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Operation Santa Claus

Hong Kong club helps connect young and old through storytelling

Hans Andersen Club is planning to recruit senior citizen volunteers to read to kindergarten children

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 November, 2016, 1:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 November, 2016, 11:29pm

When Kay Lai-kwan, 70, picked up some dolls and started telling a story, her audience quickly grew from a few children to more than a dozen.

Kay has been telling stories at the Hans Andersen Club in Wong Tai Sin for over 10 years. The non-profit, which is dedicated to the development of children through storytelling, is now looking to implement a programme where senior citizens can volunteer to tell stories at local kindergartens.

With a HK$1 million donation from Operation Santa Claus this year, the club plans on recruiting over 160 senior citizen volunteers in Tuen Mun and Wong Tai Sin to tell stories to more than 1,100 children at 18 locations, including various elderly centres and schools.

Through this programme, the organisation hopes to better connect the two generations.

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“Many of my friends complain that their grandchildren never talk to them. Old people can be quite unhappy when they are neglected or ignored,” Kay said.

She said stories were great vehicles through which people of different ages could learn to empathise with one another.

Besides her time at the club, Kay has abundant experience in telling bedtime stories to her two grandchildren. She said children also benefit from stories told by the elderly as they learn to appreciate adults’ opinions.

Karen Lai Kai-yan, a project officer at Hans Andersen Club, said the programme aims to close the generation gap in many local families, where children, who are left at home by their working parents, struggle to form emotional connections with their grandparents.

“For many old people, this is also a learning experience,” she said, “In order to be able to tell stories to children, they have to learn to use hand dolls and picture books, which they did not grow up with.”

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Lai said the club would provide training for these senior volunteers before assigning them to various kindergartens.

“Many old people feel very nervous before they start telling stories, so we put four of them in one team so that they can encourage one another.”

Lai added that old folks take tremendous pleasure in sharing their experience with the younger generation.

“They delight in introducing vintage toys and classic snacks such as maltose candies to children,” she said.

Kay’s 14-year-old granddaughter Kwong Sin-hang said she cherishes the storytelling sessions she had with her grandmother as they helped make their close relationship possible.

“Stories meant a lot to me in my childhood,” she said, “That’s why I am also volunteering at the Hans Andersen Club whenever I have time.”