Dealing with divorce, family conflicts, and racial stereotypes ... and thriving despite it all

Dealing with divorce, family conflicts, and racial stereotypes ... and thriving despite it all

Reshma Gurung moved from a band three school to Li Po Chun United World College, but education is about more than just homework

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Reshma Gurung wants to help other Nepalese children with their education.
Reshma Gurung wants to help other Nepalese children with their education.
Photo: Frankie Tsang/SCMP

Reshma Gurung is a 17-year-old Nepalese student born in Hong Kong. She has been offered a place at Li Po Chun United World College, a prestigious two-year secondary school in Hong Kong.

Lots of other Hongkongers got the same offer, but Reshma is different.

She came from a band three secondary school that she doesn't like. On top of that, she says she's not really proud of her achievement.

"I'm not actually proud of it. This is just an opportunity to work on. I feel like I have so much responsibility right now," she says.

She wants to help the Nepalese community in Hong Kong, after seeing them marginalised by Hongkongers. She has seen lots of her friends drop out of school, get married early or start working. Reshma says she has tried to break the "cycle of family conflicts" since her parents divorced.

To explain all this, Reshma points to the person who helped open her eyes to the world - Carlos Soto, a former English teacher at CMA Choi Cheung Kok Secondary School in Tuen Mun and one of her favourite teachers.

Instead of relying on textbooks, Soto uses books and movies (like the Bollywood movie 3 Idiots), asking his students to reflect on the material. Reshma says he also connected to students by sharing his own experiences.

"The way he talked to us, it was like human-to-human, not like teacher-to-student. It was never 'take out your textbook and turn to this'. There was humanity in our class: sharing our feelings, sharing our struggles," Reshma says.

She says Soto came from a working-class family. He only had one parent and had to fight to get to where he is now. Reshma can relate to this, and says teachers like Soto helped her. "If it weren't for these teachers, I wouldn't have learned so much about myself. I also wouldn't have learned so much about the communities around me, and about the reality I was trying to escape."

Since her parents' divorce, she has had to deal with her stepdad, who she doesn't like. "I didn't feel like I belonged at home, or at school. This meant there was a time when I was … emotionally unstable. I also tried to harm myself. But then I realised that by doing this, I would get nothing. So I tried to concentrate more during class, and talk to my teachers more."

Reshma says Soto helped her handle all of that. But he was fired.

Soto spoke to Young Post last year and said non-Chinese-speaking children are often stereotyped in the local curriculum. The principal of the school Soto worked at said Soto's curriculum did not meet the Education Bureau's guidelines.

Reshma sees this as unjust, and she joined other students in boycotting classes for two weeks. Now that she will be going to Li Po Chun, she hopes she can use the opportunity to make sure all other Nepalese children in Hong Kong get a good education, too.

"My mother couldn't afford to send me to a band one or band two school," she says.

"People do not see us; they see us as construction workers, security guards.

"Three years ago, I never thought I was capable of doing something for my community. I never thought that I had abilities to give."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Humanity over textbooks

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