The finalists for the Community Contributor category of the Student of the Year (SOTY) award gathered last Monday at Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Happy Valley Racecourse. The 12 students have hundreds of hours of hard work under their belts. Their efforts vary from working in foreign countries and speaking out about girls’ rights, to tutoring underprivileged children. Those they have helped include young people, the elderly, and the mentally ill.
One of those finalists is Sunny Lam Chun-ngai. The Ying Wa College student is an only child, so he was always used to putting himself first. That changed when he got to secondary school, though, and when he joined the school’s Red Cross organisation.
Although he had only joined with the intention of picking up a practical skill or two for life, the Form Six student realised that there was a lot more that he could do for his community.
Sunny started heading out to Sham Shui Po on a weekly basis to visit homeless people. Soon, though, he felt like what he was doing was not enough. He began posting on social media about how frustrated he was because little is being done for the homeless - who he refers to as kai fong.
Other people started reading, and they reached out to him, wanting to help. In six months, Sunny said he has helped inspire more than 20 other people to come with him on his visits.
“Some of my friends, and even people I don’t know well, have reached out to me and said they want to come with me,” he said.
Janice Lee Hiu-lam, a fellow finalist and a Form Five student from St Stephen’s Girls’ College, told Young Post that she’s very happy to have had the chance to meet all the other finalists, because it has helped her realise that Hong Kong is full of people who care. “It’s inspired me to [be a good] influence on others, to [encourage them to] contribute to society,” Janice said.
“It’s like [being a part of] a ripple effect,” Katie Lo Sin-yan of Good Hope School said when asked about why she helps other people. “When you help people, sometimes they’ll get inspired to help others in return.”
Katie, a Form Five student, is a harp player. She was the first runner-up of the SOTY Performing Arts award in 2016, and said that her experience last year convinced her to do more for others than just herself. That’s why she decided to hold a charity harp recital last year.
“[The award] was not only about your personal achievement, but also how you use your skills to help others,” she said of last year.
Macy Chung Ka-lam, a Form Five student from Good Hope School, said she used to focus solely on her studies, but thanks to her social service work she now feels more connected to society, and knows that there is plenty to learn outside her textbooks. “[Helping others] inspires me,” Macy said. “Now, I want to become a human rights lawyer.”
“[The finalists] improve every year,” Cliff Buddle, a Community Contributor judge for the fifth year running, and editor of Special Projects at South China Morning Post, said. “I’m always impressed by how they can commit so many hours of their lives to voluntary work, when they also have school and other activities.”
His fellow judge, Chua Hoi-wai, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, agreed. Chua said some of the finalists “really stand out” because they have such a clear vision of who they want to serve in society, which makes their community service that more in depth.
When asked how the finalists can improve, Buddle thought for a few seconds, before saying that it’s a tough question to answer. “As judges, we’re looking for spontaneity and genuine expression,” he said.
The judges said they understand that the candidates prepare for the SOTY interview – an eight-minute individual interview and a 15-minute group discussion – beforehand, which can sometimes make their answers come across as rehearsed. Candidates should “make sure they’re just themselves,” said Buddle.
Chua said he wants to hear more finalists give their personal opinions on issues they’re asked about during the interview, and added that he enjoys the question and answer round the most. That’s when the finalists are given a chance to express themselves on things the judges found interesting about their community contributions.
“These are young people who clearly care a great deal about the community, [and] many of them spoke of the need to give back to society,” Buddle said in praise of the finalists. “To do that, they have developed a very sound knowledge of social issues. They have a strong sense of social justice, they’re clearly thinking about solving challenges that Hong Kong faces, and they’re able to articulate the problems clearly and come up with solutions.”
The Student of the Year Awards competition is organised by South China Morning Post and Young Post and sponsored by The Hong Kong Jockey Club.