Special youngsters buoyed by gift of giving

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 May, 2006, 12:00am

Last Christmas, the annual RTHK/South China Morning Post fund-raiser earned $12 million, helping 12 charities realise projects to enhance the lives of both children and adults. As the public, businesses and schools were so generous, we raised more than expected, enabling the charities to expand their projects. Over the next six months we revisit some to provide accountability to our readers and check in again with those you helped so much.

Samuel Wong bobs happily in his inflatable ring as the instructor tells him to stretch his arms above his head. The eight-year-old then moves his legs around while pressing down on a float in the hydro-pool at a rehabilitation centre in Kwun Tong.

It is all a bit of a fun for these children, and something they look forward to every two weeks on a Saturday afternoon. But its aim is serious - to strengthen their muscles, as all these children have some form of rheumatism.

The Hong Kong Paediatric Rheumatism Association, one of the 12 beneficiaries of last year's Operation Santa Claus, is using the money raised during the campaign to pay for courses of 10 sessions for these youngsters, plus creating a website and two DVDs to instruct parents on symptoms to look for in their children.

Samuel's father, Stephen Wong Jor-yang, one of the directors of the association, said parents accompanied the children to their hydro-classes and would soon know the results on the children's conditions.

'All the children are improving,' he said. 'But we'll be able to find out by how much.'

There's very little information available on this disease, particularly in Chinese, but the association is changing all that. It hopes that through wider education, parents will be able to quickly recognise signs of rheumatism in their children. The illness is incredibly destructive to bone structure, and early diagnosis ensures a distinctly rosier future for children.

The money will be also be used to send out a newsletter to members of the association twice a year.

'We're also hiring a part-time person to set up the second funding project.'group vice-chairwoman Irene Lam said.

Through the hydrotherapy sessions, the association hopes to help 120 children over the next two years.

The website is already running. 'Our main goal is to alert the Chinese community and give them a lot of information. As with all these difficult medical terms, they really might not know what's wrong with their children,' Ms Lam said.

A goal further down the line is to have the website also written in simplified Chinese so it is fully accessible to mainlanders, as there is little information on rheumatism available for Chinese readers.

The therapy sessions are filled with laughter as children throw an inflatable ball around. 'You have to turn it into a game for them,' Mr Wong said.

'Hydro-pools are set at a higher temperature than ordinary swimming pools. This temperature suits the body better and makes it relax. Otherwise, the children's bodies would be tense and they wouldn't be able to do the exercises so well.'

Through Operation Santa Claus, the association is also producing two DVDs on two forms of child rheumatism to better educate parents.

'When they first come along to the pool, some of the children cry,' said one of the therapists.

'We get the parents to accompany them into the pool and get them accustomed to the varying depths. They have a lot of fun once they get used to it.'