Theatre producer Kearen Pang Sau-wai faced the daunting task of prying open the mouths of eight Hongkongers. Not to force-feed them, but to get them to share their thoughts and feelings.
These eight students were on a seven-day visit to Nepal during the summer. The programme, organised by eye-care charity Orbis, included home visits, trips to local schools and eye hospitals, and witnessing an eye surgery. Although they were selected for the trip because of their outstanding fundraising efforts in Hong Kong, they weren't great at expressing themselves.
Pang joined the trip to advise the students on how to make a video during their visit to Nepal.
"You can't just ask teenagers 'what do you think?' because they don't know how they feel. I had to start by asking what scene they remember most, and go deeper from there," she says. "After visiting a place, we return to the bus and there is zero discussion about what they had just seen. They just drink water, get tissue, and pop their earphones on and listen to music."
Pang says this attitude is common among Hongkongers.
Derek Wong Chi-him, a participant from Ying Wa College, says he needs time to digest his experiences before sharing with others. Karen Tong Ying-kiu, from St Rose of Lima's College, thinks she could have achieved more from the trip if she had been more expressive. "By expressing ourselves, we are inspiring each other," she says.
Pang's observations remind us again how important art is. "Art is all about expression and communication. In Hong Kong, maybe nine out of 10 elite students go to study business, and the 10th chooses to do law. They all have this mindset, because it gives results and a guarantee. But it doesn't encourage expression at all," she says. "We were born with sensitivity, and we should use that."
Karen says she was taught to be task-oriented at school. "When we need to do something, [the school] gives us steps to follow. And when we follow these steps, we can meet our goal. But it's not like that when getting along with people."
Faced with the "task" of visiting the local Nepalese, the students prepared a list of questions. "I guess we were too formulaic," says Derek. "We wanted to ask all our questions, but when we kept asking them stuff they got nervous." The children became so scared that some ran away when the students made eye contact with them. Derek reflects that he could have been more flexible if he hadn't viewed the children as task subjects. The group later decided to approach the children with games instead of questions.
Pang also realised the selfie was great at bringing people together. "[The Nepalese children] crowded up close around me to see themselves on the screen," she says.
What you need to know
According to Orbis, around one million people in Nepal have eye defects. On average, seven children become permanently blind every day.
Seeing a five-year-old child regain his eyesight after receiving surgery for cataracts was memorable for Derek. "We helped him remove his bandages, and I was touched to see that such a small surgery can help him see again," says Derek.
Orbis is now recruiting student ambassadors for 2014-2015. Visit www.orbis.org/hksac for more information.