Speech therapy centre welcomes Belgian queen

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 December, 2013, 3:52am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 December, 2013, 4:21am

A local speech therapy centre got a royal nod of approval yesterday when Belgium's Queen Mathilde took part in training sessions at Benji's Centre in Nam Cheong.

The 40-year-old mother of four studied speech therapy at Institut Libre Marie Haps in Brussels before marrying King Philippe, who was crowned on July 21 this year following the abdication of his father, King Albert.

The 45-minute visit came on the last day of her three-day stay in the city. Benji's Centre also acts as the sole distributor in Hong Kong for a brand of Belgian chocolates, profits from which go to helping the centre.

On arrival, the queen was welcomed by 12 of the centre's children singing songs. She then took part in training sessions for a three-year-old.

"Her Majesty is so nice and professional. She likes children a lot. She talked to everyone and managed to help our therapist train one of our kids," said co-founder Viola Ho Suk-ying.

"It is a very great pleasure to have her here. We run a small centre, but the queen gives us a lot of recognition and encouragement to keep up our work."

Ho opened the centre with her husband, Raymond Wong Ka-ning, in 2002 in memory of their son Benjamin, who died in an accident aged five. The couple run a trading business that also operates factories on the mainland. As entrepreneurs, they realised the speech centre needed sustained funding, so they began selling chocolates as part of their food business, Confiserie Benji.

The social enterprise now employs 12 speech therapists and has helped more than 1,700 children aged 16 or under. The couple run two speech therapy centres in Sha Tin and Nam Cheong, which serve 350 children.

Seventy per cent of children are treated for free, with the remainder paying HK$300 for each 45-minute one-on-one session with a therapist. That was substantially cheaper than in the private sector, where one session could cost HK$1,000, Wong said.