SOTY 2014: Helping others gladly and with a smile

By Wong Tsui-kai

The Community Contributor award-winner helps build a society that we can all be proud to be a part of

By Wong Tsui-kai |

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Last year Cliff Buddle (left) and Kim Mak had their work cut out when deciding who should win the Student of the Year - Community Contributor award but this year wasn't any easier.

The Student of the Year - Community Contributor is a unique award because it is given not for academic achievement, but for commitment and dedication to supporting the community. To find the winner, the judges interviewed the candidates late last month both alone and in groups to learn about their experiences and achievements.

This year's competition was fierce, and the judges all agreed that it was an extremely close race.

Dr Kim Mak, executive director of corporate affairs at The Hong Kong Jockey Club, compared the competition to taking a photo: "These are rankings for this one moment. In a changed environment, any student could have easily been number one."

Cliff Buddle, SCMP Editor of Special Projects, said: "The winners today are role models for students. It's easy to focus on getting good grades, getting into a good university, getting a good job. To handle those pressures while having such a commitment to community work is something we can all learn from."

Many of the candidates had logged hundreds of service hours over the course of the year. How they balanced school life and volunteer work was a recurring question during the judging.

Chief executive of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service Chua Hoi-wai noted: "I personally think that there was less stress placed on students back when I was a student. I am genuinely curious as to how they can balance their time usage."

Meanwhile, Mak said: "For these candidates, work-life balance is not merely assigning a certain amount of time to school work or volunteer work, but using the skills you learn through service to improve your school work."

Buddle added: "Something which came through from the answers was: students feel that service is a relief from school work. Perhaps they don't see voluntary work as work but as something enjoyable and rewarding."

The sheer diversity of community activities also impressed the judges. "These students have spent an unbelievable amount of time doing volunteer work in different places, in schools and community centres, both in Hong Kong and the mainland, and even in foreign countries," noted Chua.

One important factor for the judges was finding out about the difficulties the candidates had to overcome. All the judges agreed that this would help them get to know the candidates better.

"We ask about difficulties because one judging criterion is leadership," explained Mak. "We want to see if they've taken a proactive role in leading."

Buddle elaborated: "It's important to understand the experiences of the candidates on a personal level; to understand how challenging the experiences were, what problems they faced and how they dealt with them."

Community service as a learning experience was another factor emphasised by the judges.

"We do not want students mechanically helping people. We want them to learn something from the experience," said Chua. "We want them to examine the experience and grow as individuals."

Mak added: "The most impressive candidate was very clear that community service has genuinely changed their life for the better. They were not entering activities for certificates."

Touching once again on the importance of learning from social service, the judges offered their advice for future contestants.

Buddle believes that passion, leadership and embracing a diverse range of activities is important.

Mak advises student to speak their minds and talk about things not covered in documents.

Chua encourages young people to continue being passionate about taking part in different kinds of work, adding: "Modern society is not only about economic development. Sustainability, social justice, and wealth inequality are topics the entire world is looking at."