Surveying firm owner David Yu Sze-hung wasn't sure what to say when he first met fifth former To Chu-kit. But he broke through the boy's shyness, and two years on, the pair are enjoying each other's company on visits to the cinema, a concert, dinners and other activities. They are among 90 mentor-mentee pairs that the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals' Jockey Club Sha Tin Integrated Services Centre brought together under a government project to give children from poor families a helping hand. Launched in 2008 by the Labour and Welfare Bureau, the idea behind the HK$300 million Child Development Fund is to support underprivileged children aged 10 to 16 by matching them with professionals who can help broaden their horizons and exposure, and serve as role models. 'It is a new experience for me to be with groups of young people. We've made mooncakes and played games together. It is a lot of fun,' says Yu, referring to gatherings with other mentors and mentees organised by the centre. A former mainland immigrant like Chu-kit, Yu recalls his own struggles to get ahead and is keen to help youngsters in similar situations. When Yu came to Hong Kong with his family 30 years ago, he could not speak Cantonese. He took whatever jobs came his way, while picking up skills in such as typing, accounting and English at night school. His chance came years later when a friend asked him to help out at his property agency, and he eventually went into business on his own. Five years ago, he set up a surveying firm. 'I got the help I needed from people around me ... and I hope I am able to help others in need when I can,' says Yu, a Lions Club member. About 750 youngsters have been matched by seven non-governmental groups involved in the first phase of the project. But there's more to such pairings than simply introducing volunteer and child. Yu underwent 12 hours of training organised by Tung Wah before being matched with Chu-kit, whose family was on social welfare. As part of their training, would-be mentors learn about developing listening skills, establishing relationships with young people and how to manage the expectations of their young charges. Yu, a fifty-something father of two, is expected to be Chu-kit's guide for three years and help him develop self-awareness and set personal goals. By going to club functions and charitable activities, the youngster has overcome some of his shyness. 'I asked him to introduce himself to members of a [Lions Club] branch; he was calm and did a good job,' Yu says. Despite being more of an introvert, the teenager now hopes to become a reporter with the support of his family and Yu, who has also got to know his mother and sisters. To Chu-kit's delight, Yu bought him three books on journalism for his birthday last year. 'I never discussed my personal goals with my family until I joined this project,' Chu-kit says. 'David asked me whether my family knew what I wanted to do in the future and whether they supported it.' Smiling and more relaxed, Chu-kit says he is now more confident about his future. 'I have learned not to give up easily, regardless of my background. Personal effort is the most important thing.' Angie Tang Wai-kwan, a supervisor at the Tung Wah centre, says open interaction with parents is essential to a youngster's personal development and mentors can help foster that communication, while giving teenagers such as Chu-kit the benefit of their personal experience and networks. And to encourage youngsters to get into the habit of saving, the fund will present each participant with HK$3,000 if they set aside HK$200 each month during their first two years with the scheme while NGOs will raise donations to match their savings. One way mentors and mentees can keep in touch is by social media. For example, kindergarten teacher Stella Ho Mei-yee and fifth former Katherine Tong Hoi-yi, who were paired up by Christian Action in October, often communicated via Facebook and text messages. 'I wrote on Facebook that I was very upset about not being chosen to be the head prefect in my school,' says Katherine, who moved to Hong Kong with her mother from Panyu, Guangdong, when she was about nine. 'Stella saw it and messaged me back to comfort me. It is good to have a mentor because youngsters our age do not share everything with parents.' Katherine has also taken to heart the advice of Ho, a fellow immigrant who settled into secondary school here with the help of a friend. 'When I first met Hoi-yi, I told her it was important to equip herself for her future,' Ho says. The student plans to use her savings for exchange tours or university tuition fees, although her immediate concern is preparing for next year's Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination. About 10 per cent of the first batch of mentors quit for personal reasons. This is a relatively small amount compared with the global average of 30 per cent for Big Brother/Sister programmes overseas, but efforts are under way to train a pool of quality mentors. By next March, another 7,000 mentors will be needed to help the 13,600 youngsters the project aims to reach. In September, Polytechnic University's School of Professional Education and Executive Development (Speed) will launch a three-credit mentorship training course led by Dr Charles Chan Ching-hai, an associate professor from its department of applied social sciences. Chan is also on the committee of the Quality Mentoring Network, set up by a group of professional carers to help curb intergenerational poverty. 'We are talking about adults who want to challenge their own limitations ... be able to come out of their comfort zone. These are all character traits, not just skills,' Chan says. 'I hope people with the qualifications will become trainers and supervisors for future mentors.' The one-year course, which costs HK$4,500, will involve workshops, one small evening group session each week and web-based exercises on core behavioural competences. Upon completion, participants can receive a certificate of professional mentorship. Over time, Chan hopes similar courses will be offered at other universities, thereby sparing NGOs the burden of training new mentors and fostering the mentorship culture in Hong Kong. NGOs also face the challenge of finding donations to match mentees' monthly savings. Executive director of Christian Action, Cheung Ang Siew-mei, says: 'The government can pay more and not force us to raise matching funds. That way we can focus on running the programme.' Despite the workload in monitoring and supporting the pairs, Cheung is convinced of the value of the mentoring programme. There is no better way to instil hope and confidence in an aimless person, she says, than to befriend them. 'We have seen a lot of very grateful parents. The children get a lump sum at the end and develop a sense of purpose, and the families are happy, too, because they want their children to befriend others.'