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Poverty

Hong Kong teens aim to break out of poverty through music in concert showcasing talent

  • SoCO helps youngsters develop potential for higher admission chances into elite schools which value music talent
  • Initiative levels playing field where talented poor are overlooked since they cannot afford music classes
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 December, 2018, 9:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 December, 2018, 10:13pm

As Vicky Lo Yuet-shan, 17, glides her fingers elegantly across the strings of the guzheng, an ancient Chinese instrument with a 2,500-year history, the wistful, plucked notes conjure images of a performance in an imperial palace of eras past.

But nothing could be further from reality – Lo practises in a Hong Kong subdivided flat for three, where there is barely enough space for her instrument. She wants to prove that music is not an indulgence available only for the elite.

Born into a poor family, Lo lived for years in a 130 sq ft home in Sham Shui Po, the city’s poorest district. Her father suffered from hypertension and foot pain, and the family struggled to get by on income from her mother’s odd jobs.

Despite the hardship, Lo’s parents supported her music dreams – she was introduced to the guzheng at nine. Lessons cost about HK$800 a month, and the family cobbled together what they could to develop her potential in the hope her skills could win her entry into a reputable secondary school.

“We sometimes skipped breakfasts to save money for my guzheng lessons,” Lo said. “I practised in our room where the instrument could barely fit.”

We sometimes skipped breakfasts to save money for my guzheng lessons
Vicky Lo, performer

She was fortunate to receive subsidies from the Society for Community Organisation (SoCO) for seven years, totalling HK$70,000.

Next month, Lo will perform solo at the charity’s first concert, aiming to raise funds for poor children to learn music. SoCO has spent about HK$3 million for the cause supporting some 400 children since 2011.

Lo is one of 234,000 children living below the poverty line in Hong Kong. According to the Poverty Situation Report 2017 released by the government last month, the child poverty rate grew 1 percentage point to 23.1 per cent from 2016.

These children could face disadvantages in their education, said Sze Lai-shan, SoCO’s community organiser. This is because top schools tend to favour students with musical talent in the admission process. Those from impoverished families are often priced out.

Music lessons for poor children bring hope and possibility of finding passion

Matthew Tsoi Man-fai, another soloist in the concert, was raised by construction worker parents. When he was 11, his parents divorced, and soon after, his father died from liver cancer while his mother fell into depression.

Helpless and full of self-contempt, Tsoi turned to music for relief and emotional support. He taught himself to play the piano and guitar through the internet.

Now a sophomore majoring in linguistic studies at Education University, Tsoi, 20, said he hoped to hold his own concert one day and speak up for poor children whose voices go unheard.

“In Hong Kong, children of poor families find it difficult to compete with their peers from well-off households,” he said. “I hope that through this concert, poor children will study harder knowing that there are people supporting them.”

The concert, to be held at 7.30pm on January 10 at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, will feature 100 young performers, 50 of whom are sponsored by SoCO.