Sunday, March 27, 2011

A new phase for Service-Learning

Students in our university have long been engaged in a wide range of community service projects in Hong Kong, mainland China, and overseas.  We are now moving into a new phase.  Starting in 2012, all our students will be required to take a 3-credit subject in service learning as part of their 4-year degree programs. 

Service Learning is essentially volunteer work with defined learning objectives related to their studies.  The learning objectives can be broadly defined, such as enhancing awareness of civic responsibilities. They can also be more specific, such as application of computer skills to assist those on the wrong side of the digital divide. 

The services involved can be direct, such as teaching, training, assisting, etc.  They may also be less direct, such as studying the impact of environmental issues on the community, matters of social justice, etc.  Nevertheless, they must address well-defined needs of the community, in a meaningful and substantial way. 

There must also be well-defined teaching, learning and assessment, to ensure that the learning objectives are achieved. 

Many of us are quite excited about integrating service learning into the regular academic curriculum.  It recognizes service learning as a core learning pedagogy, while giving every student an opportunity to be engaged with community in a meaningful way.  In the mean time, we recognize the challenges in designing proper teaching methods, projects, and assessments; in developing a sufficiently wide-range of subjects; and in motivating a sufficient large group of academic staff to develop these subjects. 

In the coming year, we hope to set up a number of pilot subjects, in different forms and disciplines.  Based on the experiences in running these pilot subjects, we will hopefully be able to start bringing the vision to reality.

Exciting and challenging times ahead indeed. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ngong Ping 360 Mule Trail (2)

The sight of the cable cars crisscrossing rhythmically over the water channel between the airport and Tung Chung was mesmerizing.  I sat there watching them for a long time.  Once in while, a worker would be perched on an open platform hanging rather precariously among the cable cars. 

Glass-bottomed cable cars seemed to be getting more popular - we saw a lot of them passing over our heads. 

Part of the trail went over rather difficult terrain.  Fortunately, wooden stairs have been built over them, adding to the charm of the trail. 

The surfaces of the mountains must be quite fragile.  There were numerous land slides all over the place.  At one point, part of the trail was destroyed by a land slide, and an alternate route had to be built on the opposite side of the valley.

At some points along the trail, one can see seemingly endless layers of mountains in the distance.  You can almost forget you are in Hong Kong. 

All in all, quite an enjoyable way to spend half a day. 

Ngong Ping 360 Mule Trail

It was back in January, when we hiked the 360 Mule Trail.  Officially, it is the Ngong Ping 360 Emergency Rescue Trail, running directly under the 360 cable car route.  It was supposed to have been used by the mules for transportation of materials during construction of the cable car system. 
However, I have also heard that the mules were imported from Canada and were quite expensive, that they were used only for a couple of hours each day, that it was more of a promotional gimmick, ...  I don’t know what to believe.

Anyway, it was an interesting hike. We started from Tung Chung and walked up the trail, up to Ngong Ping, in about 3 hours.  On the way to the head of the trail, we passed by this temple 候王宮.  One of the figurines on the roof was curiously dressed in Western style clothes.

The village was peacefully quiet.  Some of the houses look quite livable, particularly this one with a pond in front of it.

When we started climbing, we could looked back over Tung Chung.  Part of the old village was still there, complete with a few houses on stilts.  But the tiny houses were dwarfed by the immense estates encroaching on the village.

On the other side, we could watch airplanes landing and taking off at the airport, behind the cables carrying the cable cars.  It almost looked like the planes were taking off through the cable cars. 



Saturday, March 19, 2011

Two sides of the Japanese - in the face of disaster

The Japanese people have been universally admired for their behaviour in response to the earthquake and tsunami.  They have been calm and composed; they did not panic.  They try their best to handle the situation and to help each other.  They line up to buy things and to wait for help.  They were particularly courteous to foreigners.  People from many countries admit that they may not be able to behave in such a positive manner should such a disaster strikes their own country. 

The actions of the workers and firefighters trying to contain the nuclear power plant disaster are particularly acclaimed.  They are obviously risking their lives, to prevent greater harm to others.  Some have already died.  Many of them have surely been exposed to tremendous amounts of radiation.  Many will be sick, and will die.  Some of them may have been ordered to stay.  But many seem to have volunteered.  From the point of view of a so-called “greater good”, it can be said to be better for a few to suffer to save many others.  But how can one human being order another to be sacrificed?  Even if that person volunteers, it is very hard for another to accept that offer.  Yet the scenario is playing out right in front of our eyes.  Although the details are sketchy.

It is in difficult situations when the quality of one’s character is evident. Come to think of it, that is exactly what Jesus Christ did.  He offered his life for all of us.  All this is possible because life goes on beyond this world.  Otherwise it will all be futile. 

I also notice that there is no mention of any high level officials, either from the Tokyo Electric Power Company or from the Japanese government, on the front line at the nuclear power plant.  It seems that the people taking the greatest risks are relative lower level staff.  That seems to be an indicator of the situation over there.  There are two sides of the Japanese.  The people on the street, who suffer the most, have been behaving admirably.  But the people in power, who are making the decisions, do not inspire a lot of confidence.  The information released are sketchy.  Help is arriving slowly, if at all.  The leaders do not seem to be very knowledgeable about the situation, and seem unsure what to do.  Suffering people can endure a lot when there is hope.  But for how long can they maintain their composure when they realize that it is a false hope?


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tsunami, Nuclear Power and Humans

The tsunami that hit Japan on 11 March, 2011 was unimaginably terrifying.  In the face of nature’s onslaught, human beings - even those in an advanced society such as Japan - seem pitifully powerless.  We humans did not create earthquakes, nor did we create tsunamis.  We did not bring this on ourselves. 

The developing crisis with the nuclear power plants is a completely different mess.  We did not create nuclear reactions.  But someone did put together highly concentrated uranium, to build nuclear power plants.  Presumably it started from curiosity, followed by a desire to harness the tremendous power within, for the benefit of mankind.  Here we ignore, generously, its evil twin - the nuclear weapons.  In the process, we humans have created a monster which we cannot completely control.  It is a disaster that we did bring on ourselves.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Rahab’s Houses at Svay Pak

We visited Rahab’s House at Svay Pak, a former brothel used as a church and community center to help sex-trafficked girls and other young people in the community.  There are now two of them, Rahab’s House I & II.  Inside House I, there used to be cubicles on both sides of a central aisle, where the girls used to be forced to work.  Most of the cubicles have been removed now. 

A couple of cubicles are left as reminders of what went on in this place before.  Each cubicle is barely big enough for one bed.  Stairs lead up to the “virgin” room.  Virgins are prized because they are believed to be free from sexually-transmitted diseases such as HIV. 

The backdoor was walled up and barred, so that the girls could not escape.  House I is empty now, because Agape International Missions, the organization that set up Rahab’s House, rented a bigger house several doors down the street, to open House II.  They are working out a new plan for House I. 

House II was originally built by a wealthy man who wanted to open the biggest, best brothel in Cambodia.  The notoriety surrounding Svay Pak caused many of the brothels to move to the back streets, and also caused this man to give up the idea.  Now, Rahab’s House II houses a bright and colorful community center, a church, residences for the two pastors, a school, and a clinic.

English and computer skills are practically valuable in Cambodia, among other useful skills such as arts and crafts.  Many of the NGOs we have visited offer these skills one way or the other.  We are hopeful that we may be able to bring our students to help. 

We were told that many of the people living in this area are ethnic Vietnamese, who are stuck here as a legacy of the complicated history between the two countries.  The older generation are considered illegal migrants.  The younger generation were born as Cambodians, but remain ethnically distinct.  Now Muslims are aggressively expanding, as evidenced by the many mosques springing up all over the area, complicating the situation further. 

Rahab’s House has obviously affected the business of the brothels’ owners, many of whom having moved their businesses to the back streets.  When we queried the American pastor’s wife whether this has resulted in hostility towards them, she told us that yes, “just” some death threats. 

The depth and breadth of the man-made suffering of the people is deeply disturbing.  Equally amazing is the love that motivated so many people - Cambodians, Americans, Chinese, Malaysians, ... - to come to help, making tremendous sacrifices.



Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Gecko Capital

Is Phnom Penh the Gecko Capital of the World? If it isn’t, then it probably should be.  I have never seen so many geckos in one place, and so big. 

There was this one, at the regular size of 3 inches, on the outside of my bathroom. It lingered there for more than an hour.  This one was kind of cute.

One the wall of a restaurant, there were 10+ geckos jostling for space, including this one which had lost its tail.  I almost felt bad for the guy.  But it looked kind of ugly. 

Then there was this really ugly monster - a foot long, with sinister red spots.  At first I thought it was just a decoration.  But it was too ugly to be decoration.  One of my friends insisted that it was real.  Then the thing moved. 

When I asked one of the waitresses why she did not seem alarmed, she said she had gotten used to it because it came out every evening.   In fact, she actually had one at home bigger than this. 



Sunday, March 06, 2011

New Life

Three of us went to Cambodia last week, scouting for service learning projects for this summer.  In 2 days we visited so many places that I am still dizzy.  There is Rahab’s House in Svay Pak - a mission to rescue girls trafficked for sex; Pleroma Homes and White Lotus - shelters for trafficked girls; New Life Fellowship - a fantastically energetic local church; Christian International School; Emmanuel Primary School - a school in an old leather factory for children who made their living on the garbage dump; Carmel International School, Asia Human Resource Development Center - aiming to give under-privileged young people a training in English and computers; and House of Rainbow Bridge - a hospital for children with HIV.

The one constant throughout is, of course, the pain and suffering of the people.  Then there is the dedication of the people who are trying to help.  Ultimately, there is the need for a new life.  This is certainly true of the trafficked girls, the orphans, the children with HIV, and the people in poverty.  Many of the girls who were rescued went back to prostitution.  Some of them were compelled by people who refused to let them go.  Some  because of drugs and other addictions.  They truly need tremendous strength to take on the challenges facing them.  How can they escape from their torturers? How can they make a living?  How can they shake the old habits and addictions?  Only a truly life-changing transformation can give them that strength. 

The need is equally true of the people who are trying to help.  Why would people give up their professions and careers to heal and teach people they don’t even know?  Why would someone risk their lives to rescue trafficked girls, under death threats from the pimps and others who benefit from the girls?  Why would someone risk infection and worse to take care of children with HIV, who are given up even by their own families? 

It is rewarding to see churches grow, to see young people learning English and computing skills, to see trafficked girls rescued, to see sick people healed.  But what happens when the girl you rescued goes back to prostitution?  When the girl you rescued dies in your arms?  When a child with HIV in your care dies? When the orphanage you build is shut down?  When the children have to be sent back to bleak conditions?  When the school you are building stalls for whatever reason?  How do you carry on?  Where do you get the strength to carry on?  We met a Chinese lady missionary who have been there for 10 years, and many others from all over the world who have made similar sacrifices.  They have met numerous setbacks but are persevering.  How do they do it?

It requires strength that is not of this world.  Only when your life has been truly transformed.  Only when you are living on strength from God above, who has created this world and everything in it.  When you have been re-born, by the Holy Spirit, into a new life.  In John 3: 3-8, “... no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. ... Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”  All of us need this new life.