How storytelling and Moomins can help Hong Kong's disadvantaged children

Faith Jung
  • Many of the city's 170,000 young people who live in poverty deal with instability and loneliness
  • Watching stories like Moomins can help them better understand themselves and who they relate to
Faith Jung |
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The Moomins series has brought joy to many children during difficult times. Photo: IFC Mall

Many of us have a favourite story from our childhood. It may trigger fond memories of Mum and Dad reading to us, their endearing characters, and the fantasy worlds which were brought to life. But a lot of children miss out on that experience.

Young Post spoke to Lynn Yau, CEO of Absolutely Fabulous Theatre Connection (Aftec), about her work with disadvantaged children in Hong Kong, and how important storytelling is to their development.

Aftec is a non-profit organisation that promotes the arts among young people.

For many of Hong Kong’s 170,000 children and teenagers living in poverty, life is so much of a struggle that it can affect all areas of their lives. Yau firmly believes that stories can help these young people to improve their own character, to discover who they are, and to develop critical-thinking skills.

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“If you take characters like Finnish author Tove Jansson’s Moomins,” she says, “children can relate to them. They can live vicariously through their stories, learning how to cope with difficult situations.”

First published in Swedish in 1945, at the end of the second world war, the Moomins series has been recommended by doctors and used in children’s hospitals to bring hope and inspiration to kids during difficult times. 

The white, hippo-like characters are loved the world over – and rumour has it that many of them are based on real-life people known to the author.

There are thousands of children in Hong Kong who are lonely and are not properly cared for. Many of them attend “matchbox”-style schools – built between the 1960s and 1980 – which may pose safety risks and have poor facilities. They might come from low-income, single-parent households, where they haven’t had the stability and love that most children count on. 

The Moomins plush toys have MP3s in their backpacks with hours of stories that have been translated into Cantonese. Photo: IFC Mall

Aftec works with students for about three years, starting from around age nine until 11. 

As they listen to stories, the children can tap into their feelings of joy or confusion, happiness or anger, and better understand these emotions.

Aftec is linked to 16 primary schools in Hong Kong, running various programmes which guide children on their own cultural journeys.

Yau’s goal is to help children on the programme better understand themselves, and find out who they relate to. 

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“It takes a long time,” she says, “to plant the seeds of self-knowledge and empathy in their hearts and to witness them bear fruit.”

“There is seldom time for them to experience this kind of growth in their  everyday lives,” adds Yau. 

Schools are busy and crowded, relatives and family friends may be far away, and parents preoccupied with the stresses of life.

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“I see too little care [taken] in looking at children’s hearts. It’s always the academic results. But they’re human beings as well.”

Aftec has joined up with the IFC mall in Central to boost the development of underprivileged children – and give more fortunate member of the public the chance to help, too. They are selling Moomin plush toys fitted with an MP3 player in their backpack. The MP3 includes three hours of stories from the award-winning animation, Moominvalley. The stories have been translated into Cantonese, especially for Hong Kong children. 

Each toy costs HK$399 – and here’s the best part: for every Moomin you buy, a second one will be gifted to a child in need, who will then be able to carry this impactful stories with them, everywhere they go.

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