City Weekend

Pakistani woman used to hide at home; now she speaks proudly for her community in Hong Kong with role in movie Our Days in 6E

Ivy Sabba struggled to fit in when she arrived from Pakistan as a child, but she is now helping other ethnic minority youngsters overcome similar challenges

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 October, 2017, 11:47am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 October, 2017, 12:13pm

Ivy Sabba used to spend hours every day hiding at home and watching television as a way to cope with the overwhelming culture shock she experienced after moving to Hong Kong from Pakistan 23 years ago.

But the 28 year old, who recently appeared in Hong Kong movie Our Days in 6E, now proudly speaks for the city’s 18,000-strong Pakistani community through the feature film.

The movie tells the story of a group of pupils, some of whom are non-ethnic-Chinese, in class 6E at a Tuen Mun secondary school in the New Territories, and shows how they deal with racial conflicts. It is directed by Checkley Sin Kwok-lam, best known for producing The Legend Is Born – Ip Man.

Sabba, who plays a social worker, said filming the movie reminded her of the tough days when she first arrived and settled in Tuen Mun. At that time she was one of only a small handful of ethnic minority children in the neighbourhood.

“I used to think I was the only ethnic minority child in the area, ” Sabba said. “I didn’t know Cantonese or English, and there was no one I could talk to apart from my family.

“I was even afraid to take the lift to go downstairs because my home in Pakistan didn’t have a lift. My mother and I were scared that we would be trapped inside. As a result, I ended up spending most of my time staying indoors.”

It wasn’t until Sabba and her mother became friends with a Pakistani neighbour, who introduced her to a local primary school, that the then six year old finally dragged herself out of the house and tried to get acquainted with the local community.

Film review: Our Days in 6E – ethnic minority students in focus in Ip Man producer’s Hong Kong social inclusion drama

Sabba said she spent a lot of time watching Japanese manga series Doraemon and Sailor Moon dubbed into Cantonese to learn the local language.

And just when she was beginning to make friends and enjoy school, Sabba faced another challenge – her father wanted her to leave the education system.

“I came from a very traditional Muslim family,” she said. “My father believed that I, as a young woman, shouldn’t be hanging out on the streets all the time. So he made me leave school after Form Three.”

Hong Kong has a nine-year compulsory education system, which means those who have completed schooling up to Form Three, at around 15 years of age, can opt out.

“I was very upset,” Sabba said of being forced to leave school. “I believe every young woman should be given access to education.”

But with the help of a social worker, Sabba was able to learn again through on-the-job training provided by the government’s Youth Employment and Training Programme, which is offered by the Labour Department for young school leavers. She did it despite objections from her father.

This experience was one of the reasons she took part in the movie. Her character as a social worker resonated with what she had been through as a child growing up, she said.

Sabba said she wasn’t really playing a character in the movie but was more being herself in the HK$1.7 million project.

Social worker devoted to ethnic minorities in Hong Kong tells her story

Throughout the past seven years, she has been working as a liaison officer at CMA Choi Cheung Kok Secondary School, where she helps non-ethnic-Chinese students and their parents adapt to the school environment.

Film investor Eddy Li Sau-hung, who is president of the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong, said: “Our Days in 6E does not only highlight the reality of social divisions, but also portrays the lives of many immigrants in Hong Kong.

“I really hope the film can spread a positive message to the community and make every one of us realise that unity is the most important element in our society.”