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LEE Siu Tung, Hong Kong Baptist University

 

LEE Siu Tung,

BA Physical Education & Recreation Management,

Hong Kong Baptist University

Change-Makers Programme, India

 

The host institution of the Change-Makers Programme is the Office of Student Affairs (SA) in Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU). SA has really given plenty of support and assistance for students in various aspects in this programme. For instance, it prepared information and Powerpoints presentations on global citizenship, facilitated the fund-raising activity by establishing contact with The L'Oréal Group, a cosmopolitan cosmetics company, facilitated a visit to The Christian Concern for the Homeless Association by dealing with the person-in-charge for many times, helped making Indian Visas etc. Without the comprehensive coordination by SA, the programme could not have been run so smoothly and students would not have gained that much.

 

Another host organization is Habitat for Humanity India. Habitat for Humanity India has given its full support to us during our service trip in India. By the time we arrived in the New Delhi Airport, Roseline, the Ghevra host coordinator, picked us up and drove us for accommodation. During the eight days in India, she was responsible for all the transportations and arrangements at the construction sites and living place. Habitat for Humanity India arranged one of their focus areas and facilitated us to help and build a decent home for the Indian needy. Most importantly, Roseline, an Indian who knows both English and Hindi, acted as a bridge to convey our messages to the Indians and at the same time to reflect the opinions from the Indians. She definitely played an important role to help us resolve the language barrier.

 

The destination of this programme is Delhi, India. The main purpose of the programme is to help the Indian locals build simple and decent homes. The construction area is in Savda Ghevra. It is about an hour drive from where we live in Delhi. Delhi is also known as the National Capital Territory of India. The population is approximately 22 million and it is the second most populous city in the world. During the eight days in Delhi, at most of the time, we could see traffic congestion and we could see quite serious air pollution there.

 

At the construction site, our main aim is to help build a simple and decent home with limited time. However, in reality, for most of the time during our stay at the construction site, we actually worked by demolishing an old house, with our manpower and very limited tools. It really took some time in order to demolish a house even it is not a big one. Other than twelve of the change-makers including me, the home owner and his wife and his sons also helped in both the demolition and construction. At the very beginning, I was one of those who climbed up to the top of the house and helped remove the iron roof with Dave, another change-maker, and the home owner. Dave and I wore a pair of gloves while the home owner did not. He just worked with his bare hands all the time.

 

After demolishing the roof, the rest of us all started to help too. In total, there were four boys and eight girls among us. But this ratio just did not adversely affect us. While boys were known for their stronger physical strength, girls were more considerate and able to spot out mistakes swiftly. All of us were doing something during the whole process.

 

After a basic first step of demolition by removing the roof and pillars of the house, we then started to remove bricks and cement of the house. Under the condition that we did not have any drills and trolleys, we could only use shovels to dig out the bricks and cement and used metallic plates and gunny sacks to remove the bricks and cement from the construction site to an open area so that these would not block the main access to the construction site. The access was actually so narrow that it highly increased the difficulty in transporting building materials to the construction site as well as removing unwanted materials from the construction site.

 

Therefore, generally we spent most of our time passing the bricks and cement with one another using either metallic plate or gunny sack. During such, some of us were in the construction site and kept digging out cement. All of these steps required a high level of physical exertion and we would thus have a short break after approximately an hour of work. The home owner’s wife was so nice that she prepared milk tea for us during the break every time.

 

After the first four days, the demolition was finally over and it then came to the construction stage. Like demolition, we formed a queue and passed the new building materials to one another. Other than new materials, we also re-used some old materials that we dug out before. On the last day before we left, we eventually helped form four pillars and a very basic structure for the septic tank which really made both the home owner and us feel so happy.

 

During the stay at the construction site, we also grabbed the time to do some visits within the village in order to better understand their culture and lifestyles. For instance, half of us took turns to participate in the women self-help center meeting while another half continued with the demolition process. At night during the reflection time, those who went for the meeting reported the situation. In fact, the women self-help center is an organization formed by around more than 30 female villagers. The main objective of this organization is to help and protect women in the village. Every month, all the members (women) give out a certain amount of money to the central and then every member takes turns to receive the money. That money can be used by that member for various purposes including doing small business or health services or education. By doing so, this can allow more women to do something that otherwise cannot be done. They can then have sufficient money to start a business. The concept of women self-help center is so good in the sense that its members take turns to enjoy the benefits.

 

Other than women self-help center, we also visited the local YMCA center within the village. The YMCA center provides space for children to play for free. Furthermore, it organizes educational classes as well as provides computers for children, teenagers and adults to use. In the village, the majority of people actually cannot afford to own a computer at home. By paying very small amount of money, they are given a chance to use computer or learn to use computer. For the educational classes, it only charges for very little amount of money (i.e. around $40 rupees which is approximately $5 Hong Kong dollars). Therefore, the YMCA center indeed plays an important role for the villagers.

 

Not only women self-help center and YMCA center, we also did very short visits to a local family, computer center, village "library" and mosque. We tried to understand them more by going to these places while we did not want to delay the construction process. We struck a sensible balance between the two and hoped to do as much as we could within limited time period.

 

During one short break in one of those working days near the construction site, some of us including me were invited to play together by a little boy. At that time, what they had was just a piece of stick and a stone. But both the stick and stone seemed to be modified and had a specific shape. The two ends of that stone seemed to be cut skillfully before and the stone had two curved ends. After several minutes of observation, they were actually playing a game very similar to a baseball game. A modified stone was used instead of a baseball and a stick was used instead of a bat. We were then invited to play together. I tried to use their traditional way of lifting the stone up and then bat it and then it was successful! They praised me and showed their smiles at me. In fact, they smiled and laughed all the time. It seemed that no matter what we did with them, they would be so happy. They were just so easily satisfied. This scene could hardly be found in a well-developed city just like Hong Kong.

 

During the whole outreaching activity, we encountered mainly two major difficulties: safety issue and language barrier. For the safety issue, I do not mean any thievery, robbery or fighting in the village. In fact, most of them were so nice to us and always put their smile on their face. The safety issue is referred to their safety awareness.

 

During the demolition and construction, the homeowner just did not take any safety precautions. While the limited tools were still sharp enough make ones bleed, he just did not wear gloves. While there must be a lot of dust hanging in the air, he just did not wear a mask. Although we were kindly given masks and gloves to wear by the Habitat for Humanity India as a means to protect us, the volunteers, we still did not want the local Indians to jeopardize their body. One thing that nearly caused a serious injury was that during the beginning stage of the demolition process, the homeowner wanted to cut the wire which was connected to electricity supply. One of my teammates, Tommy, reminded him not to cut the wire as it could be so dangerous and hurt himself. However, he insisted and cut the wire. At the moment right after he cut the wire, quite a big spark occurred immediately and nearly hurt both the homeowner and Tommy. Although it turned out to be safe for everyone, we just did not feel secure.

 

Other than safety issue, language was definitely a big barrier between the local Indians and us. We could hardly find an Indian who can speak fair English. Most of the time, we really had to rely on Roseline, the coordinator from Habitat for Humanity, to translate for us. Therefore, there was an implication that we could hardly work with the local Indians in reality without Roseline. We were just unable to let them understand what we meant and at the same time understand what they meant. Fortunately, as a whole, we still worked along with each other well and the working progress was satisfactory without any conflicts. We maintained good relationship with each other indeed.

 

During the whole service trip, there are very memorable moments that I can never forget in my life. First of all, it is the playing time with the kids and teenagers in a non-flattened open area near the construction site. This was the moment I stayed the closest to the Indian kids. They showed us how to play a game like baseball and then we played altogether. It was so much fun.

 

After a simulated baseball game, one of our change-makers took out the camera wanted to take some pictures with the kids. When the kids saw the camera, they just could not stop smiling and laughing and posing. They could all get ready to take the picture in a few seconds and all of them got extremely excited about that. When we wanted to resume to work, they just wanted to stop us and asked for taking some more pictures. Of course, we were not determined enough to reject their kind request and finally we took numerous pictures in the air of laughter and the atmosphere was just so peaceful, joyful and comfortable. I have never had that kind of feelings in my life before.

 

Another unforgettable moment was the scene when we were leaving after the closing ceremony from the YMCA center. The kids kept extending their hands hoping for a handshake and we tried to do that for every kid. Nevertheless, it was not possible since the whole area was packed with over two hundred kids. By the time we nearly left the place, many kids kept chasing us and waived their hands at the same time. At that moment, all of us felt so touched and really wanted to stay for longer time there. With the advice from Roseline, we continued to walk away from the YMCA center. The kids kept waiving their hands and said "bye bye". We just told each other among us that we should not look back. We had to leave and should not give them any false hopes that we would go back. Some of us burst into tears but I did not. I really liked the kids so much and wanted to bring them more happiness and positive impacts. However, this was the reality. I understood that there was no never-ending feast. We must not stay with each other forever. We finally left with some deep feelings in our minds. We talked much less than usual during the drive back to our accommodation. It was because we did enjoy the time being there and all of us were reluctant to leave this special place.

 

I have got some insights into their culture after this short service trip. First of all, it was the kids’ behavior that told me that one should be more easily satisfied. In Hong Kong, while many people are pursuing a higher quality of life by purchasing more and more luxury goods and services, it seems that people have forgotten how they became happy when they were just a tiny little kid without any costly materials to play with. During the stay at the village, I could easily see that the kids there were so happy with just a stone and stick. They did not own a pair of sports shoes. They did not have new and attractive shirts to wear. They did not have enough money to buy a real football, baseball or bat. But they did have a higher level of happiness as reflected from the smiles on their faces. After seeing that, I questioned myself why it seemed that it became more and more difficult for me to feel happy. Should I be satisfied more easily? I have been thinking of this question after the trip.

 

Another insight I got was the women self-help center in the village. I was so surprised that women with very limited opportunities to receive education could take the initiative to unite and form an organization with such a great rationale. With limited money and resources, the monthly gathering of money from many members and borrowing from one of the members established an excellent foundation and opportunity for more and more female members to do something they want to do and something otherwise could not have been done. I really admired the intelligence the Indians possessed.

 

From this outreaching activity, I have really learnt a lot of crucial things which are so valuable to my personal growth and development. First and foremost, certainly I have improved my communication skill during the whole programme. From group presentations, not only we have learnt to present the contents clearly and interestingly to the audience, the preparations before the presentation also involved a lot of communication and interaction among the group mates. From numerous meetings, there were many discussions among twelve of us. In the meantime, we definitely had moments with contradictory comments and perspectives with each other. However, these literally did not hurt our relationships with one another at all. We expressed our own ideas clearly and all of us were open to discussion and comments by others. It was because we knew that all of us had the same goal and we all wanted to make the outcomes perfect.

 

Not only communication skill, working as a team is another invaluable thing I have acquired. Twelve of us coming from different majors might be a little bit worrying at the first glance that we might have plenty of conflicts in the meantime. Fortunately and frankly, this thought is assuredly not the case at all. While we are from different majors, we do have different perspectives on various topics but these are just so good sparks that have triggered good ideas and decisions made. If you feel uncomfortable about someone’s ideas, you can express your stance with staunch arguments backed up. I have learnt to work along with others well and that is utterly useful for me in the future when I later enter the job market.

 

Of course, one most direct impact from this programme is reflection. There is one saying that reflection serves as the bridge between experiences and learning. By just experience without the crucial step of reflection, one cannot learn anything out of it. He or she just has experienced something new. For me, I have tried to reflect by linking the whole experience to other areas. For instance, why the living condition there can be that poor and substandard? It could be due to the past history of India. It could be due to the politics by the Indian government. Should one suspect that there are serious corruptions in many governmental plans and actions? Can such a situation be attributed to the culture and religion in India? In India, citizens are categorized into our levels by a caste system: Brahmin, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Sudras. The money and support by the government to people from these four different categories can have huge differences. The gap between the rich and poor is tremendously serious. There are lots of drawbacks under this system. The poor situation in the village we went to can be attributed to such a system and lots of different factors.

 

Sometimes, even you are so desired to make some changes, you really cannot do much to help. For me, I know that I cannot really affect the system. Other than I can wish someday later the situation can be improved, what I could do when I was in India was to try to bring as much happiness as I could to the Indian locals and put my effort into building a more decent home for them. Together with these, the $2800 Hong Kong dollars that each of us donated might act as another means to alleviate the situation a bit.

 

I am so glad that the HKSAR Government has provided Reaching Out Award (ROA) for undergraduates. This certainly serves as an encouragement for us to go outside Hong Kong to explore more other than just academic study in university. For me, it is the first time that I go to India. This is the first time that I can play a role in building a home for the homeless. ROA is definitely an extrinsic motivation for me to go abroad.

 

I come from a lower-to-middle class family. I can say that my parents can actually afford me to go to India for the volunteer service trip. Nonetheless, my parents probably have to sacrifice by working for longer hours in their jobs or cutting a little bit of their regular expenses in order to let me go. And I certainly do not want to increase their burden just because of my desire to go to India to help the homeless. And ROA can be regarded as a panacea for me. This money is so crucial that I no longer need to ask my parents for money in order to go. I can barely go to there with the $10,000 together my savings. Without ROA, I would not have participated in this programme and would have missed all these invaluable experiences.

 

Last but not least, I would like to encourage potential ROA recipients to grab the chances to go outside Hong Kong to explore more and learn more. Academic study is important but it should not entirely dominate your university life. HKBU emphasizes the importance of Whole Person Development and going abroad to see what others have been doing on the other side of the world is assuredly something you should do. As there is a saying in Chinese meaning that it is always better to travel than read books, do not hesitate to join a progamme with support of ROA. Explore more and you will undoubtedly gain more!