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Spirit of Hong Kong 2014

Creating chances … in soccer and in life

Peter Lo has overcome a difficult start in life to help many young people learn, get a trade and develop their skills on the football pitch

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 August, 2014, 4:30am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 September, 2014, 12:54pm

In the late 1960s, Peter Lo Wai-hung would stand by a football pitch in Tsz Wan Shan near Wong Tai Sin, where groups of young men played games or just lounged around. There would be more than 100 of them, often unskilled having left school without qualifications, and prime pickings for triad members who also frequented the sports ground.

Lo would approach some of the young men and ask if they were willing to work.

If so, they would help him redecorate a school. They were paid, and when the work finished months later they were skilled carpenters and decorators. While the trades had not, until recently, been regarded with respect in Hong Kong, it provided these young men with a start in life.

"I could only take 20 out of the 100 who were there," Lo says in the office and workshop of Law Wing Kee, a construction and decorating firm founded by his father in the 1930s. "Some of the lazy ones would go with the triads, but other juvenile delinquents would come and work with me for HK$3 a day and I would teach them skills."

Lo, who has been nominated for a "Corporate Citizen" award in the Spirit of Hong Kong Awards 2014, knows what it means to struggle.

"I left school after Form One when I was 14 years old. My father couldn't afford my education," he says. One of six children, he describes a poor upbringing and a father who battled to keep the company afloat with many debts. But Lo was to meet a life-changing mentor as he hauled a trolley of bricks along a street.

"It was in 1969, and things were very difficult. Father C.Y. Cheung stopped me and asked why I wasn't at school," Lo says.

"He was the founder of the St Benedict's Primary School in Tsz Wan Shan. So I told him about my father and he said that he had a project that he needed someone to do. So for the next nine months my father and I worked carrying out the interior decoration of the school."

The priest and the schoolboy stayed firm friends until Cheung's death in 1990. In Lo, he had a committed community worker who still encourages juvenile delinquents into the discipline of paid work. But it's not easy. Some of the men have served time in Stanley Prison.

"Yes, I know what their offences are," he says. "But this is a second chance. They have the opportunity to learn a skill and be trained. But this kind of labour is hard, physical work."

Some lack the commitment to go through with it. But for those who do: "It's a chance to pick up a skill such as masonry, carpentry and painting."

Lo didn't just hire people who had been or were in danger of going off the tracks.

He has always taken an interest in young people's welfare through sport and education.

For 35 years he has educated himself through evening classes, and encouraged his workers to do the same, often paying for tuition. With some, he would go to the school to check on them - and tell them off if they played truant. "Discipline is very important for the young," he says.

From 1969, Lo also set up football teams. For some, it was a way to exercise. Others got into the A- and B-grade Hong Kong teams.

"You must give people a chance," says Lo, who played in a B team in his youth. "In Hong Kong now, children are overprotected and very dependent on their parents. I go to schools and give them an insight on my personal story. I tell them, don't blame your teachers, the government or your parents. You need to rely on yourselves."