Long-time Hong Kong teacher helps deprived pupils overcome life's challenges
Ko Cheung-chuen has taught in schools for more than 40 years, most recently in Tuen Mun where he helped his charges face life's challenges
There was a time when triad gangsters used to congregate outside a school in Tuen Mun or loiter in the nearby shopping complex at lunchtime, looking for easy pickings from the schoolchildren, many of whom came from single-parent families or had behavioural problems.
Ko Cheung-chuen, who was "discipline master" and science teacher at Ho Ngai College for more than 20 years, would see them off.
"I just told them we didn't want them there and they should leave our students alone," he says. "That's a number of years ago now. Also in the evening when I was out having dinner with my wife I would go up to triads and tell them to go away, but my wife didn't like me doing that when I was off-duty."
Ko, 65, officially retired in December but still comes in as a supply teacher. He tried the retirement lifestyle for a couple of months, but he still prefers to mix with the students and act as a role model for them, something which, he says, they often lack in their own lives. Many of the children have only one parent or come from new immigrant families, which often have insufficient parental input.
"I think anyone wanting to become a teacher has to see it as a total vocation," says Ko. "You have to be a kind of parent to these children, so that they see you as someone to emulate."
Ko regularly keeps up with some of his alumni, including four young women who used to be into drugs and were so badly behaved if they were not playing truant that they would have been expelled if they had been at any other school in Tuen Mun, he says. "But what's the point in that? There would still have been the threat of drugs and they would have been vulnerable on the streets."
Instead he grins as he recounts the good news. One is getting married in December, another has recently become a mother, one is a social worker and the fourth is on a working holiday in Australia.
The children often become the next generation of Hong Kong's catering and service industry workers, he says. They're unlikely to go to university and become doctors.
But he's proud of how they set their goals and go on to live their lives. Ko worked for the first 20 years of his career in a band one school - among the best - in Wan Chai. Those children were becoming lawyers and doctors, he says.
After growing up in Shau Kei Wan, he worked in a factory, then on a construction site and in 1970 became a laboratory assistant at Sheng Kung Hui Tang Shiu Kin Secondary School in Wan Chai, where he later became a teacher for close to 20 years.
He laughs as he explains how one day at the Tuen Mun school was like a year at the Wan Chai institution - a slight exaggeration perhaps, but an indication of how Ko involved himself in the lives and trials of his charges.
Some of the children neglect themselves, he says, or are never taught properly about personal hygiene. So he tells them to clean themselves and how to wash and mend their clothes.
Ko can be a little unorthodox with his science experiments, once filling up a balloon with gas to show an explosion in the classroom, which delighted the children, he says.
Ko has been nominated by the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union for the Compassion Ambassador Award in this year's Spirit of Hong Kong Awards, organised by the South China Morning Post.
The organisation describes how in more than 40 years of teaching, Ko has been willing to give his time to help his pupils.
"Other than giving his love and care to his students, his goal is to assist the weak students to pick themselves up and become better people," it said in its nomination.