The popular HKUST Service Learning Day celebrated its fifth anniversary in April by involving over 850 students, faculty and staff members in more than 40 different community projects over a long weekend. The service programs included environmental protection, events for the mentally and physically challenged, hiking with the elderly, a reading buddy program, and volunteering at the 30-Hour Famine event. The activities were organized by HKUST Connect, an established initiative where members and students of HKUST can serve and develop sustainable partnerships with the wider community through collaborating with NGOs and community services.
Giving and receiving
Among student volunteering, services involving animals and the nature, such as caring for abandoned pets and tree-planting at Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve, are the most popular among all HKUST Service Learning Day activities. "Vacancies can fill up within minutes of applications opening," said Ms Helen Wong, Program Director of HKUST Connect and Associate Director (Co-curricular Programs) of the Student Affairs Office. "The newer service category of food recycling, from collecting unsold items from bakeries at night to distributing them to people in need, is also attracting a rising number of volunteers," she added.
For undergraduate volunteers Wilson Wai Hin Pang from Hong Kong and Rebecca Anne Kundrik from Canada, it was the chance to work with children that attracted them to join the organizing committees of their individual projects. Wilson, a Year 2 Biotechnology major, collaborated with The Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups in running guided tours of the Zero-Carbon Building (ZCB) in Kowloon Bay. He wanted to help youngsters understand the importance of low-carbon living. Rebecca, a Year 4 Mathematics major, worked with Hong kong Christian Service - Centre for Harmony and Enhancement of Ethnic Minority Residents to run Chinese language classes for ethnic minority children to improve their self confidence. The fact that she doesn’t know Chinese herself has inspired her to initiate the workshop series, which has continued to run beyond the HKUST Service Learning Day weekend. “The children were really eager to learn as many of their friends communicate in Chinese. As part of the ethnic minority in Hong Kong, I truly understand the inconvenience of not being able to understand the language.”
Learning to think of others
Working with other students in the organizing committee and with the NGOs and student volunteers, Wilson and Rebecca have put in lots of energy and ideas into project planning. They wanted to make the programs fun and appropriate for young children, allowing them to see how people learn and think. Wilson also took his group to shop for low-carbon food and held a low-carbon cooking session on campus as he believes that students learn better through personal experience. Rebecca designed lively language lessons with interactive games and Q&A sessions with Chinese translations done by her Hong Kong teammates. In return, the children taught her the Chinese words they learnt. She found the experience rewarding, seeing that the classes have made a difference in the children's lives.
Both students have previously undertaken community work and viewed HKUST Service Learning Day as a great way to promote the benefits of volunteering. HKUST Connect’s Ms Wong believes the annual event is a valuable starting point for many students and members of HKUST, which opens up the door for their involvement in other community services in future.
HKUST Connect provides over 2,500 varied volunteering opportunities all year round to encourage students to “serve, learn and act” not just on Service Learning Day but every day.
|From top: Wilson Pang introduces low-carbon shopping; Rebecca Kundrik (above, left) and her team help people from ethnic minorities learn Chinese through interactive games.|