Civil servants keen to lend a helping hand

Article from the Hong Kong’s Information Services Department on July 16, 2006

Category: Volunteering

Secret Angle Article Photo

Dedicated volunteers: (from left) Paul Lau, Charles Lau, Wilson Lee and Anna Lee pitch in to help their communities.

Charles Lau spends much of his free time with the younger generation. He takes groups of teens on camping trips for outdoor survival training. He also welcomes two girls in foster care into his home to spend time with his family.

The medical social worker with the Social Welfare Department is a keen member of the Staff Volunteer Team, and joined its “Angel Action” programme four years ago. It encourages members and their families to invite kids in foster care to join in their family activities.

“I want to help people more outside my working hours,” Mr Lau said.

The girls are the same age as his 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son. He always felt his own children were lucky to have a supportive family, and wanted them to know not everyone is as fortunate.

Instead of showering the girls with gifts, Mr Lau and his family try to create a home-like environment for them. “The kids are most happy when my wife makes them snacks. They always ask when we are going to have another visit.”

According to Mr Lau, the interaction between his family members and the girls enriches all their lives. The girls get warmth and a taste of the family life they deserve while he gets two more family members.

“We took them to visit our friends and relatives at Chinese New Year. We watch them grow and feel like a family,” Mr Lau noted.

His son Paul feels the experience teaches him more than he would learn from everyday life. “I learned that material satisfaction does not equal happiness. They can get all the things they need in foster homes but what they really want is family life,” he said.

8,000 civil servants join 60 volunteer teams
The Social Welfare Department’s Staff Volunteer Team was set up under the Civil Service Volunteer Work Program, which had nearly 8,000 civil-servant volunteers in 60 teams at the end of 2005. Last year, they contributed more than 120,000 hours of service to the community.

Other volunteer teams, like the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) Volunteer Team, use their expertise to help the community.

This team helps non-governmental organisations such as CyberSenior with technical support for their websites. CyberSenior aims to promote the use of information technology for the elderly. The OGCIO team helped them upload their members’ blogs onto the web.

The team is also joining hands with the Hans Andersen Club, which specialises in child and youth services, to offer computer classes for new immigrant children and their parents.

Departments join hands to help
Team member Wilson Lee said the OCGIO Volunteer Team had worked with 10 other teams from different departments such as the Customs & Excise Department and Water Supplies Department. They can easily recruit volunteers from other departments through e-mail whenever they are need outside help.

His teammate Anna Lee says joining hands is more effective as potential volunteers have more choice of services that interest them.

“It is easier for us to organise events because we can recruit members from outside our department,” she said.

Since the implement of the five-day week in Government departments, Ms Lee said she can now have a more balanced allocation of time between volunteer work and family life.

“I can now do volunteer work on Saturdays and spend some time with my family on Sundays,” she said.

Lucky knots tie people together
The OGCIO Volunteer Team is now participating in the Lucky Knot Campaign 2006 organised by the Steering Committee on Promotion of Volunteer Service. Volunteers learn how to make ‘lucky knots’ and then teach others to do so.

The knots are given out on visits to elderly homes or given to anyone in need as a blessing. Ms Lee joined the campaign last year and had a special experience.

“There’s an old lady who came to the community centre to learn knot-tying every time there was a class,” Ms Lee said. “We later found out she lives alone and just wanted someone to talk to. She seemed happy when we spoke with her.”

Kenneth Tsang, the Social Work Officer of the Central Office for Volunteer Service, hoped that civil servants could serve as role models to promote volunteer work in the community.

“They may bring the idea of voluntary service to their neighbourhood by, for example, setting up a local volunteer team. Our work is just to plant a seed and hope it will eventually flourish.”