Students make most of break to help community

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 August, 2008, 12:00am

More secondary school students this year are embracing corporate summer internships and charitable volunteering schemes.

According to Summerbridge programme director Shirley Man Pui-sze, applications for this year's programme had jumped 10 per cent from a year earlier. The rise was fuelled, in part, by encouragement from schools and a greater awareness among teenagers of the need to contribute to the community.

Launched in Hong Kong 16 years ago, the Summerbridge scheme gives English Schools Foundation and local university students the opportunity to teach English as a second language to 13- to 15-year-olds from low-income families for seven weeks.

More than 200 applicants vied for 58 places this year. Successful candidates have to undergo a week of orientation before the programme where they are taught basic teaching principles.

'Aside from teaching students how to teach, the programme gives them the opportunity to interact with the local community,' Ms Man said. 'Students who have participated say they feel good about being able to contribute to the community. In the process they also learn to be more responsible and get the chance to strengthen their social and communication skills.'

Wu Pui-wah, a supervisor at the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, responsible for volunteering schemes, said the value and experience of helping someone in need was priceless.

One of its summer programmes this year involves training students to visit the elderly, particularly those living alone or who are poor.

'A volunteering experience is very important to a young person's development and growth,' Ms Wu said. 'Aside from gaining knowledge on how to assist the elderly, students get satisfaction from helping people and this can improve their interpersonal skills, and help them acquire a much stronger understanding of society along the way.' A six-hour orientation prepares volunteers on the dos and don'ts of elderly care and what is expected of them.

Programme organisers hope students can visit their assigned elderly person four times over the course of three months and telephone them up to eight times.

The students must handle any concerns the elderly may have with issues ranging from buying an air-conditioner for their home to painting their kitchen. They can also check in to make sure all is well.

Corporate internships can be equally valuable, particularly for students who have already identified a specific area of interest. For Text100 Public Relations, a PR consultancy specialising in the technology sector, summer work experience is significant to the employee and the employer because the company can treat the internship as an extended job interview.

Jeremy Woolf, Text100 Public Relations managing consultant, said: 'The internship provides an opportunity for students to understand our environment, culture and industry while we are able to get a far better understanding of them compared with the usual one-hour interview.

'We try to give our interns a range of work from basic research to analysis and ad hoc projects, to involving them in the company's meetings to ensure they get a good balance and broad understanding of what the industry is like and what we are about.'

Though summer activities, whether for volunteers or interns, will strengthen resumes and university applications, Timothy Leung Yuk-ki, admissions co-ordinator at Chinese University's department of social work, one of the most popular undergraduate subjects, said neither of these factors should be the main reasons motivating students to sign up for summer work.

'Any volunteering opportunity can benefit a person's development. From it, you can gain a fresh perspective, discover a new interest and heighten your sensitivity towards others,' Mr Leung said. 'All these things are important to a person's development and can be helpful whatever job or industry you decide to pursue.'

In identifying the right summer opportunity, Mr Leung urged students to pick schemes that offered maximum exposure to gain a broad perspective.