Bringing war to Hong Kong: Red Cross experience aims to show local youngsters the horrors of violent conflict

Asia’s first war-themed ‘experiential’ education programme to launch in the city in May

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 April, 2016, 8:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 April, 2016, 8:23pm

Child soldiers and war orphans may be a distant thought for most Hong Kong youngsters, but they will be able to get a taste of their plight when Asia’s first war-themed “experiential” education programme is launched in the city by the Hong Kong Red Cross in May.

Pupils will be thrust into the throes of war in a 3,000 sq ft space at the Humanitarian Education Centre at Red Cross headquarters in West Kowloon, where they will negotiate darkness, machine gun fire and electricity outages in a mock wartime classroom complete with wooden crates as chairs and an old dirty chalkboard.

The centre is mainly targeting students in Primary Five and above, who will see how war orphans are often forced to flee the fighting or join it.

“Children ... in a world of communication, they know about war,” said the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer. “But they don’t have any explanation [of it] ... Here, they can experience, learn, and talk about it.”

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Maurer said war and conflict isn’t that far removed from our lives, with violence taking place in cities around the world, broadcast and shared, and easily accessed on the internet.

The programme spans a few rooms of the 5,000 sq ft centre and consists of multiple wartime scenarios, said centre manager Szeto Kin-tat.

About 10 trained members of staff or volunteers will act out different roles within the “war ordeal”, which lasts 90 minutes in total.

Szeto said this type of “experiential” programme was aimed at young people who tended to find lectures and talks less interesting.

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Even though the current education system contained life education and ethics components, it lacked a human rights perspective, Szeto said.

“The local education system does not really emphasise nor include strong education on human rights,” said Szeto. “We hope this can help young people understand more about the importance of humanitarian affairs and create dialogue.”

He added that interested young people should read up on conflicts around the world and share what they learn with friends and family.

Such interest could lead to concrete action, said Szeto, citing social media campaigns launched by young people in the past that have led to positive change, including one which raised enough money through crowdfunding to help a Syrian father selling pens on the streets of Beirut in Lebanon to start a business through which he employed other refugees.