Having won the MPW Travel Scholarship award, I was able to spend some of summer 2015 working with disadvantaged people from ethnic minority backgrounds through the charity Hands on Hong Kong.
My first student was Nan, a Filipino boy. I was in charge of tutoring Nan, giving him assistance on homework and also spending some entertainment time with him as his parents have to work long hours and weekends. During my time with him, I was deeply surprised by the maturity he showed. Even at the age of six, his understanding of society was advanced. He told me that he had won an award at school, and that he wished society was as easy. He told me he thought your income should depend on how hard you work, not the level of your job. He told me if this were the case “hardworking people like my parents would be able to afford to send me and my brothers to a proper school.” It was an interesting insight into Nan’s life and his family’s struggle. At an age where other children are concerned only with toys, Nan is worried about education and the future. In my opinion, that is strong evidence of the impact of environment on development. We all came into the world as blank canvases. It is the nurture we receive that makes us who we are and in Nan’s case his experience built his image of society. I was pleased that he is hopeful that things will change.
My second stop was Hong Kong Children’s Hub. Rather than simply providing academic help for kids, it is actually a place to expand the horizons of children who don't have many opportunities. I was assigned to teach a group of children English: my task was to make the language appeal to them. It was very challenging at first. Some of the students spoke over me while I was talking or would run around during lessons: it was hard work. After consulting some colleagues, I adjusted my teaching style with an emphasis on fun. What I soon realised is that if you want to attract people, you need to know their taste. I asked my nephews for help and showed my class Minions. They were one hundred percent focused on the clip I played for them, which was quite a change from the way things started out.
By the time I came to the end of my volunteering work, it had become clear to me what being a volunteer really means. It is not just about how much you can do to help others but how much you can do to help yourself, because you are actually the one benefitting from it. From my experience, volunteering showed me how to be a good teacher, refreshed my understanding of society and, more importantly, gave me the courage to do things I didn’t know I was capable of. I think many people would be deeply surprised by how much you can learn from an experience like volunteering.