The heart of kindness

The heart of kindness

Volunteering at an orphanage in Malawi showed aspiring pilot John Yu just how lucky Hongkongers are

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Volunteer John Yu (above, centre) with orphans at the Amitofo Care Centre in Malawi.
Volunteer John Yu (above, centre) with orphans at the Amitofo Care Centre in Malawi.
Local parents love to remind their children how lucky they are by comparing their lives to those of youngsters in poverty-ravaged Africa.

Aspiring pilot John Yu Chung-hong's mum used this tactic. After graduating from university three years ago, he went to the continent to volunteer at an orphanage to see the reality for himself.

"I have always wanted to go to Africa. I had heard about how poor people there are," says Yu.

He was recently reunited with some of the children he cared for at the Amitofo Care Centre in Malawi. The youngsters travelled to Hong Kong on a fundraising trip and performed a song in Putonghua at the Plaza Hollywood.

The Amitofo Care Centre is funded by Yuan Tong Culture and Care Association, Pu-Hsein Educational Foundation of Taiwan and the Amitofo Charity Association in South Africa, which runs orphanages across the continent. It provides shelter, and teaches English, Putonghua and the local curriculum to orphans.

Yu's destination, Malawi, is one of the least developed countries in the world. It ranks 170th out of 186 countries in the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Report, which looks at factors such as life expectancy and wages. Hong Kong ranks 13th.

Most Malawians still live in rural areas and rely heavily on basic agriculture. But Yu says their modest lifestyle and positive attitude means Hongkongers can learn a lot from them.

He has fond memories of making a simple soccer pitch with children from the orphanage.

To build the pitch, they needed wood to make two goals. Yu asked the orphanage's office for some supplies.

"I told them what we needed and the next day, two trees turned up where we were supposed to make the pitch," he says. "I was so shocked. But then I realised that's the sort of lesson that Hongkongers can learn from.

"Sometimes we take things for granted. When we want wood, we get wood. But in other parts of the world, people actually have to start from scratch and chop up a tree."

Yu was touched by the way the children cared for each other.

"When working, they would count the nails that they had started with and make sure all of them had been used. Because most kids walk with bare feet, they didn't want them to get hurt," he says.

Yu recalls giving one youngster a packet of candy, after he brought some keys for him.

"Then I thought that I shouldn't have given him the whole pack because I didn't have any more to give to other kids later," he says.

But when he went back to the room, he saw the candy was being enjoyed by all the children. "They know how to share with people. Kids in Hong Kong would have definitely taken the whole pack," he says, laughing.

Yu has recently returned from Canada where he gained his private pilot licence. He puts his flying success down to that life-changing trip to Africa.

"Volunteering is a really good experience. It reminds you of some of the things that you dreamed of when you were little. You will really learn a lot," he says.

"I encourage youngsters to step out of their comfort zone. Get out there and see just how big the world really is."

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