City Weekend

How Louisiana boy’s global NGO is helping Hong Kong parents realise tutoring is not just for kids

Founded by American teenager Chance Wilson when he was just 14, WGI operates in seven countries to help improve English literacy among both the young and old

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 January, 2018, 12:48pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 January, 2018, 12:48pm

Private English lessons have long been viewed as an unaffordable luxury by many low-income families in Hong Kong, who are desperate to improve their children’s prospects amid an increasingly competitive job market.

But an international NGO is hoping to change that by offering free English tutoring sessions to Hong Kong children and their parents by partnering with a local youth group.

Founded by American teenager Chance Wilson in 2014 when he was just 14 years old, WGI now operates in seven countries worldwide, with a particular focus on improving literacy in Asia.

“In America I realised that a lot of people had trouble reading, and it was a big issue that I wanted to do something about,” says 18-year-old Wilson, who is originally from Baton Rouge in Louisiana.

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“I soon realised it wasn’t just in America, it was all over the world, so there was even more opportunity to help people.”

The young CEO credits the successful growth of his charity to hard work and persistence, as well as keeping a healthy work-life balance. He is currently in town for his first visit to oversee WGI’s literacy programme in Hong Kong, named “Read and Rice”.

The scheme has previously given free English lessons to refugees in Kowloon, and has now extended classes to local parents and children through the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups (HKFYG).

Pilot lessons with the federation took place last September, with more recent classes in January. Overall, Read and Rice has helped 110 adults and children living in Tsuen Wan district.

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Now, both Wilson and the HKFYG are planning to develop the programme so it can occur more regularly and reach more districts where the federation has youth centres.

Most of the scheme’s participants are from low-income families as well as children with special educational needs, according to social worker Constance Hon Yip of the HKFYG Parents’ Support Network.

But the main target of the programme is adult parents, many of whom do not have access to English lessons at all and do not know where to turn for help.

Teachers often tell the kids off for making minor mistakes so they are afraid to participate
Wendy Chung, Read and Rice programme

“A lot of parents say they don’t want this service since they feel like they don’t need to speak to foreigners,” says Jessica Ling Yuen-kwan of the HKFYG.

“But when we say it is a parent-child programme, they want to take their children here to learn English, and they learn too.”

Participants are normally referred from the federation’s other outreach programmes, or find out about it through word of mouth. Feedback from attendees has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Ling and Hon.

In terms of English proficiency, Hong Kong ranks 29th out of 80 regions globally according to a 2017 report by Education First. But it still lags far behind Singapore, which holds the No 5 spot – the highest global ranking for an Asian country.

“A lot of people in Hong Kong are really afraid of speaking English and not confident about their ability,” says Wendy Chung, who attends the Read and Rice programme with her son Jacky, 13.

“English lessons at school can also be very dry. Teachers often tell the kids off for making minor mistakes so they are afraid to participate, and don’t enjoy it.”

Jacky’s English skills have hugely improved through the support and encouragement of his teacher at Read and Rice, who uses fun as a tool to make learning less intimidating.

“The children are really happy when learning from the teachers. They get to talk about topics which aren’t normally covered in school, so they are more attentive during lessons,” Chung says.

As a result, Jacky was inspired to work harder on his English, and now watches television and listens to music in English during his spare time.

Above all, Chung says that the programme has improved her confidence when meeting foreigners and she now feels more hopeful for Jacky’s future, should he wish to go overseas for work or study.