The pinnacle event of each year’s University Scholars Leadership Symposium is the “Learning Journey” – a variety of hands-on, real-world experiences designed to broaden each delegates perspectives on global humanitarian affairs.
“The only source of knowledge is experience.”
– Albert Einstein
Taking place on the third day of this year’s event, “Learning Journey” activities included the following:
- Modern Day Slavery – a simulated experience of working in a sweatshop, including harsh conditions and heavily restricted space.
- Fisherman Encounter – Cultural and historical tour of Lei Yu Mun, followed by an afternoon providing community services for the local population.
- Refugee Run – Crossroads Foundation’s world-famous simulation of the conditions and challenges facing displaced refugees.
- Teaching Kinds – Play-inspired English lessons for kids from Kai Tak derelict housing.
- Serving the Children – Acting as a surrogate big brother or sister for a local underprivileged child, taking them for a day exploring a local amusement park.
- Arts with the Disabled – Delegates engage with local disabled artists and gain insights and lessons on how to recreate the art themselves.
- Rehab Centre – Delegates interact with patients at the “Providence Garden for Rehab”, sharing stories and cultures and participating in group activities.
- Day Camp – Providing activities and entertainment for children from a local village, sharing culture through dance, songs, sports and games.
- Be a Farmer – Hands-on tour of a local farm, including participation in organic farming practices.
- Intellectually Disabled – Soap making and packaging, cooking, cleaning and dancing with the intellectually disabled citizens at one of Hong Kong’s many foundation houses.
- Intergenerational Learning – Delegates visit some elderly citizens living in Mongkok cubicle housing and help them clean their environment.
- Elderly Care – Delegates visit lone elderly citizens in their homes and help out with cleaning and household maintenance.
- Nursing Home – Tour of a local nursing home, followed by delegates assisting with entertainment and operational activities.
- Domestic Violence – A small number of female delegates visit a home for victims of domestic violence to hear their stories and offer emotional support.
- Befriending Elderly – Delegates visit Cheng Chau Island to bring warmth, happiness and social interaction to the resident elderly population.
Personally, I selected “Fisherman Encounter” – spending my day in the small village of Lei Yu Mun to learn more about the fascinating social dynamics of Hong Kong.
Historic and Cultural Tour Through Lei Yu Mun
We set off early, meeting our the other members of the tour group and climbing aboard a bus bound for the New Territories’ western coastline. Our day’s activities – organised by Gigi Chau’s fabulous Faith in Love Foundation – started with an introduction to our tour guide Bill, who lead us off on an exploration of the villages important historical sites.
As we walked through the small village, we were enthralled by Bill’s tales (complete with photos) of the incredible level of changes that have taken place over the past 50 years. In some cases, development of Hong has involved actually reclaiming and landfilling parts of the bay, turning what was once a sleepy, isolated quarry into a vibrant commercial hub.
As one of the less developed, less industrialised areas, Lei Yu Mun provides some incredibly stark examples of Hong Kong’s mesh of British and Chinese cultures. As we passed each of these sites, Bill took the time to detail the recent shift away from modern Hong Kong’s British roots, explaining the cultural war constantly waging between the region’s various elements as the economy rapidly and dynamically expands.
The history lesson continued as we made our way around the bay. While we walked, Bill was meticulous in describing the local way of life and how it has changed and varied in the face of the industrial and technological boom currently gripping the region.
Outside of the built-up areas, the contrast between the pristine skyscrapers in the distance and the small, cramped housing is incredibly eye-opening. Hong Kong is simultaneously home to the world’s 4th richest man and an enormous impoverished populous, and it’s in these outlying areas such as Lei Yu Mun where you can really begin to understand the consequent impacts this wealth discrepancy has the lives of its citizens.
With 8,000,000 people living virtually on top of one another in such a small geographic area, there is always likely to be a large gap between the top and bottoms ends of the socio-economic scale. Even so, the level of money flying through Hong Kong’s economy is astronomical, and yet a large portion of its people are seemingly being left behind.
These are the kinds of facts and scenarios that USLS prompts you to consider.
Community Service at the Drop-in Centre
Following Bill’s fantastic tour, we were treated to lunch at a local restaurant before making our way to a local community centre. Once here, we separated into three groups with distinct tasks: “Group 1” would be helping to clean local houses, “Group 2” would conduct English lessons with the drop-in centre’s children and “Group 3” would play games and entertain the kids after their boring English tutelage.
Lacking talent in both cleaning and education, I decided to stick with what I know best – looking cool and making people laugh
Over the course of the afternoon, we got to know these kids through a variety of games and activities. Despite the crippling language barrier, play is universal, and it was fascinating to get to know their unique personalities and characteristics solely through the use of non-verbal communication.
I couldn’t help but get the impression that this place is very much the highlight of their young lives. The surrounding suburbs are full of cubicle housing and other low-income dwellings, and its likely that this small, concrete play area is literally the only place that these kids have in which to run, dance and explore.
Meanwhile, there is potentially a billionaire sitting just streets away, mulling over plans to develop this whole area into a glitzy shopping mall or some other tourist trap.
The photo below best sums up the dichotomy constantly facing the local population. Here we have a small, concrete children’s play area surrounded by a rusty barbed wire fence and neighbouring a house that looks as if a strong breeze might detach it from the Earth – seemingly a million miles away from the glamour and sheen of Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon peninsula.
But then there in the background is the beginnings of a high-rise building.
Irrespective of the circumstances they live in, it’s incredibly uplifting to witness the way these kids can still socialise and play without a care in the world. This experience is certainly one that I will never forget, and I am so immensely grateful to QUT for sending me over here to witness it with my own eyes.
Honestly, I can never repeat this enough – if you ever get the chance to attend the University Scholars Leadership Symposium, TAKE IT and don’t look back.
Herman Melville said: “We change lives with grand gestures. We change the world one step at a time.”
I struggle to think of a better way to take the first step.
As always, watch this space for more insights and experiences from QUT Business School life.