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Operation Santa Claus

Hong Kong youngsters check in for some festive fun

Children are taught how to make decorations from plastic bottles, then enjoy Christmas lunch, courtesy of the Sino Hotels Group

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 December, 2016, 5:43pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 December, 2016, 8:11pm

Dozens of children who seldom leave their neighbourhoods enjoyed a rare hotel visit to celebrate Christmas, courtesy of the Sino Hotels Group.

The human size teddy bear and Christmas trees in the lobby of the Royal Pacific Hotel, Tsim Sha Tsui, were top photo spots for the youngsters aged three to eight from Benji’s Centre, who travelled from Sha Tin in the New Territories to enjoy the festive treat.

“It was the first time for many of them to set foot in Tsim Sha Tsui, not to mention going into a hotel,” the centre’s social worker Gloria Shum Kam-wan said.

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Benji’s Centre is a beneficiary of this year’s Operation Santa Claus, the annual charity appeal organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK. It provides free or discounted speech therapy for children from low income families.

Shum said that apart from improving their speaking ability in a closed room, the centre also had a mission to enrich the children’s lives by exposing them to a wider range of learning opportunities.

“Many of the parents who come to our centre find bringing their children outdoors very challenging,” she said. “The reason is that some of our children also suffer from autism, and they could go out of control in a public area. Sometimes people around would say things very harsh that are hurtful to both the parent and the child.”

Travelling expenses are also a concern for parents.

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By bringing them to the Christmas event to meet volunteers from the group and hotel customers, Shum hoped more people could understand the children.

And before tucking into a festive lunch there was an “upcycle workshop” at which the youngsters were taught how to make Christmas ornaments from plastic water bottles, glitter gel, ribbons and beads – perfect for the tree in the lobby.

“We really want to keep their work as they are so beautifully made, but we let the children take the ornaments home at the end because we could feel that they really treasured those finished products,” a hotel volunteer said.

As children surrounded the group’s general manager, Yngvar Stray, for a lift to hang their decorations on the tree, workshop host Agnes Nong Cheuk-ling explained how she found their engagement with the project different to others she had taught.

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“I had the experience of teaching children from more well-off backgrounds, and some of them would dislike touching used materials like water bottles. But Benji Centre’s children are so appreciative and grateful, they are easily satisfied with the material that is given,” Nong said.

Shum believed this was because their families would not have money to spare for decorations, which made this celebration “extra special and happy”.

Sino Hotels Group, as an Operation Santa Claus donor, also raised money by selling charcoal-roasted chestnuts outside four of its hotels. In addition, all six hotels sold Christmas hats for the charity.