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Operation Santa Claus

Disabled young Hongkongers relish chance of a life-changing adventure

Outward Bound Hong Kong launches sea kayaking expeditions with support from Operation Santa Claus

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2016, 4:19pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2016, 6:52pm

An outdoor adventure company is offering young disabled Hongkongers the opportunity to enjoy a life-changing sea kayaking expedition.

Outward Bound Hong Kong has launched its Adaptive Journeys programme in collaboration with Operation Santa Claus, the Post’s annual fundraiser in collaboration with RTHK.

The not-for-profit organisation, founded in 1941 and based in Sai Kung, has started small, co-ordinating a nine-day programme for 12 people twice annually over three years.

Operation Santa Claus connecting the Hong Kong community with a good cause

Participants will be taken on a five-day sea kayak journey through the Hong Kong wilderness. Prior to this, they attend four days of confidence-building workshops.

Outward Bound’s instructors have so far trialled its new course with a visually impaired group.

Tommy Yuen, community project officer, said some participants told him they previously felt their disability was a burden on society, so they mainly stayed indoors.

“Some of them are scared to get out of the house without a helper,” he said. “It is more comfortable and more convenient for them to stay at home.”

Blind participant Yam Pok Fai said he was apprehensive about the expedition but thoroughly enjoyed it.

“I never thought these few days could be so wonderful,” he said. “I felt fortunate that I chose to step out of my door on the first day. I can honestly say that this was an experience money cannot buy.”

Outward Bound hopes it could eventually expand the course to as many as eight groups a year, depending on resources, with one course costing about HK$100,000 to run.

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The project’s organisers stress this is only marginally more than the cost of running a course for able-bodied people, as the main additional cost is providing extra staff and ensuring they are given specialised training.

Aaron Funnell, head of operations, said they had worked hard to adapt its adventure programme for disabled participants, including buying modified boats.

“We are very excited; this is us stepping into new territory,” he said. “We are hoping to give people with disabilities the opportunities that other people have.”

According to the most recent government census in 2013, about 8 per cent of the Hong Kong population, roughly 580,000 people, had a physical disability. Of the total population, 4.5 per cent had restricted body movement; 2.4 per cent were visually impaired; 2.2 per cent had a hearing impairment; and 0.7 per cent had a speech difficulty. The city has long been criticised for its poor provisions and lack of accessibility for disabled people.

It is not really about the activity itself, it is about what you learn from it
Executive director Nick Cotton

Outward Bound’s new programme is aimed at Hongkongers aged 16 to 30, but it has said it will consider applicants slightly outside that age bracket. It also hopes to recruit participants with a range of disabilities, with the main requirement being that they can turn over independently in the water while wearing a life jacket.

It hopes it can also eventually cater for those with mental disabilities, but for now it will focus on providing places for the physically disabled.

Executive director Nick Cotton said he hoped the course would give participants improved self-esteem.

“It is not really about the activity itself, it is about what you learn from it,” he said. “There is a huge amount of their own potential to realise, which they do not have the opportunity to test in real life.”