People That Inspire Us: Tegan Smyth, Founder of Grassroots Future

This week we got to meet with Tegan from Grassroots Future. Tegan has dedicated her career in supporting refugees and asylum seekers in the city through educational, wellbeing and community outreach programmes by connecting our community with food and cultural experiences. Tegan has inspired us to engage with people on a deeper level and to support and embrace our differences with an open heart.

1. What inspired you to start Grassroots Future?

Grassroots Future was started as a response to the lack of capacity building and resources among refugee-led initiatives in Hong Kong. We run educational, well-being and community outreach programs in partnership with refugee-led organizations such as Refugee Union (Hong Kong’s first and only refugee-led society). We received our charity status last year (Sept 2020) but this was after years of community organizing under a food and culture project called Table of Two Cities (TOTC). TOTC is still an ongoing project within our organization; we organize community events around Hong Kong to amplify refugee and asylum seeker talents, through the medium of food and storytelling.

2. How do you connect with the community to help your cause?

We run community events which promote refugee and asylum seeker narratives and challenge perceptions of the community. We believe strongly that refugee voices should be amplified, and it is through events that we can begin to have more serious conversations about the circumstances both refugees and asylum seekers are living with in Hong Kong.

Typically, we run cooking workshops or events around food since this is a powerful means to connect people that transcends language and culture. We regularly help refugee artists and performers with their events so they can show their work to a wider audience. We also launched a poetry competition earlier this year for refugee writers, where the top three poets were published in a well-respected literary journal (Cha: An Asian Literary Journal).

3. What are some of your biggest challenges in getting people involved? How have you overcome them?

There are certainly challenges when it comes to getting people interested in social issues - often the strongest views are not backed up with lived experience; in other words, people may fear the unknown because they are unfamiliar with a particular group of people or culture.

Merely talking in abstract terms about the refugee crisis internationally coupled with the difficult situation for those in Hong Kong will unfortunately not really change hearts and minds. I think the moment we started running regular events, particularly food-related events, there was a huge curiosity simply because food connects people. It’s safe to say that examining social or human rights issues through a cultural lens is something ultimately more relatable to most people and goes further than preaching to the same choir - it helps get the message out to people who may never have thought about the issue before.

4. What can the community do to support Grassroots Future?

You can support our charity through attending one of our community events or even booking a food-related experience. We also have a live crowdfunding campaign to develop our education programs and reach within the refugee community from within the city.

5. What’s your daily ritual?

I start my morning with a strong black coffee (no milk, no sugar) and reading the news - it may sound cliché but it helps to frame the rest of my day!