Peer support helps troubled youth

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 November, 2011, 12:00am


Twenty years ago, a young woman struggling with drug and alcohol addiction was desperate to find a way to resolve her problems. She found that by speaking to her peers she was able to overcome her issues, and as a result she developed a peer support and self-help model to assist others.

Kids Everywhere Like You was what she called it, and over the years that was shortened to KELY.

Since then, the organisation has helped millions of people aged 14 to 24 across Hong Kong face their greatest fears.

It marked its 20th anniversary yesterday with 'K20 - Celebrating 20 Years of Youth Empowerment', a fund-raising carnival at the Y-Platform of Youth Square in Chai Wan.

The group has developed into a non-government-funded, fully bilingual charity that specialises in dealing with drug and alcohol addictions, low self-esteem, and negative body image and preventing suicide.

Three teenagers who have suffered from a variety of issues shared their thoughts on how much KELY had changed their lives. They chose to remain anonymous, as did the founder.

'The main thing that helped me was the whole ethos of teenagers helping teenagers, because in most organisations it's employees helping teenagers,' an 18-year-old female expatriate said. 'Having someone my own age talk to me had a lot more impact. There was an understanding that you wouldn't get from an employee or a therapist.'

This peer support programme is not unique to KELY, but it stresses giving teenagers the tools to help themselves and one another. The organisation's workers are always on hand to offer guidance, but the programme is geared to encouraging young people to work out their problems among themselves.

An 18-year-old expatriate male said he had learned how to live more positively instead of getting into trouble. 'I got involved in constructive activities here instead of negative ones with the bad circle of friends I had. It changed my outlook on life,' he said.

A 16-year-old Chinese youth said KELY helped him work with his peers in a collaborative way.

'The Chinese school structure is very rigid and is focused on teaching individuals - there was no communication with my classmates,' he said. 'Here I was given responsibility and the opportunity to work with others my own age. My confidence grew a lot because of this.'

KELY executive director Chung Tang is proud of what has been achieved in the past 20 years, but the group is not going to rest on its laurels. 'We feel we are unique in Hong Kong. We want to continue building our portfolio so that our brand becomes stronger and we can help more young people,' Chung said.