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Pia Warburton

How many years how you been volunteering at Christian Action through HandsOn Hong Kong?
I have been volunteering for almost 4 years now, with Christian Action, helping support and on occasion, lead the homework group for refugee and asylum seeking children. They have a Centre for Refugees based in Chungking Mansions and is the only community centre for refugees in HK.  Almost every Saturday morning during term time, volunteers meet the children from the homework group, and are paired with a child to help guide them through their week's homework. On good days, the ratio can be 1:1 which is ideal. The kids range from about 4 - 16 yrs old. But it's more than just homework support.

I stumbled upon Hands On HK in 2014, when I was looking for volunteer opportunities that would allow me to work with children in need. I found it to be a great starting point and hub for learning about various volunteering opportunities in this city -  and there are plenty! - some that you may not have ever heard of (such as soap recycling).

What has been the most powerful, rewarding or impactful experience during your volunteering?
There is the academic side - those precious light bulb moments that you can almost see on their faces, when they finally understand something that you've been attempting to break down for them. I've had some experience tutoring before and I love children, so you're challenged to get creative and figure out different ways to explain something that may seem so straight forward to you and yet so foreign to them- like telling the time on an analog clock! 

As you get to know the kids - their individuality and colourful personalities, you do harbour an affection for them. You hope that what little you do to help them - only 2 hours a week - will have an impact on their schoolwork and dare I say life. The bonus in all of this is being thanked. That's not what you're out to get, but when it happens you get that warm fuzzy feeling inside! 

Have you been able to see the development or progress of any particular students, that you wouldn't mind telling us about?
I still remember one girl, who I had been teaching to spell last year - we were struggling with her focus and frustration with spelling some basic words. We did lots of exercises together.  She was a 7 year old girl with great potential, but for various reasons never had a solid foundation for reading and writing. One day, I gave her a blank notebook, and asked her to write a couple sentences - anything would do.  So she chose to write: you are a good teacher and thank you pia thank you very much miss pia  (I did have to help her with a couple of the words!). It was a very touching moment. In my mind, I always question whether I've done enough to help, but seeing her write that has given me a memory that will stay with me for a long time. It's also given me the push to continue to do what I do on Saturday mornings. 

I haven't seen her this year unfortunately, and I don't know where she is. But I do hope she is safe and well and still practicing her reading and spelling. You never know how long these children and their families can stay in Hong Kong and come to the homework classes - it can range from a few weeks to a few years. So you want to make the most of their time. I am so grateful to know them and be able to make at the least a small impact on their lives - whether it be helping them to spell 'thank you' or count to 150!  They have made a far greater impact on mine. 

Another important aspect of the homework group is not just helping them with arithmetic, reading, dictation etc. but also in building their confidence. The school environment can be quite challenging with a lot of homework given and a lot of the time, not enough individual attention can be given to them at school.  So they deserve and need adults  to work through school issues with them patiently as well as build on their strengths. Sometimes all they need is some words of encouragement and for them to believe in their abilities to tackle something challenging to them.

Be the Change. Volunteer.