Kalai Arun has been hard at work teaching Indian children living here their native language. It is a labour of love for Mrs Arun, who says equipping the children with knowledge of the language and culture will help them prepare for the future. While many leaders in Hong Kong's South Asian community are worried about children being disadvantaged by a lack of Chinese language skills, an unassuming housewife is hard at work teaching local Indian children their native language. 'Equipping our children with knowledge of our language and culture will help both Hong Kong and the children prepare for the future,' Kalai Arun, 32, says. Mrs Arun, who moved to Hong Kong from India with her family 10 years ago, has spent the past four years as a volunteer teaching Tamil to south Indian children. She now spends all her Saturday afternoons helping the young people build up their cultural identity and integrate into the local society. Most of her students already speak Tamil at home but have yet to learn reading and writing. They speak English at school and some also speak Cantonese. Mrs Arun says teaching her mother tongue gives her great satisfaction. She considers it important for ethnic minority children not only to be able to use their own language, but also to appreciate their cultural roots. 'There are a lot of similarities between the Chinese culture and the Tamil culture. Chinese and Tamil cultures are ancient ones and, for example, highly regard filial piety,' she noted. She and eight fellow volunteers are teaching about 70 students, aged from five to 10, in classes at six different levels. The curriculum has been tailor-made for Hong Kong-Indian children and they buy books from India and Singapore. The programme is not simply a language course, but is also aimed at nurturing good citizens. The curriculum includes civic education elements to teach children to obey their parents, to stay away from drugs and to obey the law. Students also learn table manners and social etiquette. Mrs Arun, a mother of two, believes the programme is also important for building a properly diversified Hong Kong, and hopes it will help enhance ties between India and Hong Kong, both of which she considers her home. 'India is a fast-growing economy with unexploited opportunities. It is also a major trading partner with Hong Kong,' she says. Apart from running classes, the group also collaborates with the Tamil Cultural Association to help students take part in Tamil art activities. But this ambitious project did not start easily. When Mrs Arun and her fellow volunteers at the Young Indian Friends Club first embarked on the programme, classes were conducted in a very undesirable environment. The 'classroom' was a small restaurant in Chung King Mansions - the Tsim Sha Tsui building notorious for its poor sanitary conditions, lack of safety facilities, crime and other hazards. Once, a murder was committed on the 10th floor while the class was being held on the ninth. Fortunately it happened in the middle of the class, so the children did not see any frightening scenes. The unsafe conditions scared even adults. One of the female volunteer teachers quit because of the perceived danger for women in the building. The teachers wanted to accommodate more children, but the cramped space then allowed only 30 students to come, at different times. Conditions improved last November after Mrs Arun's team successfully sought help from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong's ethnic minority service centre. Through the centre they contacted the principal of Newman Catholic College, who let them use the school's classrooms free on Saturdays. Now Mrs Arun's eight-year-old daughter attends her class with other children. The teacher said her four-year-old son was too young for the course but she hoped he would join when he grew a little older. The volunteers are hoping to introduce multimedia teaching in the near future and to continuously improve the programme.