Sze Lai-shan moved to Hong Kong from the mainland at the age of 11. Not knowing a word of Cantonese, or even being able to list the 26 letters of the English alphabet, she found living here a struggle. However, thanks to her exceptional effort, she won a university place to study social work, and on graduation joined the Society For Community Organisation (SOCO). Now in her 17th year at SOCO, Sze says being a community organiser is all about helping the needy of Hong Kong and building a better society for everyone.
Why did you join SOCO?
Coming from a grassroots family, and having lived in a congested sub-divided unit for most of my childhood, I am determined to do something to help society. When I was studying at university, I learned about SOCO through my teacher.
I think it is a hands-on organisation which has close contacts with the public. I also feel that it can make changes for the better.
However, my family was not very supportive. My father was rather conservative and thought I might get into trouble because I constantly had to stand up for others. I did not dare tell them about my work, but they soon found out about it from the news.
Now they are more open-minded but still nag me when I get home late because they worry about my safety.
What do you think is the root of poverty in Hong Kong?
The poverty we have is unacceptable, considering our city's economic development Cross-generation poverty is the main problem. I managed to climb out of poverty, thanks to hard work. But in today's Hong Kong, it is much tougher for lower-class people to move up.
Education depends on cash. Poor families have no resources to support their children for tuition classes and other learning resources, making it hard to compete for university places.
What inspires you to keep going despite all the obstacles?
I love my job because I love helping people.
I value the relationship I have with the residents. Throughout the years, I have seen boys and girls whom I have helped grow into capable men and women. Their success fuels my desire to continue to help.
I knew that change cannot happen overnight, and that government policies have their limits. But this will not discourage me from helping people in need.
What can the public do to help build a better society?
If Hong Kong people could become more loving, and care less about money, society would be much more harmonious.
One bad thing about Hong Kong people is that they are far too money-minded - they rate your success only by the amount of money that you have made.
If society cares only about money, everyone will end up functioning like robots and inter-personal relations will no longer exist.
Are you worried about the lack of new talent in your field?
I don't think my career is attractive to young people, or to others. I work 12 hours a day, from 10am to 10pm, seven days a week. My to-do list is endless.
But if you are passionate about helping others, you can overcome anything.