Uprooted from their homeland, they leave everything that is familiar behind to come to a strange city. Their worst subject is English. Other students at school make fun of their dialect, while at home their parents have little time or energy to care for them after working long hours just to provide the bare necessities. But now the Hope For Kids Centre is taking these children newly arrived from the mainland under its wing and a group of 'Big Brothers and Sisters' are reaching out to befriend them. They are mostly university students, who volunteer to teach the children English, take them out on trips and to talk to them heart to heart. The centre opened last August under the supervision of Kennis Au Yeung. 'More and more Chinese immigrants are coming to Hong Kong, from 105 a day in 1996 to 150 now, and one-third of them are children,' he said. 'There are now more than 10,000 immigrant children in Hong Kong. We want to help them adjust to Hong Kong, especially academically so we opened this centre.' The centre is in Tai Kok Tsui near Shamshuipo, Yau Ma Tei and Mongkok where 20 per cent of school age immigrant children live. 'We teach them basic English through games. We encourage and praise them so they have more confidence to speak English in a friendly environment,' Mr Au Yeung said. A British-born Chinese holds a storytelling session once a fortnight to stimulate the children's interest in English. Bright-eyed, nine-year-old Leung Ka-man said that in her first English class in Hong Kong she could only understand the teacher when she said 'Good Morning'. 'I was afraid in class. In Shenzhen, we study English in Primary One but we could only read English and not write,' said Ka-man, who came to Hong Kong with her family last August. Over time her English has improved considerably. In her final exam last semester, she scored 95 marks in the subject. 'When I first came to the centre, the tutor taught me how to recognise the alphabet, tell the time and vocabularies about the different modes of transportation in Hong Kong,' she said. 'I couldn't adjust to Hong Kong at first, the house is so small. I am getting to know more friends in school. I think Hong Kong is a bit better than Shenzhen.' Every afternoon a student volunteer helps the children with their homework. The centre can cater for up to 50 children. They can stay until 5.30pm. Kammy Sham Chui-wan, a third-year student at Baptist University, regularly comes to tutor the children. 'Their biggest problem in their studies is English. They may be in Primary Two and their level is only Primary One. Some of them can't differentiate the 26 characters in the alphabet. 'Also they can't read English instructions when they are doing their homework. The situation is worse for Primary Five and Six children - they have no time to catch up. 'Since schoolteachers can't take care of so many of them, we teach them basic English - vocabularies about parts of the body or items in the supermarket,' Kammy said. She finds that the students are diligent and try hard to learn English. 'Even if I don't teach them, they look up the words in the dictionary. They learn very fast. When we hold an English group discussion, they are very eager and raise their hands to answer questions,' Kammy said. In helping the children with their homework, Kammy does not tell them the answer directly but leads them to find the answer. 'I like kids. I am happiest when I see them improve in their studies, especially those who used to get zeros in their English tests and are now scoring As and Bs,' she said. Mr Au Yeung said the Big Brother Big Sister programme was one the key areas of the centre's work. 'We pair up 12 local big brothers and sisters with 12 immigrant children to help them build up contact with the local people so they can adjust to the environment as soon as possible,' he said. Most of the volunteers are over 20. 'Once every fortnight during the weekend, we take them out to visit different places in Hong Kong, the Peak, the airport, the Space Museum and Science Museum,' said Chan Wai-ho, one of the big brothers. They also take the children to public libraries and teach them how to borrow books. The children learn how to use Government resources and facilities, like booking a badminton court, and how to take trams, ferries and buses. 'We help them understand Hong Kong. They've been in Hong Kong for such a short time and their family rarely take them out,' Wai-ho said. One of his most memorable experiences was taking his 'little brothers and sisters' to ride the Peak tram. 'They were exhilarated and were yelling with joy,' he said. The volunteers are able to build up a close relationship with their charges. In the process, the children communicate their feelings to them - about homework, how bored they are at home and emotional problems like academic pressure. The new immigrant arrivals may also have low self-esteem. At school, the local children make fun of their heavily-accented Cantonese. The centre has a self-esteem group where a social work trainee talks to six 11 and 12-year-old immigrant children. 'At school the students may tease them with names like 'mainland boy' or 'mainland girl'. This really affects their self-confidence,' said Cheng Hing-chow, Hong Kong Polytechnic University's fieldwork supervisor. 'They have problems with English and Chinese characters. At the same time, their parents have high expectations of them. They say 'you have to be as good as the Hong Kong children', and this often gives them pressure. The children are also afraid that they have no friends at school,' Ms Cheng said. The social work trainee talks to the youngsters about their problems, such as how to deal with their parents, and they teach them social skills to use at school. 'We also talk about the difference between Hong Kong and China, advantages and disadvantages. After discussions, we test them psychologically through the pictures they draw which reflect their inner world. If they have problems we counsel them individually,' Ms Cheng said. Parents said that after their children had joined the centre their English had improved tremendously, and because of frequent contact with other people, they become more open than before. 'The centre is good,' said Fong Yim-fun, who came to Hong Kong from Shenzhen in 1995. She, her husband and two children live in a 60-square-foot rented room in Mongkok. 'My child can play with other children,' she said.