City Weekend

She achieved a perfect International Baccalaureate score ... but this Hong Kong student found real success by volunteering outside school

Nicole Hon may have achieved the maximum mark in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme, but she has always been a success in the eyes of those she helped

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 July, 2017, 3:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 July, 2017, 3:58pm

One could find 17-year-old Nicole Hon up at midnight avidly baking hearty treats to share with her friends, a peculiar hobby she discovered during examinations as a way to ease stressful times.

Occasionally she may even be found at the local ice-rink, figure skating.

But most likely, one will find her dedicating her weekends volunteering to improve the conditions of the poor in Hong Kong and beyond.

“It’s humbling to be able to do something and make a difference to somebody’s life,” she said.

Hon has just achieved maximum marks in this year’s International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme, one of the 25 Hong Kong pupils who scored a perfect 45 marks.

But her academic achievement is only a small part of her life since she began her years of voluntary work at 14 years old.

That was when her father took her on a Lions Club International service project to properties in the city containing infamous cage homes.

“Honestly, I was embarrassed that I didn’t know some people in Hong Kong were forced to live like this,” she admitted.

“I’ve been sheltered from the huge wealth gap in Hong Kong, it’s not something people really talk about.”

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The properties are usually 500 sq ft flats filled with cages measuring approximately 15 sq ft. Nearly 200,000 people live in these types of places, according to government data compiled in 2016.

Hon, who attended the Canadian International School of Hong Kong (CDNIS), said most of the people she had met on such visits had lived completely different lives to her own.

Since her experience, she has been volunteering with “Habitat for Humanity”, which is linked to a society, Habitat for Humanity at CDNIS.

The charity believes that everybody must have a decent home to live in. Striving to improve living conditions, Habitat aims to provide affordable housing and resources to assist struggling families or communities across the Asia-Pacific region.

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The commitment is huge, and volunteers help physically or financially restricted families and elderly people to repair their homes on the second and fourth Saturday of each month.

Hon still fondly remembers her first project, which proved to be of great benefit to a sick elderly man.

“The first excursion I went on in Hong Kong was to the house of an elderly man ... to clean and fix up the kitchen. I got to speak to him and he was so full of interesting stories.” she said.

Honestly, I was embarrassed that I didn’t know some people in Hong Kong were forced to live like this
Nicole Hon, on cage homes

“He was in the war ... he even had to steal bread for a while before becoming a taxi driver.”

In March 2015, Hon and a team of fellow students embarked on a building mission to a remote village in Guangzhou.

The houses at their destination lacked the basic infrastructure and desperately needed to be rebuilt to be made safe.

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The middle child of three, Hon said she had always wanted to be a doctor from a young age. And now, with top IB marks, she has yet to choose between attending the University of Toronto or the University of Hong Kong.

Hon has always had a desire to make others self-aware. At CDNIS she advocated and held fundraising events for trips to Cambodia and Thailand to build decent housing.

She hopes that one day her service efforts will inspire others in Hong Kong to reflect on how they can help others.

“It would be nice if people took a moment to just stop and think for a second,” she said.