Shiu Cheuk-wing shifted on her feet. She stood ramrod straight, in the spotlight cast by a light bulb on the seventh floor of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. As her name was called, she patted her hair, pulled at her uniform and walked in to face the judges.
The Form Six student from Madam Lau Kam Lung Secondary School of M.F.B.M. is one of the 12 finalists for the Student of the Year Community Contributor Award. The grand final was held on February 9, during which they faced three judges in an eight-minute individual interview and a 15-minute group discussion about the respective challenges faced by disabled people, workers and domestic helpers and what can be done to help them.
Judge Chua Hoi-wai, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, welcomed Shiu with a smile. “We’re just here for a chat,” he reassured her, and asked her to give a two-minute self-introduction using either Cantonese or English.
Her voice trembling, Cheuk-wing told the judges how she came from a poor family but was taught by her mother to help others from an early age. She began volunteering when she was a toddler, and when her mother was later on diagnosed with a mental disorder, she found hope in helping people facing similar challenges. This, in turn, helped Cheuk-wing relate to her mother’s situation.
“It’s a blessing to serve rather than be served,” she said, adding that we can all make a difference to other people’s lives. “Life really can affect life.”
Such clichés were common among the finalists, but through the judges’ prompting, most were able to give more details about the projects they did, the challenges they faced, how they managed their time, what they learned from their volunteer work, and what they hope to achieve in the future.
Speaking with Young Post after her interview, Cheuk-wing said she didn’t do much preparation because she wanted to seem more natural. “I was simply sharing what really happened to me,” she says. “There wasn’t a need to hold back anything.”
Another finalist, Hui Wing-sze from Tin Ka Ping Secondary School, says she wasn’t as nervous in this competition as she was in others. “I think because this competition is solely focused on community contributors, everyone is super nice and it was easy to share,” says the Form Five student.
But others preferred to be more well-rehearsed. Anushka Purohit, a Form Five student from Renaissance College, was the only candidate who stood up to give her self-introduction. In her speech, she described herself as “passionate, proactive and perseverant” and highlighted the projects she did as part of her Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) requirement for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. These included a fashion show to raise money to help stray animals, and Jie Jie Day, an event set up so domestic helpers could enjoy good food and performances by students. “I was so happy to see all the students come together to help people,” she said.
Whether the finalists chose to introduce themselves through their personalities, their achievements or what inspired them, it was most important for the judges to see their passion and commitment. Judge Scarlette Leung, Executive Director for Corporate Planning, Communications and Membership of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, says she was impressed by the compassion and respect all the candidates showed to people in need. She was also glad to see that many used their talents, such as music and writing, to help others.
Rosaline Chan Yin-hei, a Form Five student from Maryknoll Convent School, is an aspiring journalist who contributes to the community not only through doing frontline volunteer work, but also through writing and advocating changes to policy. For example, she took part in the government’s consultation for the policy address last year, and gave suggestions on how to make Hong Kong more attractive to tourists.
Judge Cliff Buddle, the editor of Special Projects at the South China Morning Post, was impressed that candidates could bring about changes to society on a policy level. Having judged the competition for several years now, he said the quality of the finalists has improved, and they show more awareness about the political issues of Hong Kong. “I really enjoy the group discussions of the interview; it helps you decide who the stronger candidates are because you really see the knowledge that they have,” he says.
Judge Chua also encourages students to take up more leadership roles when doing community work. He was happy to see that many finalists were able to mobilise their peers to help others. But he was disappointed that no boys made it to the grand final this year. “Many of the finalists said they began volunteering because of their mothers’ influence, but we rarely heard about the fathers ... I guess there is the stereotype that boys should focus on sports and science while girls should be more caring,” he says. “But we need volunteers of both genders. We need guys to help carry heavy stuff, and we need them to help take care of the boys in need.”