When the bell rings at the end of the school day, most people breathe a sigh of relief and happily trundle home. But every day after school, Cherish Siu Cheuk-wing travels to One Sky Mall in Tin Shui Wai to tutor children. The tutoring centres belong to Yuet Ching Volunteer Team, a volunteer organisation financed by Cherish's mother.
Growing up with such a philanthropic mother, the 18-year-old Form Six student from Madam Lau Kam Lung Secondary School of Miu Fat Buddhist Monastery had community service in her blood, and started helping others at a very young age.
Young Post talked to the humble student, who won this year's Student of the Year (SOTY) Community Contributor category, about her journey to becoming a SOTY, future plans, and advice to those who want to make a difference.
The drive to help
"Even though we're not particularly wealthy, my mother has always insisted on serving the community. It is an uncommon virtue in our society, where material possessions are so highly valued," said Cherish, who calls her mother her role model.
"She would rather spend less and save more to help people in need. Her character and attitude is very rare," she added.
Having participated in a range of volunteer work, Cherish wants to further enrich the knowledge of grassroots children from single-parent families - a situation which reflects her own.
"Since I have had similar experiences, I know education is the key for these children to overcome poverty," said Cherish, adding that having the chance to help them drives her to work even harder to come up with ways to improve their lives.
While the generous volunteer doesn't expect anything in return, she says the experiences are always gratifying.
"A simple 'thank you', or just knowing that my assistance helped to reduce family conflicts or even improve family relationships is my greatest reward," she explained.
Sacrificing for the common good
Her mission hasn't always been plain-sailing, though. "I didn't have enough time to rest, which then developed into some health problems. I started wondering whether it was necessary for me to devote so much to helping the community," admitted Cherish, who also struggled to find time to study.
On top of her personal struggles, she was disappointed by a lack from support from her community.
"Some people didn't understand why we didn't leave the task to district councillors. Some were even sceptical about our intentions - thinking that we only did it for the recognition."
In the end, though, Cherish was grateful to have been through all these difficulties as they helped her blossom as a person.
"I came to understand that you simply have to do what you think is right, and not care about the views of others," she said.
Cherish these tips
The SOTY Community Contributor award is open to all Form Four to Six students who have shown sustained commitment and dedication to community affairs.
Cherish has some advice for YP readers interested in being in with a chance of being named the next SOTY Community Contributor, saying that she thinks the most important qualities candidates can have are proactivity, generosity and empathy.
"You have to be active in seeking people in need, understanding them and finding ways to solve their problems," she explained.
"You should learn to share - knowledge, experience, and time."
Cherish also added that it is important not to discriminate against people based on who they are, or their social status.
"You can only truly begin to understand the other person's feelings after you try to understand their difficulties."
Cherish advised readers in general to become more aware of the social problems around the world. "While you're concerned about improving the social conditions of Hong Kong, you should also read about things happening in the rest of the world - only then can you come up with more answers for the unsolved problems close to home."
Adapting to social change
In the future, Cherish hopes to increase the number of districts her mother's organisation serves.
"I will also pursue higher education because I believe I can only help others by continuously improving myself and adapting to societal changes," she said.
Having signed up for several exchange programmes this year, including the youth leadership project "Hong Kong 200", she also hopes to visit underprivileged children in rural China.
Cherish's drive to serve the less fortunate is nothing short of spectacular - it's certainly not too late to start your own journey.