Helping hands in Tai O

Helping hands in Tai O

Students learn about life and values as they help elderly villagers in a poor and remote community

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Students from St Stephen's College help restore the homes of Tai O residents.
Students from St Stephen's College help restore the homes of Tai O residents.
Photos: Habitat for Humanity China (HFH China)
Home to the Tanka people, Tai O is the only remaining fishing village in Hong Kong with houses built on stilts. It is on Lantau Island and frequented by tourists who are fascinated by the ancient stilt-house community.

But many students have never been to Tai O, nor have they seen the humble lives led by old people who make up a third of the village's population of 2,000.

Nineteen students from St Stephen's College went to Tai O last month as part of the Tai O Stilt House Restoration and Community Development Project.

"The elderly live in remote areas. Their houses are dark because they don't turn on the lights - they don't want to use too much electricity," says Kyle Ho Ho-san, a Form Four student at St Stephen's College. "They're still using chunks of wood to make fires and cook. They seem so lonely. Their children have all moved to the city."

Kyle's schoolmate, Adrian Wu Tsz-hin, says: "I had never been to Tai O. When I heard that the school was recruiting students to help elderly residents, I signed up. I believe it would be a great experience. It's the first time I've done volunteer work."

The restoration project is organised by Habitat for Humanity China (HFH China), an NGO that helps the poor by building new homes and restoring old homes.

The stilt houses in Tai O are vulnerable to typhoons, floods and poor hygiene, but the residents cannot afford the cost of repairs and maintenance. That is why HFH China stepped in to help.

Since the Tai O project began last May, 24 stilt houses have been restored and 64 are in works.

"We often discuss poverty and the needs of others in class. But students won't feel it or understand how the poor live until they take action," says Wayne Chan Chung-leung, the school's science teacher. Chan organised the trip and took the students to Tai O.

"One trip may not lead to a drastic change in life, but I believe teachers can offer students a chance to experience something personal. Hopefully, this experience will stay with them for a long time," says Chan.

His students have definitely benefited from the experience.

"In Hong Kong, we don't always think about other people and what they need," says Timothy Chan. "Some students would rather stay home and do nothing than go out to help others. The trip has made me think about other people. It's a new experience for me."

Gautama Hou Chung-hang says: "Our values are based on our experiences. Volunteer work can change our values. I've learned to pay more attention to social issues in Hong Kong. I read the newspaper every day; I want to know more."

For Kelly Lee Wai-tung and Jenny Tong Ho-yan, seeing how the poor live made them reflect on their own lives. "After seeing them, I asked myself: how much do we really need? Are we too materialistic? The people in Tai O have very little, but they accept their way of living," says Kelly.

Jenny agrees: "They've lived in these houses for many, many years and they have never travelled. But they're happy with their lives. On the contrary, we always feel we don't have enough."

Adrian says: "One of the elderly villagers said to us, 'You're like my children coming home to visit me.' They miss their family a lot. It reminded me to spend more time with my parents. I hardly went home for dinner, but I'll go home more often now."

Jenny is looking forward to doing more volunteer work. "I enjoy getting involved with hands-on experience. It's better than just giving money."

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