Suet-ki Kwan, a graduate of BBA China Business, spent this summer volunteering with the Students' Health and Welfare Centres Organization (SHAWCO) in Cape Town, South Africa.
"This is a once in a lifetime journey. It is a chance to discover my resilience with courage and determination. See you guys in a month!" When I posted this message on Facebook, I received lots of blessings from my friends for my South Africa journey. Here is why it was one of the best experiences of my life.
I gained a lot of insights through offering services at SHAWCO, a non profit organization, and attending sociology lectures in the University of Cape Town. I learned about South Africa's political and historical background, especially the old system of apartheid which denied black people the social welfare and careers that white people enjoyed. For example, most of the professors in the University of Cape Town were white people, while black or coloured people could only be recruited as low skilled workers due to a lack of education, opportunities and social welfare systems. Such a situation inspired me to think about the new immigrants and ethnic minority groups in Hong Kong.
I have done voluntary service with ethnic minority youth in Hong Kong, and race discrimination is a serious problem and they have a similar situation to the black and coloured people in South Africa. In Hong Kong it is difficult for these young people to receive good career opportunities since most of them do not know Chinese. Also, many of them are discriminated against because of the colour of their skin and their disadvantaged backgrounds. I wanted to figure out how social enterprises and non-profit organizations like SHAWCO help coloured people – in order to generate some ideas to see whether they can be applied in Hong Kong.
Falling in love with innocent smiles
We were assigned to Mothers Unite, a non-profit organization focusing on the well-being of children. When we met the kids from underprivileged areas, we all fell in love with their innocent smiles. It made me think about life in Hong Kong, where many of the kids are spoiled and immersed in a materialistic environment. Some of them treat iPads as toys and gaze at the screen all day. In underdeveloped areas, with a lack of sophisticated facilities and networking systems, children enjoy a simple life, playing with their friends or some second hand toys donated from various resources. In Hong Kong, by contrast, some of the kids suffer great pressure from their parents. They attend tutorials and interest classes from the age of three. And although they receive the best education and get whatever they want, do they really feel happy? I would say life is happy when it is simple.
After discussion with the director of Mothers Unite, I was assigned to be one of the project coordinators for three on-going projects; first-aid emergency training, the establishment of a computer lab, and a cycling project. As a group of business students, we found these tasks challenging. I also felt a bit stressed since we had limited knowledge and lacked a sense of local social issues. Lack of resources and awareness from the local society were also barriers. But by using my personal network I managed to develop a framework for an offline application for a first aid training programme.
And it wasn't all work. During the first weekend, I remember hiking up Table Mountain. I was feeling dizzy and could not continue to walk to the peak. I was glad that my group mates gave me such understanding and support.
A football cheered up the entire school
The most memorable thing was the interaction with the kids. I remember standing in the yard and all these little children rushed towards me. Just a second later I was surrounded by many layers of kids with their arms stretched out – trying to get a hug. I bought them a football and that cheered up the entire school. A bunch of boys and girls were kicking the ball around the classrooms. Some of them were just following around cheerfully without actually touching the ball at all. It was awesome to see how a little deed could bring them so much happiness.
Coming from a poor family in an underdeveloped region, you might expect the kids to be at least a little selfish about the food they had, but they were not like that. Sometimes I would bring biscuits and saw whoever was holding the snack running around, sharing the food with his or her friends. Sometimes you would see them sitting on the ground, making bracelets out of ropes. They would call your name while running to you, passing and presenting the bracelet to your as a gift. I treasured every moment with the kids as I got a sense of happiness from their pure smiles.
Another unforgettable moment was the scene when we were leaving after the farewell party. The kids kept extending their hands hoping for a handshake and we tried to reach everyone. Nevertheless, it was not possible since the whole area was packed with over 80 kids. By the time we left the place, many kids chased us, waiving their hands at the same time. At that moment, all of us felt so touched and really wanted to stay for a longer time.
No never-ending feast
With advice from the director, we continued to walk away. The kids kept waiving their hands and said "bye bye". We just told each other that we should not look back. We had to leave and should not give them any false hope that we would go back. Some of us burst into tears but I did not. I really liked the kids so much and wanted to bring them more happiness and positive impact. However, this was the reality. I understood there was no never-ending feast. I realized that sometimes even when you so desire to make changes, you really cannot do much to help.
I know that I cannot really affect the system. Other than wish that someday the situation will improve, for now at Mothers Unite I could only try to bring as much happiness as I could to the locals by putting my effort into seeking donations and sponsorship for them and by reaching out to more and more local and multinational companies. It is great to hear that these projects are in progress.
Last but not least, to all the people from SHAWCO, directors from Mothers Unite and my group mates who have positively influenced my life and helped the organizations I have had the privilege to work with and for, thank you so very much. Thanks to CityU for again giving me the opportunity to serve and support as a volunteer to make a difference. SHAWCO exists to empower exceptional youth to make the world a better place. I will never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world! I will keep the faith to Dream High, Serve Low.
(Written by Suet-ki. November 2015)