Since 2018, Plan International has partnered with the Alliance for Children Development Rights and HKSKH Lady Maclehose Centre to launch the community-based child participatory project – “Voices of Children”. This project has been carried out in North, Kwai Tsing, Yau Tsim Mong, and Sham Shui Po districts, aiming to motivate children to participate in social development by exploring community issues around them through a series of workshops and site visits.
18 “Junior Investigators” were recruited from Shek Lei and Kwai Fong districts to join Project Phase II. Through exploring and researching the social issues that matter to them and with professional guidance, they came up with practical solutions that foster community development while fulfilling children’s right to participation. During the two years, we are grateful to witness the Junior Investigators’ growing interest in their neighborhoods and their abilities to overcome difficulties. Even more encouraging is that they were able to make contributions to society with their insights and decision-making skills under the adult’s assistance and instructions.
Once a Passive Boy Now Ready to Be a Leader
So serious was the COVID-19 pandemic during Project Phase II that all activities had to be conducted online. Ming Hin, a passive and shy boy, could not attend the activities as often as other participants due to financial issues. It was difficult for other Junior Investigators to get to know Ming Hin, even after physical events were resumed, he seemed detached and was unwilling to shoulder responsibilities.
However, as the staff got closer contact with him, Ming Hin began to open up. He shared, “I wanted to participate in the activities but at the same time I am afraid that I would be blamed by other teammates.” His passiveness was largely due to the fear of failure and getting scolded by others. As time passed, Ming Hin gradually improved and even showed enthusiasm for the projects he was interested in. During the Design for Ideal Community Exhibition cum Press Launch, Ming Hin was invited to assist guests with VR equipment. Not only did he agree to offer help, but he also actively facilitated and guided the guests on utilising the virtual map. He also took the responsibility to maintain the booth’s order and distribute VR glasses, showing commitment to his role and duties.
Ming Hin used to say “I do not know. I cannot do it” a lot. However, with the encouragement and companionship from the staff and other Junior Investigators, he no longer muddled along. Surprisingly,, he even took up the role of a leader, looking after teammates and sharing research findings on specific social issues. Now, he does not care so much about how others think of him and leads his team for excellence. Ming Hin’s transformation from sloppy to responsible is amazing. He is ready for breakthroughs and challenges ahead.
Learn about Living Environment from Different Perspectives Improve and Contribute to the Community
As mentioned in the 2019 Policy Address, Shek Yam Lei Muk Road Park will undergo renovation but there was no public consultation for it. Children, as one of the stakeholders in the society and the major users of the park, what would be their thoughts on the planning? 18 Junior Investigators from Kwai Tsing district have chosen “Children’s Opinions on Shek Yam Lei Muk Road Park” as one of the three most concerned social issues for investigation. Through in-depth research, site visits and distributing questionnaires, they analysed how the park could be improved from their perspectives and provided feasible solutions.
According to the questionnaire, the main problems of the park include long queues (can be as long as 20 minutes wait) for swings as this is the only park with this facility in the neighborhood and the multi-purpose grassland is not open to the public. The Junior Investigators suggested setting up more swing sets to fulfill the need, providing extra resting places for caregivers; and re-designing the grassland as a community farm, etc,. The District Councilor had expressed concerns about the renovation of Shek Yam Lei Muk Road Park and persuaded the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) to discuss it with the Junior Investigators. In the end, LCSD accepted the children’s opinions on revoating Shek Yam Road Rest Garden No. 3, and the renovation works were completed.
After renovating Shek Yam Road Rest Garden No. 3, the number of swings has increased to shorten the waiting time. The enlarged open area allowed children and caregivers to have spacious playing and rest spaces.
Children’s Eyesight Deteriorated under COVID-19 Pandemic Resolved Misunderstandings between Mother and Children
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, students could only stay at home and study. “The effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Children” was another research topic. The Junior Investigators discovered that the eyesight of children living in sub-divided flats often got worse due to prolonged hours of studying with electronic devices in dim surroundings. Even worse, the Student Health Service had been suspended by the Government in response to the pandemic. Myopia and astigmatism progression in schoolchildren has accelerated after physical classes were resumed. Therefore, the Junior Investigators suggested that the Government should provide children in need with optical check-ups and suitable glasses. With immediate response, Plan International worked with PolyVision to carry out comprehensive eye examinations and assist those children to receive proper equipment. The parents also attended eye health seminars to enhance their knowledge. Half a year has passed and over 140 children and 80 families have benefitted. By learning more about optical health, the parents help protect their children’s eyesight in the long term.
Shan lives with her children in a sub-divided flat and can only apply for new glasses for her daughter once every two years under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme. Originally, Shan was troubled as her daughter’s glasses were broken due to an accident. Fortunately, with the PolyVision project, her daughter could get a new pair within a short time. Shan was also astonished to discover that her son is far-sighted and realised those “stupid” mistakes he made were not due to carelessness. She felt guilty as she “blamed her son wrongly not knowing that his eyesight was bad”. The eye examination not only responds to the urgent need for children’s optical protection but also gives parents a chance to learn more about eye health and understand the difficulties faced by their children.
Empower Children to Voice out and Make Improvements for Themselves and Community
“Voices of Children” Project empowers children to explore and participate in social issues. As participants learn more about themselves, they could showcase their talents to bring about community changes. With Project Phase II ended, Phase III began in June 2023. Plan International continues partnering with local organisations to launch community-based child participatory projects. Hope you will stay tuned for the latest developments.