HKU students find inspiration from the hardships endured by orphans in Ghana, writes Rebecca Tsui
A 10-day trip to Ghana in Africa to visit underprivileged children has inspired a group of Hong Kong teenagers and given them a new outlook on life.
As part of a one-year programme called Project Ghana 2008, organised by non-governmental organisation Light for Children - Ghana, 12 students from Hong Kong University (HKU) and two filmmakers went to Ghana for 10 days.
The idea for the trip came from Hong Kong University student Sebastian Lindstrom, who is one of the founders of Light for Children.
'I hope the project can form a bridge between two different worlds,' says Mr Lindstrom. 'I believe everyone can bring a little light to poor children in Ghana.
'The project is not only about helping orphans in Africa who have contracted HIV, but also about providing a chance for teenagers in Hong Kong to learn, experience, and make a difference.'
During their trip, the group visited orphanages, clinics, hospitals and schools gaining a real understanding of the lives of underprivileged children.
Even though they had seen documentaries about Aids in Africa and had read about impoverished African children, they were still shocked when they met the orphans in person.
Several months after returning to Hong Kong, they still have strong feelings about the trip.
'Although the kids were born into unfortunate lives - infected with HIV, and losing their parents in infancy - they can still smile brightly,' says Tong Xiaotong, who went on the trip.
'We distributed clothes and toys to orphanages.'
Ms Tong says the toys were nothing fancy, but she was glad they could be useful to the children they met. 'The kids there were really happy and appreciative when they got the gifts,' she says.
'I will never forget their smiling faces, and even though it was just a very short visit, I was privileged to spend time with them and bring them a little joy.'
Life in Ghana is tough, and the HIV virus makes the children's bodies so weak that any infection can prove fatal. 'I remember a boy called Vincent,' says Mr Lindstrom. 'We played with him in the orphanage, but a few days later, we heard he had died.
'If we'd known he was so ill, we would have taken him to hospital. He appeared healthy and normal. It was very sad but it was a real thing we had to deal with.'
Despite other students' reservations, Ms Tong was not afraid to visit Ghana.
'We had briefing sessions and vaccinations before heading to Africa. In addition, we worked as teams there. Our trip there was so intense it left me little time to worry about my personal safety,' says the 22-year-old student.
However, anxiety about Aids and Africa scared off some parents.
'A few girls withdrew because their parents were afraid they might contract Aids and refused to let them go,' says Mr Lindstrom.
During the trip, a production team filmed the students and their experiences for a one-hour documentary they hope will show a different face of Africa.
'We would like to show the beautiful side of Ghana to the public as well as revealing the life of the children there,' says Hari Ravi from Mirror Productions.
The documentary will screen at HKU on December 2. For details, check out www.lightforchildren. com.