From the heart

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 September, 2009, 12:00am

Seven university students from Hong Kong brought warmth to orphans in Mongolia this summer and took home a heartfelt lesson.

The student volunteers from the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd) took part in a community services programme on the mainland organised by the teacher training school. They worked at an orphanage in the capital city Ulaanbaatar, educating children about first aid and hygiene, teaching them basic English and playing games with them.

But because the children spoke Mongolian and little English, the Hong Kong students mainly used body language to communicate with them.

May Siu Mei-yin, a third-year student taking a Chinese language teaching course, said her experience taught her that language was not a communication barrier as long as people showed they genuinely cared.

'At the beginning, it was not easy to figure out what they meant. But gradually we developed a mutual understanding,' the 24-year-old said.

'As long as you show you care from your heart, language doesn't matter.'

The Hong Kong volunteers were impressed by the positive attitude and strength of the orphans. Their parents had either passed away or were unfit to look after them because of bad habits such as gambling and alcoholism.

The government-funded orphanage, located in the suburbs, has 30 orphans aged from as young as three to 18.

Some of the them have relatives, but they cannot afford to look after the orphans.

While there were staff who helped with the cooking and laundry, the children did most of the housework themselves.

They also worked on a farm to support the orphanage, growing potatoes, tomatoes, onions and other vegetables.

Their leisure time was spent playing games on barren ground outside their dormitory.

'The children knew they had to take care of themselves. They were strong and independent at an early age. They were also very united. They had a strong bond,' said Siu.

'They did not dwell on the absence of their parents or think people should pity them.'

The Hong Kong volunteers served as both caretakers and teachers to the orphans during the seven-week programme.

Volunteer Helium Kwok Hiu-lam said although the orphans seemed emotionally strong and independent, their hearts were unfulfilled .

'They didn't smile much, even when we took photos with them,' Kwok said.

'A local volunteer helped us understand why. He told us whenever a car was pulling in, the children would gaze longingly hoping it was their relatives coming to take them home.

'They longed for a family.'

The students could do little to help change the children's circumstances, Kwok said, but they showed them there were people who cared.