AFTER-school basketball training and a challenging inter-school-style competition are on offer to students willing to help out and offer support in their communities. The Save the Children Hong Kong Slam Dunk programme allows students to chase glory on the court in return for making a difference to those less fortunate, such as the needy and disabled. The programme promotes personal growth, team spirit and a sense of social responsibility. At the Bethal High School in Yuen Long, students Ng Kin-hei, Cheng Chung-hang, Lam Pak-yin, and Kenneth Lam Tze-hin and others formed two basketball teams to enter the competition, which starts in March and runs until May. The boys have been training after school with a coach they selected themselves - Li Shiu-kuen, a popular placement teacher at the school last year. Students who participate are obliged to donate eight hours of their time to a community support initiative of their choice. The Bethal boys elected to meet a group of mentally handicapped people and introduce them to the world of basketball. 'We learned to be very patient with them and help them understand the skills at their own pace,' Kin-hei, 16, said. 'Sometimes we had to hold their hands, or physically show them what to do and have them copy it. 'I think of them differently now. They are normal people who can do whatever we can do, but they have a disability. We got to know them as people and friends and understand who they are.' Kenneth said he quickly learned how to communicate with the mentally handicapped people. 'It was my first personal contact with mentally handicapped people and at first I didn't know what to do and felt a bit awkward. They enjoyed themselves and I learned something. It felt very rewarding,' the 15-year-old said. Chung-hang said he was happy to do something meaningful in his free time. 'If we hadn't done this I would have been at home playing on the internet or on the Playstation,' Chung-hang, 15, said. 'I don't mind. I would rather do the voluntary work.' The community initiatives chosen by students varied at other schools. At Caritas Wu Cheng-Chung Secondary School they chose to organise a Christmas party for visually impaired elderly people. Pak Kau College students visited the elderly to clean their houses, cut their hair and give gifts. At CCC Tam Lee Lai Fun Memorial Secondary School, they assisted in a learning programme for lower form students. Another element of the programme helps students develop their communication skills and set goals to achieve targets. The emphasis is on self-development - building positive habits, exploring one's strengths and setting life targets. 'It taught me to plan more and use my initiative,' said Pak-yin, 16. 'My aim was to be a better leader. I am one of the oldest in the basketball team this year, so I needed to plan our targets and think about how we could become a better team.' About 20 boys from the school will divide into two teams for the competition; one in the junior category, and one in the Open. Their aim is to emulate last year's result, when they finished fourth overall. 'Many players have left the school since last year, so this year will be harder, but we will do our best,' Kin-hei said. 'As an older player my role is different this time. I have more responsibility. I've been checking out the other teams to see what level we need to be playing at. The Open category is quite a high standard.' Participants undergo four months of training, both on and off the court, before joining the competition that leads to a grand final at the end of May. More than 500 boys and girls aged 13 to 17 have signed up for the challenge. A total of 46 teams will join the competition, which will be held at weekends at public sports centres. All fees are paid by Save the Children Hong Kong and sponsors. A new feature in this year's programme is the Dream Workshop, where a few outstanding performers at each school will be offered training in any skill they choose, including cooking, music, DJ mixing, street dance or soccer coaching. To apply for the 2006/07 programme, which starts in September, call Ada Luk on 2511 0505.