THE PLAYGROUND at PLK Portuguese Community School (PCS) looks like a mini-United Nations assembly. The 220 pupils bouncing in there include Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalese, Ukrainians, Brazilians, Venezuelans and more. Most of them arrived in Hong Kong less than a year ago. PCS is one of five schools of the Initiation Programme for Newly Arrived Children (NAC), a six-month, full-time government scheme to ease the transition for the pupils. But the primary school is the only one that caters for both Chinese and non-Chinese NACs. Most of the non-Chinese NACs are South Asians who speak little English and no Cantonese. A teaching assistant fluent in Nepalese, Hindi, Urdu and English often helps out in classes. Intensive Chinese and English training is provided to prepare the children for studies at mainstream schools. Teaching and learning in a mini-UN is challenging. When war loomed on the Indian-Pakistani border last year, pupils had discussions and some became uneasy talking to their 'enemies' until teachers intervened. At the beginning of each term, special classes are held to introduce the customs and food of each child's home country. Still, curiosity arose when fair-haired Ukrainian Karandashev Rostyslav, 13, joined PCS last September. 'They touched my face and hair, and asked where I dyed it,' he says with a smile. Coming to Hong Kong not speaking a word of English or Chinese, Karandashev says in Cantonese that Ukrainian food is yit hei - greasy and bad for the health. He is not the only genius. Eleven-year-old Inderjit Singh from India, and 10-year-old Danela Kinzki B. Lo from the Philippines, can also describe their lives at PCS in Cantonese. In fact, most children leave the school able to converse in Cantonese. The non-Chinese also adapt better than their Chinese friends because of their optimism and support from extended families and networks formed at mosques, temples and churches, says PCS headmistress Karen Lau Choi-yuk. 'Coming from places with fewer opportunities, they treasure what they have here,' Ms Lau says. Chinese NACs are more stressed out due to family, financial and study pressure. Some face the difficult decision of repeating at lower levels. Chung Suet-ha, 16, repeated Primary Six at PCS and has yet to find a secondary school place. There is additional stress from living with unfamiliar relatives, or distressed parents in rocky relationships or unstable employment situations. As PCS tackles these problems, it also has to follow up on those who have moved on to mainstream schools. New problems such as discrimination may arise and some NACs have to confront extremely unfriendly schoolmates. In such cases, PCS counsels them and sometimes contacts the schools to sort out the problems. 'This programme does not solve all their problems,' Ms Lau says. 'But we hope that they now have better problem-solving ability and know where to look for assistance.' In the long run, the South Asians face a far more daunting problem, says Sam Kwong Fu-san, senior manager of the social services division at Christian Action, which co-ordinates social services at PCS this year. With a poor command of written Chinese, there are few opportunities for advanced studies and employment for them in Hong Kong. But that is beyond PCS.