A time to give back to the community

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 June, 2009, 12:00am


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Summer breaks are a great time to unwind after all that work and study for your exams, but they are also perfect for getting some hands-on work experience. One option is working as a volunteer for one of Hong Kong's charities or non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Not only will you gain valuable experience and get to meet other people, it also looks great on your r?sum?. You will find that once you have spent one summer volunteering, you can use future breaks at college or university to do the same.

Sue Choi Shuk-ching is one student who has already started volunteering. With her A-level results pending and a new chapter in her life about to open, she decided it was important to re-examine her priorities.

'I wanted to do something special during my summer holiday, not just a paying job, and to find a way to challenge myself,' said Ms Choi, until recently a Form Seven science student at Fung Kai Lui Man Shek Tong Secondary School in Sheung Shui. 'In the past, my target was just making money and having some fun, but my outlook changed and I started to see the need to consider other people more.'

With that in mind, she applied to a scheme run by the Hong Kong Association of Careers Masters and Guidance Masters. It is designed to give school leavers practical experience on a voluntary basis with a range of companies and NGOs.

Ms Choi opted for a placement with the Agency for Volunteer Service (AVS), which has about 25,000 members in Hong Kong and works with more than 100 NGOs. The organisation acts as a co-ordinating body to enrol and train volunteers, and keep them informed of places, dates and activities.

For the past few weeks, Ms Choi has been part of the team handling arrangements for the AVS's own flag day, set for July 11, and has found the experience quite an eye-opener.

'I have contacted about 200 organisations and 150 schools to tell them where they can collect flags and donation boxes, and where they can sell,' she said. 'We are trying to get about 5,000 volunteers to take part.'

For David Lee Shu-feng, who is also volunteering at AVS, the final year of school was a watershed.

'A-levels made me see it was time to do something meaningful, not just waste my time on computer games,' said the former student of Po Leung Kuk No1 W.H. Cheung College in Wong Tai Sin. 'Quite suddenly, I realised I'd had the use of a lot of resources and it was now time for me to start contributing to society.'

So he began a month-long stint with the AVS to raise donations and co-ordinate events for the flag day.

It started with a one-day training session, which explained what being a volunteer entailed and emphasised the need for patience, honesty and understanding when helping others. With the basics clear, Mr Lee has since been fielding enquiries, contacting potential volunteers and doing clerical duties.

'The environment is completely new to me and I've found it's not easy to sit all day for eight hours in an office,' he said. 'But this is a chance to learn new skills and knowledge. There is a lot of data entry and mailing, but that is new as well.'

Ms Choi explained that working with like-minded people had so far been a highlight.

'I like the co-operation and communication,' she said. 'There are a lot of things I still don't understand, but I'm really enjoying the challenges of the job and the chance to do something I like.'

She feels the experience has changed her. On one level, dealing with so many individuals with different backgrounds and styles has shown the importance of listening carefully. On another, there is the vivid realisation that, in life, happiness does not depend on how much money you have. A more real and lasting form of enjoyment comes from being able to help others.

'I think volunteer work should be part of our lives,' she said. 'Before, I visited elderly centres and sold flags, but this job has really broadened my horizons.'

For more information on the AVS visit its website: