Jungle Book comes to life for Disney volunteers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 February, 2014, 4:48am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 February, 2014, 4:48am

Jovi Chong Man-kai and Cilla Chung Lai-mui are no strangers to Tarzan - after all, they regularly pass his "tree house" while working at Hong Kong Disneyland. But it was only when they joined colleagues on a 17,400 kilometre expedition to South America that they saw a real-life king of the jungle swinging between the trees.

The pair, who work in the human resources and finance departments respectively, were the only Hongkongers among 30 Walt Disney staff members who spent nine days in Ecuador, helping to build a classroom for local children.

The 30 were chosen from some 260 applicants to take part in the November trip, which marked the 30th anniversary of Disney's volunteering initiative.

Landing in capital city Quito after a 30-hour flight, it took the pair and their group another six hours to reach the Amazon rainforest. Then there was an hour's boat ride to the villages of Bellevista and Mondanna.

"A local villager led us into the forest. He climbed on a tree branch, clung onto an aerial root and swung from one tree to another like Tarzan," Chong recalls.

And there was a moment of culinary culture shock when they dined on roasted beetles the size of HK$5 coins.

Chung said of the unlikely feast: "It smells nice, actually."

Since the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, Disney has led volunteering trips every year. The company pays participants' basic expenditures, but staff members have to take the time off as leave. The trips usually have more applicants than places.