestowed.

Your late President Ramon Magsaysay, whose birthday I am pleased to celebrate with you today, set an example of service to the people that we would all do well to emulate. It is to me the greatest honor that my name should be in this way associated with so fine a person as the late President.

It is cited in the Award that it is given to me in recognition of my “crusade for justice, making the Hong Kong Government. . .more responsive to the less affluent.” In this crusade I have not worked alone, but have been assisted or encouraged by people of many nationalities. To those who have shared in my work I now pay tribute; they must all share in this recognition today.

I also wish to pay tribute to my own father, who died 30 years ago. He taught me from childhood the equality of all men and how to serve the community, especially the less affluent. I only wish he could be present today to share this honor with me.

People often ask me why I do this work which appears to them so frustrating I have no real answer to that question except to say that I can think of no happier pathway in life than to lift the burden of my fellowmen. For my part, I find it difficult to understand the person who spends his life fettered with the chains of money, property, business and other perishable goods. Such people are never really happy or satisfied no matter how many their possessions, because they are always anxious and afraid. I could not enjoy such a life. Man was born with a soul that cannot be satisfied with perishable goods which only clutter his life. Man was made for man, and he can never satisfy his inmost needs until he is at peace with man, sharing the joys and sorrows of others of his kind.

In my life I have received many rewards. For example, the reward of being able to change a government policy to improve conditions for the people, and the simple reward of a smiling face or a word of thanks from people assisted in their problems. And now, to add to those joys, I am receiving this public and much-prized Award, which will encourage me to further and greater efforts for the people of Hong Kong of any other community of which I may be a member.

 BIOGRAPHY

ELSIE HUME ELLIOTT was born on June 2, 1913 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in the coal mining district of north England. The second of three daughters and one son of Florence and John Hume, she grew up in a household which was poor in worldly goods but rich in intellectual stimulation. John Hume, who had been orphaned at an early age and left school at eleven, was a self-educated socialist who became a pacifist as a result of his experiences in World War I. In spite of his own political beliefs and his agnosticism, he encouraged wide ranging family discussions on religion, national and international politics. ELSIE came to realize that her father’s dream was for her to become a member of parliament in order to be a voice for the underprivileged. For much of her youth that was her goal, for she agreed with her father’s often stated dictum that “politics is the way to get things done.” The family also took an intense interest in sports, and followed football and cricket games closely.

The depression of the 1930s, which hit Newcastle with full force, came when ELSIE was in her middle teens and affected her deeply, even though her father, a transport worker, was fortunate enough to keep his job. She was a sensitive person and could not but share the anguish of many of her schoolmates who suffered the effects of their families’ unemployment. Visiting the slum areas, which she did to avoid becoming too proud of her education, made her aware of the ill effects of unequal distribution of wealth and further shaped her political outlook. In spite of teasing by schoolmates that she needed a soapbox from which to expound her political beliefs, she never hesitated to express her opinions and at the age of 15 wrote a letter to a newspaper arguing in favor of free trade. This determination to speak out on issues which concerned her has characterized ELSIE HUME ELLIOTT ever since.

ELSIE’s early school days were spent at Walkergate and West Jesmond elementary schools and she won a scholarship to Heaton Secondary School, a large girl’s school in Newcastle. She was a conscientious, exceptionally high principled student and a very keen athlete, captain of the lacrosse and rounders teams and school sports captain. As a result of her excellent grades she was awarded the inter-schools’ Harrison Bell History Prize. After finishing secondary school she attended Durham University, also on a scholarship, where she studied English, modern history, Latin and ethics, receiving her B.A. in June 1936.