Heartbeat: Bonded by language

Heartbeat: Bonded by language

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(from left) Cherry, Kitty, Nicky and Jasmine in the community centre after after their voluntary service
(from left) Cherry, Kitty, Nicky and Jasmine in the community centre after after their voluntary service
Many ethnic minority children suffer delays in both academic and social progress because, unlike local children, they are not native Cantonese speakers. They begin to fall behind from kindergarten, and this trend continues throughout primary and secondary school. To break this vicious cycle, 10 students from Carmel Secondary School hold a volunteering group called “Smiling Patrol (笑笑兵團)” and organise a voluntary “Good Deeds Scheme” to help ethnic minority children improve their Cantonese and get along with local children.

Every Thursday evening, the students – Ada, Catherine, Cherry, Christopher, Hoby, Jasmine, Kitty, Missy, Nicky and Tiffany – gather at a community centre in Ho Man Tin to provide remedial classes and fellowship activities for Southeast Asian children aged four to nine.

At first, they found it difficult to get on with the ethnic minority children. “The [ethnic minority] children were not willing to speak in Cantonese. Some of them even refused to speak." said Nicky, the team leader of the volunteering group.

“The children don’t always listen to and co-operate with us. They do things their own way and break the rules we’ve set at the beginning of the class,” said Kitty, one of the volunteers. “What’s more, designing activities for them is also a challenging task. As they have a wide age range, it’s difficult for us to design games and activities that are suitable for all of them.”

Though they faced many hurdles, the 10 did not give up and united to overcome the difficulties.

Relations with the ethnic minority children have improved. “When we introduced an award scheme [to attract them to follow the rules] to them, they were willing to listen to us and pay more attention in class,” said Kitty, smiling. “ The most inspiring thing is that they’re willing to speak more Cantonese.”

“I enjoy the activities they organise,“ one of the ethnic minority children said.

The 10 native Cantonese speakers also gain a lot from doing voluntary work – especially a new perspective on ethnic minorities. “We’ve learnt to be patient and listen to others,” said Nicky. “And we’ve discovered that, in fact, ethnic minority children are no different from local ones. They are energetic, talkative and as lovely as the local kids. We love them and enjoy being with them very much.”

Equal opportunities should not be governed by race and colour. Children are actually the future pillars of society. What the 10 strive for is to help eliminate discrimination against ethnic minorities. Although it may be just one small step for the 10, it would be one giant leap for our future.

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