Spirit of Hong Kong

The Hong Kong boxing club working hand in glove with troubled teens

Operation Breakthrough's Liu Kwok-kuen helps young offenders have a fighting chance in life - and it all started in the boxing ring

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 12:19pm

Everyone deserves a second chance, and no organisation in Hong Kong believes this more than Operation Breakthrough.

The idea of helping youngsters avoid a life of crime began in 1996 when a group of volunteer policemen organised an adventure weekend in which youths at risk were challenged both mentally and physically. One of the disciplines covered during those two intensive days was boxing and it proved so popular that a permanent club was formed.

Today, Operation Breakthrough has branched out into a number of sports, but in the early days, it was boxing that paved the way. Breakthrough programme worker Liu Kwok-kuen, 28, joined the organisation as a volunteer assistant boxing coach in 1999 and has been trying to make a difference ever since.

He has no doubt that the sport has steered many teenagers away from a life of crime.

"In the beginning, we used boxing as it is a mentally and physically intense sport. For some, it was a new environment, and they were a bit offensive and aggressive towards us at first. But they gradually came around," said Liu, who now works full time for the charity.

"It's all about trust. The police officers involved never just stood around giving orders. They would do all the training with the youngsters, which really encouraged them to carry on."

Liu said only a tiny percentage of those who joined Breakthrough's boxing programme had re-offended.

At least three joined the disciplined services, while most of the others had gone on to become upstanding members of the community and examples to those who might otherwise follow a path to crime.

In many cases, police can, under the Police Superintendents' Discretion Scheme, administer a formal caution to a juvenile offender - aged 10 to 17 years old - who admits their guilt. It is these young offenders who Operation Breakthrough targets.

"They can be suspicious at first. But before long, their attitude changes and they look upon us as their friends," Liu said. "They can see we are there to help them. I get a lot of satisfaction out of what we have achieved."

Over the years, Operation Breakthrough has helped hundreds of youngsters turn their lives around. It has branched into other sports, including rugby, soccer, sailing, dragon boat racing and even modern dance.

And while the link with the police remains - the boxing training takes place at New Territories North Regional Police Headquarters in Tai Po - like Liu, many of the helpers have never been officers. "Some of the coaching now is done by ex-Breakthrough boys and girls," Liu added.

As well as boxing, Liu now coaches rugby and sailing, which he believes teach individuals different skills, like teamwork. But his job does not end here.

"I'll talk to the kids after training to find out how they are," he said. "If they have any problems or if anything is bothering them. If possible, I'll give them some advice."

The boxing training usually takes place every Tuesday and Thursday night from 6.30pm to 8.30pm.

The organisation generally holds three boxing tournaments a year. The next one is scheduled for August 17, Saturday, at the Police Sports and Recreation Club in Prince Edward, Kowloon.