A journey of self-empowerment

Karen Lai

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Taking part in voluntary services can help you build better relations with others and develop a stronger commitment to society, according to a group of nine students on the City-Youth Empowerment Project at a sharing session on 3 May.

The project, a voluntary service scheme, has gained wide-ranging support from staff and students since it was launched last October at Phases 1 and 2 of the CityU Student Residence.

Dr Elaine Au, an associate professor in the Department of Applied Social Studies and the convener of the project, organized the sharing session with an aim to encourage participants to reflect on their experiences and develop a positive attitude towards personal growth.

On the project, students tutored and counseled children with chronic diseases, those from deprived families and new immigrants. After two semesters, students taking part on the project said they had developed a better understanding about themselves and learned the importance of patience and tolerance.

Wong Kit-wai, Dino Lo and Kong Kin-wai, undergraduates from the Faculty of Business, named themselves the “Fathers of Asperger Kids”. They were trained by the host organization to give individual mentoring service to children with Asperger Syndrome (AS) at a social service unit belonging to the Boys and Girls Clubs Association in Shatin. The main objective was to help the children communicate with others, they said.

“AS is a milder variant of autism,” Kit-wai said. “But a difference is children with AS have very high IQ levels and usually have a special and limited area of interest.”

It was hard at first for Kit-wai, Dino and Kin-wai to develop trust with the children, but after finding out more about them and getting to know them better, the three CityU students gradually succeeded in guiding the children to improve their communication and social skills. By doing this, they said they realised they had been neglecting their relationships with their parents and siblings. They subsequently started to spend more time in that area, they said.

Nat Jin Ling a Year 1 student majoring in Biology, tutored primary school children from deprived families. “The nature of my work is simple, teaching the kids English grammar,” Nat said. “However, how to motivate them to learn and help them build up confidence is a challenging task.” A mainland student and a devout Christian, Nat said the City-Youth Empowerment Project helped him develop a closer relationship with his students and their parents. Nat also joined the “Uncle Long Leg Letterbox” to reply to needy children, providing them with support and guidance.

Phoebe Wu, a foundation-year student in the Faculty of Business, has tutored children from broken families. She said she learned to counsel students with emotional problems. “I realized that it’s not just the children who are suffering, but the parents themselves are under a lot of pressure, too. By helping children and their families, I learned that when talking about family, it is difficult to judge what is right or wrong. Sometimes, tolerance and understanding are more important,” she added.

Other participants said they had enhanced their confidence, strengthened their interpersonal skills and become more independent thanks to the project. Most of the participants came away with a more positive attitude towards their own families, having made good use of applying the skills they learned in organizing student activities and other voluntary services.

“We aim to expose students to different kinds of social problems,” Dr Au said. “By encouraging students to help people from different strata of society, we hope the students will develop genuine care for those in need. In the long run, our community will be injected with a caring force and our next generation will be equipped with the know-how to serve.”

The City-Youth Empowerment Project was launched by the Office of the Dean of Student Learning and YSNet in the Department of Applied Social Studies last year with an aim to help participants learn through volunteering and reflecting on self development. The project is Hall-based, and more than 140 student residents, including local, overseas and mainland undergraduate students, have participated.


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