Trip to Indonesia has inspired Renaissance students to help the underprivileged, writes Wong Yat-hei
For some people, the 2004 South Asian tsunami may be a distant memory. But it's very much in the minds of students and teachers from Renaissance College who are raising funds and doing voluntary work to improve the lives of children in an Indonesian province which was devastated by the giant waves.
The college is taking part in a project which pairs schools in developed nations with those in poor countries. Under the 'Schools-to-Schools' scheme, Renaissance sent two teachers and 11 students to teach English to children in a village school in Aceh, Indonesia last November.
Aceh was the hardest hit by the Boxing Day tsunami which killed about 230,000 people in several Asian countries.
Dina Astita, a teacher from the Aceh school, made a week-long visit to Hong Kong this month to get a better understanding of the city's kindergarten education system. During the trip, she also learned how to make use of information technology in the classroom.
With the funds raised by Renaissance, she hopes to start a kindergarten in her village.
'I came to Hong Kong to look at the kindergarten system and learn to make use of computers in teaching,' Astita said. 'The teaching methods here are so creative. Teachers let students learn by themselves. Back in Aceh, teachers would tell students what to do. That's the difference.'
Schools in Aceh badly need computers. 'Back home, we only have one computer for a class of 35 students. Here every student has their own laptop. I wish one day my students will have the same opportunities as those in Hong Kong,' Astita said.
Year 12 students Lisa Bergstrom and Sean David Cheung, who spent a week in Aceh, said they were surprised to see how poor the people there were.
'What we have here in Hong Kong is so much more compared to students in Aceh. I think we should never take things for granted and treasure everything we have,' Sean said. 'I was inspired by the students in Aceh - they had so little but made the most out of it. All they had in the classroom were desks, chairs and a blackboard.'
Renaissance students bonded very well with the Aceh children although they did not speak much English. 'The students there are very friendly. I learned a lot from them. They try to make the most out of every day,' Lisa said.
The local students had a bumpy ride from the airport to the village. 'It was raining that day and the car had to go real slow because the roads are in a bad shape,' Sean said. 'At one point, we had to cross a river on a wooden raft. The vans were parked on a big wooden platform and a motor boat pulled the raft across the river. It was all dark and rainy outside. All I could do was pray.'
They stayed in an 'ordinary' hotel with no hot water. Air conditioning was only available at certain times because of the irregular electricity supply.
Both Lisa and Sean said the trip had inspired them to help the less-fortunate. 'I want to do more volunteer work now. Having seen the conditions of Aceh, it makes me feel ashamed for not doing enough to help those people,' Sean said.