For many, high school marks some of the best years of their lives. Many a lifelong friendship sprouts from these days. Sage teachers inspire their protégés to realize their own intellectual and moral fibre. Since the founding of the College, members of the CW Chu College Service Team have dedicated themselves to the Summer Service Project year after year, hosting a string of activities surrounding personal growth, career and life planning with the three-day summer camp as the Project’s crowning event. Aiming to help high school juniors cultivate greater faith in themselves and in interacting with others, while challenging them to a bolder imagination of study, future career and life, the Project, held in mid-July this year, has come to its seventh year. This initiative has become a cherished collective memory among participating high schoolers and CW Chu members. CUHK Newsletter spoke with three veterans, Michael Yip, Hugo Lam and Victoria Lee as well as their teachers in reminiscence of those summer days where they frolicked, grew and aced the game of life together.
Desiring to work in the field of education, Hugo felt lost back in high school. ‘Studying well does not necessarily mean teaching well. There were few channels to obtain career information except from the universities, and high schools seldom hosted such camps.’ He added, ‘We were in high school not too long ago, which allows us to understand their thoughts, sympathize with the academic and peer pressures they are under and offer help.’
Supported by The D.H. Chen Foundation, the I·CARE programme and a number of earnest professors, the Summer Service Project has been serving Po Leung Kuk CW Chu College since its inception. From last year on, HHCKLA Buddhist Ching Kok Secondary School joined in as another partner school. The youths from different schools warm up to each other quickly after several rounds of games. The camp consists of fun goings like mass games and a campfire, and thoughtful activities such as the Night Talk, ‘Eight Things in Life’ and ‘Letter to Myself’. Does the camp really manage to precipitate a change of hearts and minds so dramatic within a span so short?
‘Yes, and the change was remarkable. On orientation day, students were mainly unsure of themselves. They would tuck themselves away swiping phones, reluctant to befriend anyone. During the games, when I invited those who think of themselves as having a good, retentive memory to come out, nobody responded. But once in the camp, they would take the initiative in trying out new things and were all set alive, which is actually a sign of confidence in themselves,’ Hugo said. All three of them had worried that once the camp ended, the students would fall back on their old selves. Now they don’t. Being an organizing committee member last year and a group leader this year, Hugo bumped into teens who participated last year and found they grew more mature, active and considerate. ‘They reciprocated the love and care they had received last year and were keen on spurring their peers on. They also took up leadership with alacrity. And there were students who had more definite goals in mind and asked for guidance, after talking with us last year.’
Supervising the Project since its launch, the teachers of the Service Team witness the growth of students, the College and the schools. Prof. Chair Sek-ying, Chairperson of the CW Chu College Committee on Service, opined, ‘From the very beginning up till now, we’ve noticed the change in the students of Po Leung Kuk CW Chu College. This year, many of its students are first-time participants, but they prove more active and willing to talk compared with past cohorts, due probably to the positive influence brought to the student community by their seniors. Our work is actually changing the ethos of the whole school.’ Ms. Irene Ng, member of the Committee, also commented that the College and the schools have been growing together throughout the years: ‘From greenhorns to veterans, the College students have already built up that culture of serving the community. Our partner schools took cues from the Project to curate similar activities with other organizations, and teachers have instilled the Project’s messages in their daily teaching.’
While benefitting high school students, the Summer Service Project also catalyzes the personal growth of CW Chu members. Before taking part in the fourth (2016) and sixth editions of the Project, Michael had never organized any event in high school. As he chaired the organizing committee in Year 1, everything—from organizing and hosting activities—was a brand new experience. And there were setbacks. In 2016, at the closing of the second night, exhilaration from the campfire precluded solemn discussions on life and career planning that were supposed to follow. In the evaluation held on the same night, he was lambasted by his senior. ‘It was daunting for certain, but I would have to pick up the pieces and see how things can be improved. On the third day, we took out some mass games to make time for sober talks.’
Similar to Michael, chairing this year’s organizing committee, Victoria debuted as an organizer and MC. She felt her self-confidence and improvisation skills had been boosted, and she ‘no longer fears speaking in front of a lot of people.’ What’s more, she also realized the importance of early planning. ‘Me being a “deadline fighter”, I did not expect the work plan to go through rounds and rounds of alterations even at late stage. Planning early is preferable to leaving things until the last minute.’
Being a group leader this year, Hugo was aware of the challenges of working with people. ‘Taking care of high school students is not as easy as it seems. You need to take pains to communicate well. When students do things in a manner less than ideal, you have to be subtle in correcting them. For example, one member in my group tended to dominate, so I invited him to teach fellow group members on accomplishing the tasks. And there’s the safety issue. We have Night Walk, but not every spot comes with emergency facilities. If someone feels unwell, what should I do?’ Hugo asserted that the group leader experience marked the first time when he was involved in work requiring such levels of detail-mindedness. It would gear him up for work in education and other people-oriented professions.
The midsummer’s dream being over, will the magic vanish and everyone becomes stranger to one another? Hugo answered, ‘We were anxious about that before, but no, it doesn’t happen. A lot of group members keep in touch with us after the camp, and our seniors told us there had been group leaders going back to the high schools to accompany the members on the occasion of the release of public examination results. Once a group leader was performing in a drama, and many members showed up that night to show their support.’
Tacit understanding filled my conversation with the three CW Chu members. Sitting in the recreation room of CW Chu College, the Lanson Terrace it faces was bathed in brimming sunshine, with flecks of dust dancing and disappearing in the wide shafts of light, like the surreptitious passage of time. A vision rose before me: after several years, a bunch of young souls will be sitting here narrating their youthful yarns like today, because in those summers of old, they bumped into eager CW Chu members, whose faith and enthusiasm opened up their imagination and made them realize that taking a step further for themselves and others is not that difficult after all.
This article was originally published in No. 543, Newsletter in Sep 2019.