Belinda Ng was nervous as she walked out of the interview room for the Student of the Year Grand Prize final judging. She thought she had “messed up” because she felt she did a poor job of answering one of the judges’ questions.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself,” the
17-year-old South Island School student told Young Post.
But the all-rounder won the Grand Prize at Student of the Year – the Oscars of Hong Kong students – at yesterday’s ceremony, held at the Kowloon Shangri-La in Tsim Sha Tsui.
When Young Post caught up with her after the dazzling photo calls and thunderous applause, she said it felt “really strange” being on the other side of an interview: Belinda is also a Young Post junior reporter.
“I’m really honoured, really happy, and really proud of what I’ve been able to do,” says the straight-A student, writer, community contributor, badminton player, dancer, scout and flute player.
This year, the Grand Prize judges wanted to go beyond academic results and find someone who would be a role model for students across the city.
“We wanted to see someone who is thankful for the support they’ve had along the way, and who has a clear and strong vision of giving back to society,” says Ken Ngai, deputy executive director of the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups – all qualities they saw in Belinda.
But how did she get to be so diverse? “I’ve always [enjoyed trying] try new things,” she explains about her wide-ranging extracurricular activities. She believes doing so is how she can learn more about her own identity. “You learn more about your strengths and weaknesses.”
She thanked her parents in the acceptance speech – and she wasn’t just going through the motions. Her willingness to try anything started when her parents signed her up for a variety of programmes when she was younger. Through the years, she’s gone from “Why are you making me do this” to “I’m signing up for more!”
“It really gave me the initiative to try new things, reach out to new people; even if it’s something I know is not my particularly strong suit, I still want to try it, because you learn a lot from the process,” she says.
Sometimes a gentle push from her parents turned out to be just what she needed. In 2015, the girl scout signed up for the chance to take part in the World Scout Jamboree. “I was daunted,” she says, as she knew she would be up against many strong candidates. But after her mum told her to “just give it a go”, she got a place, and ended up getting to meet Yoshiro Yamawaki, a survivor of the atomic bombing.
“It was the experience of a lifetime,” Belinda recalls. “None of that would have happened had my mum not pushed me for it ... my parents really help me in the way they encourage me to try new things.”
Her biggest passion of all is helping others. Many Hongkongers help the less fortunate, but Belinda is taking a different approach – with the arts.
Working with local NGO Kids4Kids, Belinda and some of her musician friends taught children from low-income families at a Tsing Yi housing estate to make musical instruments, then used them to put on a show.
“Music is often pushed aside when people think of solving issues like poverty, because there are more immediate needs,” she says. “Even though the result [of our project] is not immediately visible, I think creating that mindset for them – that there are more opportunities out there than they’ve been given – is important ... it gives them the space to explore creatively , which is something their environment doesn’t allow them to do,” says Belinda.
Winning Student of the Year means HK$25,000 in prize money, which Belinda wants to save up for her big dream.
Having done a lot of charity work, she noticed that it’s easy to take a top-down approach – give food or provide aid to those who need it; but in the long run, she wants to make help sustainable, so her goal is to set up a social enterprise.
She wants to open a shop that combines the idea of environmental sustainability with social enterprising – a bakery that employs underprivileged people. Why a bakery? It’s simple: “It makes me very happy to see bread, my parents literally have to drag me out of bakeries,” says Belinda.
It would be a way to include society’s underprivileged more, instead of marginalising them. “It’s a win-win situation.”
“Belinda stands out in a school of outstanding students,” SIS principal Graham Silverthorne wrote on her SOTY application form. But this recognition of excellence means Belinda is under pressure – from herself. “I’m the hardest on myself,” she said.
But it’s important to push yourself, Belinda says, because otherwise “you end up just plateauing; pushing yourself gives you the opportunity to find out more about yourself.”
But it’s also “important as a student that you do find the balance”, she says. Being in her penultimate year in secondary school, there is also a lot of pressure academically and she uses her hobbies to help her cope with stress.
“I play badminton, I wouldn’t purposely give it up because of my studies because I find it a good way to let go and relax and balance things,” she says.
As the big sister in the family, Belinda hopes her younger brother doesn’t feel too pressured by the high standards that she’s set. “I think everyone is talented in their own way. I hope he learns and understands that it’s about doing something you’re good at [and that you enjoy].”