Easing back on campus

Wong Yat-hei

Students and recovering mentally ill folk work together and learn some useful life skills

Wong Yat-hei |

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Student volunteers Cheng Hon-kit (left) and Hansel Wong Sing-hung at the HEA kiosk at the University of Hong Kong.
The Cantonese slang "hea" is generally interpreted as being laid back, not doing anything with a purpose and allowing time to slip by in a meaningless kind of lifestyle. It is something that we should all avoid, especially students who are at a time in their lives when they should be learning and working as much as possible.

But Dr Eugenie Leung, director of counselling and person enrichment at the University of Hong Kong, thinks otherwise. She sees hea as a way of allowing students to blow off steam which offers them relief from tough schedules. "Sometimes, students are so overwhelmed by examinations, assignments, internships and other duties within their school or societies, they don't even have time to catch up with their families and friends," she says. "Being hea for a while definitely makes their lives healthier, both physically and mentally."

To spread the importance of a relaxed, healthy lifestyle, the university set up a "hea kiosk" at the Chong Yuet Ming Amenities Centre on its campus in March.

"We invited people in recovery from the New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association to operate the kiosk with our students," Leung says. "It is a learning project for both parties and part of the university's efforts to integrate society into the school campus."

The association is a non-profit non-governmental organisation which provides community-based rehabilitation services for people with mental illness.

The kiosk sells products made by mainland ethnic minorities, local artists' work and fair trade coffee. It also helps raise awareness about social inclusion, and mental health.

Miss Tam, a member of the association, works at the hea kiosk with two HKU students. She says it has been a great experience.

"I really enjoy working here. The colleagues and customers are all so nice," she says.

Student volunteer Hansel Wong Sing-hung, a second year actuary student, sees hea as a relaxed and comfortable lifestyle. "Knowing how to hea is really important to one's wellbeing," he says.

Wong says working with recovering people is a new experience for him. He says they are just like other people.

"Before I joined the kiosk, I really did not have any worries about working with people who used to have problems," he says. "I treated and respected them like everyone else. From my experience people in recovery are hard workers. They have an aggressive sales pitch and are amazingly good with numbers. I was surprised how capable they can be."