Guiding hand for YMCA campers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 December, 2004, 12:00am

There is little chance of teenager Clara Tsang Sin-man getting bored over the holidays. The former Sha Tin College student is a part-time camp co-ordinator with the YMCA of Hong Kong.

The 19-year-old, on her Christmas break from university in the United States, is making sure hundreds of children aged 5 to 14 have a memorable time at ice skating camps at Festival Walk and City Plaza.

'I co-ordinate the camps but most of the time I am ice skating with the children, so it is a lot of fun but with responsibility,' says Clara, who first started working for the YMCA as a counsellor in training (CIT) when she was 16.

The YMCA has about 200 young people working at camps in 12 locations around the SAR every holiday season. They run adventure, sports, English, and overnight camps that serve more than 8,000 children a year.

The CITs - some of whom are taking on this kind of responsibility for the first time, get good experience in managing groups - as well as organising and leading activities. It's a valuable lesson, says Clara.

'You are always working alongside a counsellor [the rank above CIT], so you're never left to cope alone. Although I had a pretty tough experience on my first camp three years ago - I was in charge of 15 energetic 10-year-old boys. The counsellor was called away, and I had to run it myself. I learned quickly. The best advice I can give to a new CIT is: don't be afraid to be assertive.

'The way the camps are run, you are always learning from someone. For the CITs, they are always looking to the counsellors for guidelines on how to behave and work. The counsellors are watching the co-ordinators [the top position in the three-tier system]. There is always a role model in front of you. It's the same for the children. We are being role models to them,' says Clara.

A former YMCA camper herself, Clara has moved through the ranks swiftly.

'Andrew Sponagle [manager of the YMCA's camping and community programmes section] came to my school and did a CIT recruitment presentation. I signed up for that Christmas season. I knew what the camps were all about, and this was a service [to gain school credits] I wanted to do.

'I was a CIT for two seasons, and then a counsellor for three seasons. One day the YMCA called me up and asked me to be a co-ordinator. I was 18 and still a school student.'

Now Clara's job as co-ordinator - an unusual role for someone so young - is to liaise with site staff and make sure everything is prepared for the camp to go smoothly.

'Different leaders have different styles and the trick is to absorb everything you see and hear, and develop your own style. It takes time. I was nervous when I first started, but after two years I feel very comfortable with it.'

To learn more about becoming a volunteer CIT, visit