On a balcony overlooking Hong Kong Jockey Club’s 55,000-seat racecourse in Happy Valley, the 12 finalists in the Student of the Year’s Community Contributor category are all smiles as they huddle together for a group photo. Although they are dressed in their school uniforms, this clearly isn’t a typical school outing for them – they are here to impress the judges and let them know why they deserve to win the award.
Alex Yu Shing-chun, a Form Five student at Singapore International School, is the president of Support! International Foundation, a youth-led, government-accredited NGO that runs several different language programmes to teach English to kids. The organisation consists of more than 1,000 beneficiaries and 100 volunteers from schools in Hong Kong.
Alex believes his experience at Support! has opened his eyes to educational inequality in Hong Kong. “I go to an international school, so I didn’t see the other side of Hong Kong until I went and taught lessons at Band Three schools,” he says. “[Many of] the students there don’t even have a grasp of basic English.”
One of his most memorable moments is the NGO’s annual kick-off ceremony, where he and his team managed to raise more than HK$150,000. “During the ceremony, one of our beneficiaries spoke about how the organisation has had an impact on her life. The programmes have helped improve her English and enabled her to become more expressive,” he says. “I’ve also had people come up to me tell me that they are inspired to start their own NGOs.”
Lo Hoi-yan, of Yuen Long Lutheran Secondary School, is a member of the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups’ Jockey Club Tin Yiu Youth Spot. Hoi-yan and her teammates have spent countless hours coming up with interactive games for those with intellectual disabilities. “Traditional bowling equipment is too challenging for them to work with, so we came up with the idea of using bottles as pins and taping them to a table so they are much easier to play with,” she says.
Similarly, Chick Mai-sum, a 17-year old from Good Hope School, is the co-founder of a group called Green + 1, which organises beach clean-ups and workshops to teach underprivileged kids how to turn recycled materials into works of art. “We teach them how to make musical instruments from recycled straws and other materials,” she says. “It gives me great satisfaction to know that our work has had a positive influence on them.”
How does a judge decide who is going to win when almost all of the finalists seem to have hundreds, if not close to a thousand, hours of volunteer experience under their belt? Raymond Tam, the Executive Director of Corporate Affairs at the Hong Kong Jockey Club and one of this year’s judges, says he’s looking for more than just passion or a high level of intelligence. “I’m evaluating their potential for success when they are older and whether they are capable of assuming a bigger role in the community,” he says.
Cliff Buddle, a fellow judge and the Special Projects editor at the South China Morning Post, says he always asks the finalist one question in particular, as he wants an idea of how they balance their volunteer work with their other commitments. “They usually put in hundreds of hours into community service, so I always ask them if they have any time for fun.” Buddle adds that an important takeaway from the interviews and group discussions is the impact it has on the volunteers themselves.
“Many of the finalists today have said that their experience has helped them gain a huge amount of confidence,” he says. “If young people are considering doing voluntary work, they should know it is very rewarding but, at the same time, they should be able to balance it well with school work.”