Down on the farm: Students learn value of the simple life

Grace Ho

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In the morning, I was awakened by a cock crowing, instead of the annoying buzzing sound of my alarm clock. The air that I breathed was fresh and clean, unpolluted. There were no skyscrapers, so I had a panoramic view of the sky. I could also enjoy delicious, organically grown fruits and vegetables.

These are things I'd have trouble finding in Hong Kong." Roy Chung Ka-ching, a second-year student in the Department of Applied Social Studies, happily recalled his experiences in a camp at the Oi Man Manor of Education in Gaoming City, Guangdong Province. He was part of a group of some 120 CityU students who went to the camp, organized by the Student Development Services (SDS), from 11 to 13 January.

After the more than four-hour boat and coach trip to reach the farm, the students were tired when they finally arrived early in the afternoon. But their first sight of the farm revived their spirits: "Oh, it's beautiful!" , "Look how big the farm is!" and "Isn't it great to be here!", were some of the comments.

The students were warmly welcomed by the farm's owner, Mrs Tsang, popularly known as Aunt Cheung. Aunt Cheung is a very kind, outgoing woman, who gets on well with young people. After looking after the students' welfare, she enjoyed nothing more than chatting to them about her life and experiences. Highly respected and popular with the students, they needed no excuse to gather around her and listen to her stories.

Aunt Cheung's story

When she was young, Aunt Cheung studied mechanical engineering at a mainland university, before moving to Hong Kong to work for a large corporation. She worked hard and was promoted to a senior management position. Aunt Cheung had a successful career, and her life was happy and stable. However, both she and her husband, also an engineer, shared a dream: to give Chinese youths the opportunity to broaden their education and experience. To realize their dream, they decided to give up their life in Hong Kong to establish the Oi Man Manor of Education, which is named after Aunt Cheung. Nestled in the picturesque foothills outside Gaoming City, the farm covers an area of over 300,000 square feet and includes a pavilion, a replica of a traditional Yunnan stilt-house and several camp houses.

"Today's young people know very little about farming," Aunt Cheung said, "and they can't identify different kinds of crops and poultry. To give them the opportunity to experience nature, we decided to build a learning centre that combines both education and fun. They can come here and learn about environmental protection and ecological equilibrium in a natural environment. The farm has only been opened for about three years, but already we've had many students visit us and they say they're really enjoyed the experience. I find this very encouraging." To make the experience more meaningful, Aunt Cheung only uses produce grown on the farm, where every plant and blade of grass has a special meaning for her.

The enthusiasm and selflessness of Aunt Cheung and her husband made a deep impression on the students. From their example, they learned that money or material success do not necessarily make for a happy, healthy or rich life. "You must have confidence in yourself," Aunt Cheung, who believes in being self-sufficient, encouraged the students, "and be conscientious and down-to-earth. Don't ever count on luck. You can only be successful by being industrious. And don't just think about yourself, but care about others as well. You should use your talents for the wellbeing of society and the country."

Understand and communicate
One of the objectives of the camp was to provide an opportunity for the students to learn from people with extensive work experience. All the students who attended the camp are interested in joining the Executive Mentoring Scheme (EMS), organized by SDS. To help them towards self-understanding and to improve their communications skills, a series of training workshops, focusing on self-awareness, effective communication and social etiquette, was also held at the camp. Through interacting with the camp? master trainers, these workshops encouraged students to study different issues, share their fears and worries, and work together to find solutions to their problems.

"The workshops were very helpful," said Sun Chung Cheuk Kei, an accountancy student. now appreciate the importance of active learning. And I'm aware of the variety of interesting things we can explore--we just need to look at what? happening around us. Obviously, widening the scope of our knowledge is really important for our personal growth."

Of the programmes on offer, the social etiquette/table manner situational game, which combined fun and education, was voted most enjoyable, perhaps because the students had to act the parts themselves. Certainly the demonstration of correct table manners, with students acting as cutlery and chicken wings, was considered hilarious.

Ms Linsie Chui, Human Resources specialist from IBM China/Hong Kong Ltd, who was responsible for designing and organizing the training programme, said, " believe CityU students have a very positive and enthusiastic attitude towards learning. They are very lively and are willing to learn new things. They are also very creative."

In addition to the training sessions, the students also practised singing the national anthem and hoisting the national flag. They made friends with the farm animals and explored all the different parts of the farm, including the Lingnan Fruit Garden, the Chinese Medicinal Herbs Garden, the Pine Leisure Yard, the Chrysanthemum Pavilion, the Ancient Farm Tools Exhibition, the Green Field, and the herding and fishing areas. They learned how to identify different fruits and trees, and about the lives of famous Chinese doctors of medicine. But it wasn't all hard work--the students also enjoyed a treasure hunt and a fireworks display.

With the added experience of living on a farm, and sleeping rough in the camp houses and the Yunnan-style house, it was an adventure they will never forget.

A memorable experience
After three days and two nights on the farm it was time to return to Hong Kong. But before leaving, Aunt Cheung and the students commemorated their visit by planting a tree in the garden. Roy Cheung summed up their thoughts about the camp: "It was a wonderful trip. It was useful, interesting and enjoyable and I learned a lot from it." All the students said the experience had better equipped them to become members of the EMS.

Camp leader Mr Rock Tam, Senior Counsellor in SDS, said he was very impressed by the way the students actively participated in camp life. He was also happy to see the senior students, former members of the EMS, support the programme by offering guidance to their fellow junior students. "They certainly enhanced interaction within the big CityU family and set a good example for their junior colleagues," he said.

Speaking on behalf of the senior students, Helen Or Ka-wai, from the Department of Management Sciences, said, "As a result of joining the EMS, I'm more willing to take on new challenges and am more motivated towards self-improvement. My mentor, a director of a listed company, shares with me his life and work experiences, which have taught me to see things from a different perspective. I enjoy sharing my experiences with my fellow students."

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