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Hong Kong youth

Po Leung Kuk charity worker, 25, sees youth as an advantage in playing father figure to troubled boys at care home

Man gives up shot at more well-paid jobs to spend time with kids from different backgrounds and be the dad they’ve never had

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 June, 2018, 12:33pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 June, 2018, 1:26pm

Chang Ka-fai may only be 25 years old, but he has already been a “dad” to 20 kids.

Chang works at a care home under charitable organisation Po Leung Kuk, looking after boys who come from troubled families with issues such as parental violence or drug abuse.

From waking them up for school to taking them on city excursions over the weekend and cutting their hair, Chang says he wears different hats for the children and teens, aged six to 18.

“Sometimes I’m like a father to them, having to teach them what’s right and wrong. Sometimes I’m more of a brother or friend, I play computer games with them, have heart-to-heart chats and, sometimes, I’m their tutor and I teach them homework,” Chang says.

Po Leung Kuk houses 130 children under its out-of-home care programme. They follow a strict timetable during weekdays for meals and studies, while some return home over the weekends to spend time with family.

The job comes with its challenges, as some of the boys tend to be more insecure or prone to emotional outbursts.

“It’s not an easy thing to develop a sense of security here. They clearly know that this place isn’t their home, and they know that we aren’t their real parents,” Chang says.

Home away from home provides care and life skills for troubled girls in Hong Kong

“Each kid’s background is different. It takes time to develop a bond with them for them to feel like we are people they can trust.”

During the one year that Chang has worked at the home, he has witnessed the boys get into fights, throw tantrums or even run away from their dormitory room.

At first these kids will challenge you and try to test your bottom line
Chang Ka-fai, social worker

“At first these kids will challenge you and try to test your bottom line ... Sometimes their emotions get out of control, and in some serious cases, they’ll bang the table and push over chairs, not listening to you.”

Chang adds that when such situations occur, he has to enlist help and support from other staff, or call in the boys’ social worker or warden. At present, he oversees 14 boys.

Although still relatively young for such a role and with no children of his own, Chang does not see his age or lack of experience as an obstacle. Rather, he views it as an advantage.

“It’s precisely because I’m younger, which is why I think the boys don’t feel such a distance between us. It becomes easier to talk to them and reason with them,” he says.

Once faced with the more stable and well-paid options of becoming a teacher or joining the disciplined services, Chang did not choose the path his parents had intended for him.

“I truly believe a life can impact other lives, and even though I don’t have a lot of life experience, I wanted to see if I could make a difference to others,” he says.

He spent two years at a secondary school working as a special education needs counsellor, coaching pupils and organising activities for them. But his job was mostly limited to spending time with the children during short lunch breaks or after school hours.

As he was studying for his master's degree in social work, Chang decided he wanted a job in which he could spend longer periods of time with people to develop long-term relationships. The move eventually led him to his current role.

I try my best to show them what it’s like to be a man

Edward, 14, who has been living at the Po Leung Kuk home his whole life, describes Chang as more of a brother who “has my back all the time”.

“He’s there for me when I need him no matter if it’s homework or about my problems with friends at school,” the teenager says.

Despite the challenges, Chang says working with the children is a rewarding experience. He recalls a time when a 10-year-old boy suddenly burst into tears when he bought a birthday cake for the child.

“Unfortunately there was no one there to celebrate his birthday with him on the day, so we could only wish him happy birthday the day after ... He couldn’t explain why he cried but I think he was touched that he felt valued here.”

The episode served as a personal reminder for Chang never to take things for granted, and it was affirmation that his work is meaningful and worthwhile.

“I try my best to show them what it’s like to be a man since some of them lack a father figure in their lives. Although we can never replace their real dad or mum, we can only hope that we become alternative parents for them in this temporary home,” he says.

“This Father’s Day, it’s not about presents for dads – I just hope the boys can grow to become upright men.”