In touch with reality

In touch with reality

Unicef's Young Envoys learn about life on the tough streets of Kathmandu

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The Nepalese children share their schoolwork and drawings with the Hong Kong teenagers
The Nepalese children share their schoolwork and drawings with the Hong Kong teenagers
Photos: Mabel Sieh
Children in Hong Kong take education for granted, but things are different in Nepal. During the summer holidays, 56 Hong Kong students went to the mountainous country to learn about the work done by the United Nations Children's Education Fund (Unicef).

They visited an area in the capital, Kathmandu, where they got a first-hand view of the way some students have to live and learn.

Unicef has joined with local institutions to help children in many different ways. Their Urban-Out-Of-School programme helps under privileged children learn to read and write, along with teaching them basic life skills, such as hygiene. The reasons for children not being able to go to school are numerous:

"I have to take care of my baby sister," says one youngster. Many of them have to work, in restaurants or hotels, as domestic servants or rag pickers, or even helping on construction sites and in sweet factories.

Their families, if they have any, depend on them for their income in this poverty-stricken country that has been torn apart by years of war.

It is hard for the youngsters to go to regular school, so the Unicef programme offers them classes out of the normal schedule. It also gives them books and stationery - luxuries they would normally be unable to afford.

Meeting the envoys was a treat for them and an eye-opening experience for the Hongkongers. It was a glimpse into a world they would rarely see.

The children, aged eight to 10, crowded around them with all kinds of questions. Do you go to school, they asked. Is there clean water at your home? Do you need to fetch water every day? What do you like to do when you have free time?

They eagerly shared their schoolwork and drawings with the young envoys, the language barrier between the two groups replaced by warm smiles and gestures, and big hugs.

The experience made Hongkongers reflect on how lucky they are. "When I saw that these children were so happy and so excited to see us, I realised I had no excuse to be unhappy," says Jake Law Cheuk-wun, 15, from La Salle College. "I have everything and I still want more. But they are so happy. It isn't a long trip to Nepal, but it has greatly changed me. What I saw touched my heart."

Lim Kar-yee from Hang Seng School of Commerce was impressed by what she saw. "The kids' teacher is only a few years older than me, and she doesn't seem to know much English. Yet she volunteers to teach the children in her spare time," says the 18-year-old.

"When we return to reality [Hong Kong], we may go back to chasing As in our examinations. But I will always remember the feelings I have today, which gave me goose bumps. And I will share it with the younger students."

Gordon Chu Kwok-ho says Nepalese children are eager to learn but they lack the opportunities.

"I met this boy and read one of his poems. I learned from the teacher that he was abandoned by his parents after their divorce and has been living on the street since then. Yet, he wrote this touching poem. He's so desperate to learn," says the 16-year-old from Diocesan Boys' School.

For more details about Unicef's Young Envoys 2011 programme, visit www.unicef.org.hk

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