First touch of the ball gives teens a glimmer of hope

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 March, 2012, 12:00am


For Jung Ho-jung, life has always been about going outside the comfort zone. 'I was educated in a pretty typical middle-class life in Hong Kong, but realised there was life beyond that,' the 36-year old Korean says.

After studying for a teaching degree in Britain, Jung became a missionary in Mongolia with his wife and young children. He describes it as 'like camping for two years. I soon figured the best way to spread the word with these nomadic, physical people was through rugby'.

Back in Hong Kong and invigorated by the power of a rugby ball to effect change, Jung contacted Robbie McRobbie, the HKRFU's community liaison officer: 'Coaching, starting a new team, I didn't care, I just wanted to help,' says Jung. 'Robbie pointed me in the direction of Operation Breakthrough, the union's initiative started with the police in 1996 to turn around 'at-risk' kids in poorer areas who were getting into gangs and petty theft.'

Since that phone call in 2009, Jung has been a coach focusing on another frontier, Tin Shui Wai. This area of high-rise housing estates in the New Territories is known for social problems, unemployment, limited public transport and desolate isolation.

'By the time I started here, the youngest generation of 'Breakthrough' kids had grown up and had started their own rugby team, the Tin Shui Wai Pandas, all aged about 17-22,' Jung said. 'Now they are inspiring the younger kids. They have two teams in the league this season, the first team won the championship and the second won a trophy in community league three.'

Jung is pleased that the new Tin Shui Wai rugby pitch funded by the HKRFU (and partly from rugby sevens tickets) will be operational next year. 'The pitch will give the kids the chance to expand their minds as well as their horizons,' he said. 'Many live with three generations in 400 to 600 square foot flats in high-density buildings. Rugby and other sport initiatives, like soccer and boxing, help lift their self-esteem and provide hope.

'In Hong Kong there is a great deal of pressure to succeed academically. Breakthrough celebrates how sporting achievements can be the beginnings of success in all sorts of areas in life. It's all about giving someone that first chance.'