The Awardee of 2020 Hong Kong Humanity Award - Prof George Woo
"The humanitarian spirit is to protect lives patiently and tirelessly."
Treat Damage in Eyes and Heart with Patience
Prof George Woo is the father of optometry in Hong Kong. With his extensive clinical and research experience in optometry in Canada, he founded the Department of Diagnostic Sciences at the then Hong Kong Polytechnic (now called The Hong Kong Polytechnic University) to promote the development of optometry in Hong Kong. However, besides treating patients who have lost much of their eyesight, Prof Woo also wishes to cure wounds invisible to the eye. “An anaesthesiologist lost his vision because of diabetes. He told me he wanted to commit suicide using medicine. So I spent a lot of time to talk and stayed with him through his hardest time. Eventually, he let go of the idea of killing himself.” Prof Woo aspired to provide support to other emotionally distressed people. He has since come across many other people with suicidal thoughts who were struggling to overcome their difficulties because they lacked similar support.
18 Years of Service, Reform and Expansion
Every month, Prof Woo takes off his white coat and metaphorical hat as an optometrist, goes to The Samaritans centre, and picks up calls there as a hotline volunteer. “In the past 18 years, whenever I entered the hotline centre, I would only be known as a volunteer number instead of ‘Prof Woo’.” Hotline volunteers do not make judgements about the callers nor their thoughts; they only listen to their concerns with empathy and patience. “Most of them would calm down after venting their frustrations to us. If we can provide timely support to people with suicidal thoughts, we may have a chance to save their lives.” Many years ago, a colleague of Prof Woo’s and her spouse committed suicide due to her pain and suffering from cancer. The tragedy was a personal reminder of the importance of timely support. In 2015, Prof Woo became the chairman of the Board of Directors of The Samaritans. He supported the development of the organization, including its setting up of services for the elderly and young people. Prof Woo insists on continual improvement, and he hopes The Samaritans’ services can be enhanced to help save more lives.