Hong Kong teen turns one-off service trip to Thailand into NGO that supports students with special needs

  • Chloe Jazzy Lau, 15, has been nominated for a Spirit of Hong Kong Award for founding YouMatter
  • The idea started as a fundraising event at South Island School
South China Morning Post |
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Chloe Jazzy Lau founded the YouMatter NGO, which champions the rights of students with special needs. (Photo: Xiaomei Chen/SCMP)

A volunteer trip to Chiang Mai, in Thailand, changed 15-year-old Chloe Jazzy Lau’s life.

The South Island School student joined a service trip to Chiang Mai in 2018, where she helped out with volunteer work at Thomas House, a special education facility. While taking part in the project, Chloe was already thinking about the next step which would help make a difference in the lives of others.

The experience led her to believe that effective support for underprivileged children with special needs requires long-term commitment.

“I felt a deep responsibility to do something,” the teenager said.

Life-changing journey

After returning to Hong Kong, she decided to learn more about special needs education, while continuing to support the Thai students.

In 2019, she recruited a group of like-minded peers and started the “YouMatter Week” at her school in September. The fun event, which aimed to support teachers at the special needs school in Chiang Mai, raised HK$10,000.

She went on to transform the event into a social enterprise that supports students with special needs and disabilities, and advocates educational equality for all.

Helping ethnic minorities in Hong Kong by ‘Learning Together’

Back to Thailand

She returned to the education facility in Thailand in December last year to run a one-week digital literacy course.

“Technology is definitely the key to employment today,” she said. “Knowing basic technology and knowing how to use a computer is important.”

Chloe said she wanted to grow the YouMatter organisation to benefit more children with special education needs, adding she would also do her best to help their families, who might suddenly get stuck in difficult situations.

As the pandemic disrupted lives across Hong Kong, the teenager and her team have delivered educational and health care packages to individuals as well as families with special needs, with the support of NGOs and suppliers.

Hong Kong education needs to be more inclusive for students enrolled in special needs schools

Long-term commitment

The work has earned her a nomination for this year’s Spirit of Hong Kong Awards, co-organised by the South China Morning Post and property developer Sino Group, to celebrate the accomplishments of remarkable people who may otherwise not come to the public’s attention. The student was recommended by Josephine Leung Wai-lin at The Hub Children and Youth Centre for the Spirit of Youth Award, which recognises young people who have shown courage or commitment to the community, or inspired the spirit of preservation or innovation.

Chloe said she hopes to help bridge the gap between mainstream students and those with special needs.

She said she believed her team was on the right path to making a difference to the lives of children with special needs.

“[I hope our work] will act as kind of a catalyst for someone’s life being improved,” she said.

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