Though the social integration and Chinese language education of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong has been addressed by the 2014 Hong Kong Policy Address, the overall effectiveness is still under review. Some experimental projects in schools may not be able to address the problem of social inclusion of ethnic minorities in everyday life, and many ethnic minorities are still facing difficulties in integrating into local society.
The Hong Kong University (HKU) student-initiated programme - Southeast Asian Supportive, Assimilating and Merging Education (SESAME) - established in March 2014, promotes social inclusion of ethnic minorities. It achieves this through experiential Chinese learning and creating everyday life experiences in Hong Kong. In the long run, SESAME hopes to improve opportunities for cultural exchange by alleviating the social exclusion faced by ethnic minorities.
SESAME is modelled after its namesake: the seed and our programme may be small, but are essential to bringing favour to cuisine; and to life. Similarly, our programme is like the magical phrase "open sesame", which opens doors for ethnic minority children and for us to learn from each other. We hope to provide a platform for HKU students to communicate and enhance their understanding about race.
Since July 2014, SESAME has received full support from the HKU Centre of Development and Resources for Students and New Home Association (NHA) – HOME Centre (YTM). We have organised a wide variety of activities for ethnic minority children living in our city, including treasure hunts at HKU, interactive Chinese games, lantern making, local food tasting, city hunts, tram tours and museum visits. We are glad to have had the active participation of over 70 HKU students and 60 ethnic minority kids, most of whom are Pakistani or Nepalese.
Our programme puts HKU students and ethnic minority kids in groups to complete fun tasks: finding landmarks on Hong Kong Island, practising traditional South Asian songs, designing Chinese style clothing, and more. Through interaction with our HKU students, ethnic minority kids will hopefully be able to practise their written Chinese and oral Cantonese. Learning Chinese language and culture ‘by doing’ and through fun activities that promote social inclusion is our main goal at SESAME.
Through our activities, ethnic minority kids can connect and build social networks while HKU students can spread the love and reflect upon what life is like for others; and what this city means to them and to ethnic minorities. The positive feedback from HKU mentors, ethnic minority kids, and NHA staff reveal our success in establishing friendship and in helping the kids learn Chinese through cultural exchange.
As the founder of SESAME, I feel blessed to see so many happy faces at our events. Some ethnic minority children have contacted us the night before events to share their excitement with us. One HKU participant told us of her encounter with a lovely Pakistani girl she had met at SESAME in Kowloon. The little girl greeted her in Cantonese and chatted with her. They have now become good friends. Even after moving to other districts, some of the kids come back to Yau Ma Tei just to join SESAME. All of the positive comments gives us the confidence to reach higher at SESAME.
We strive to promote social inclusion by improving the Chinese proficiency of ethnic minorities as well as their understanding of Hong Kong. As a volunteer community programme, HKU students and ethnic minority kids are starting an exciting journey with us, and they start by spreading the love for those in need. SESAME may be small, but I believe that in the long run, it will really make a difference.