Making a point in tents
Atteeq Shaheen Abdul awoke bleary-eyed this morning. He joined his classmates at the public toilet near Statue Square to wash his face and get ready for school.
Atteeq was among the four teachers and 25 students from Christian Zheng Sheng College who began camping in tents at Statue Square beside the Legislative Council Building on March 31.
The college accommodates youths with drug problems, but its campus is no longer suitable. The students and their teachers, whose protests will end today, wanted to bring attention to the college's effort to get the government to move their facility to the Heung Yee Kuk Southern District Secondary School campus at Mui Wo, Lantau Island.
Atteeq, in Form Four, has been at the college for 18 months. Sleeping on the street is not easy, he says. 'No one can sleep because it is so noisy - buses passing, people walking by, police officer's boots making a noise as they walk past.'
But the hardship has been worth it 'because the public has showed us a lot of support.'
Generous and supportive passersby have even brought protesters food, Atteeq adds.
'I've been camping on the street to help the school and help youths who want to change for the better,' he notes. 'We have very limited resources. With a new campus we will be able to cater for more young people who want to stay away from drugs.'
While camping out, the protesting students stuck to the same school schedule that they follow at Ha Keng. Every morning they wake up at 6.30 and go to lessons. With no tables and chairs, they sit on pieces of cardboard. The teachers sit on a stool and write on a mini white board.
Chan Chun-yip, a teacher at the college, says the conditions at the school are awful. 'I think our students deserve to have facilities similar to services [at the government-run rehabilitation centre]. We are here to demand to be treated fairly,' he says.
Gurung Rajkumar, who is in his third year at the college, says: 'Like here at Statue Square, at school we have no proper classrooms. The place where we dry our clothes, the basketball court all become classrooms. Every time it rains, water leaks into our study room. Someone needs to get buckets to collect the water and someone will get tools to try to repair the roof. It is not easy.'
Jacob Lam Hay-sing, CEO of the Christian Zheng Sheng Association, has written a song to honour protesting students: We Are Little Wild Chrysanthemums. 'Our students are like little wild chrysanthemums,' Lam explains. 'They are always fighting to get better and do not fear hardships, but they are often overlooked.'
Lam has had some troubles of his own, coming under the shadow of a recent ICAC inquiry into the school's funds. He says his name has since been cleared. 'The board of directors can fire me [if they want],' he stresses. 'But please do not let these issues stop the children from getting help.'