Saturday, May 26, 2012

Service-Learning in Cambodia - Act 3

This is the third time that we have taken a group of students to Cambodia for service learning, and the second time as part of a credit-bearing subject.  On the way from the airport, I was reminded of the difficulties the people faced. There are few places in the world where people have to stand like packed, hanging sardines on these “buses”, which run between the countryside and Phnom Penh, ferrying people to work and studies.

We visited a community center run by the local Cambodian YMCA, located in a slum north of the filled-in Boeung Kak Lake, to prepare for the workshops that our students are going to conduct there next week. 

The community center cater particularly to the children on the street.  Many of them are too poor to attend the local government schools.  Government schools are free.  But the teachers are paid poorly, less than 100 US dollars a month.  Many teachers charge each student a daily fee of roughly US 12.5 cents.  Many children cannot afford even that much.  Some children drop out because they don’t have the discipline required to study.  Others have to work to support the family. 

The CYMCA works effectively as a preparatory school for the government schools. They teach the children Khmer and English, feed them lunch whenever they can find the funds, and work with the parents to convince them that it is better for them to send their children to school to get an education.  After one year of such preparatory teaching, many of their children are accepted at government schools. 

Next week, a team of our students is going to teach digital story-telling at the CYMCA community center.  Some students from the Human Resource Development Institute (a local community college) are going to work alongside my students, mainly as translators.  During the past 2 days our advance team has been giving a workshop to the HDRI students to prepare them for the service.  Tomorrow my students are going to arrive from Hong Kong. 

Our whole team is composed of ~90 people overall, including staff and students from our university, the HDRI students, and several volunteer translators from a local church.  The work is just ramping up. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Run to Sai Kung

Yesterday I tried another run into the New Territories.  This time I went through Hung Hom, To Kwa Wan, Prince Edward Rd. E., up Clear Way Bay Road, down Hiram’s Highway and ended in Sai Kung Town.  The run up Clear Water Bay Road was, of course, hard but doable.  I lost my way a bit at the junction of New Clear Water Bay Road and (old) Clear Water Bay Road near the top, and wasted quite a bit of time trying to find my way. 

The total distance was about 20 kilometers (12 miles).  My legs were cramping towards the end.  So I had to walk most of the last 3-4 kilometers, but still managed to get to Sai Kung Town in less than 3 hours.  So it wasn’t too bad.  Next time I hope to do better.  Long distance running is at least partly a matter of mind over body.   The mind won - but decided in the end not to push the body too much. 

I didn’t look back much on the way up Clear Water Bay Road, concentrating on just keeping myself going.  It was interesting to pass by the prison right alongside Clear Water Bay Road on the flat stretch.  Just a few meters separate the busy traffic from those who have lost their freedom because of their problems with the law.  Sometimes a wrong decision, perhaps made when anger causes one to lose one’s head, can have serious and irreversible consequences.  There is a lesson for me there. 

Coming down from the mountain and on the way to Sai Kung, the views of the water were spectacular.  I had expected it, but the sheer number of people enjoying a stroll, getting on a boat, feasting on sea food, or simply lounging around still came as a surprise. 

Getting back to Kowloon was the problem.  I feel sorry for the people in the minibus and the MTR who were within smelling distance from this old guy soaked in sweat. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Service-Learning at University of San Francisco

Our university is making Service Learning a requirement for all undergraduates.  Starting in 2012, with the freshman in the new 4-year programs, each student has to take at least one 3-credit subject in Service Learning.

In April, a small team of us went to visit a number of American universities to find our how Service Learning is done over there.

Our first stop was University of San Francisco.  It is a Catholic university run by the Jesuits, with a strong commitment in Service Learning, which has been a requirement since 2002.

Starting with the president, who is a priest, they have a number of strong advocates in leading positions - the provost, in the School of Management, in the School of Arts and Science, ...

They have developed a wide range of community-based courses about social justice.   They have programs to support faculty development, hiring students as advocates for community engagement, and to develop community partners.  They sent students all over San Francisco, to Nicaragua and Peru.  The president himself and deans went with the students.  There is a pervasive spirit of public service that we hope to one day achieve. 

They also have an interesting branding campaign.  They place provocative advertisements all over San Francisco, which, predictably, generate a lot of interest. 

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Run to Shatin through Kwun Yam Shan (觀音山)

I ran again up Shatin Pass Road (沙田坳道).  Actually, I ran from Hung Hom, through Kowloon Ting and then up Shatin Pass Road until Tsz Wan Shan.  By then, I was so exhausted and the road was so steep I walked the rest of the way up to Shatin Pass.  There were a lot of hikers there.  But few people were so foolish to try to run.  

By the way, Shatin Pass was the main route between Shatin and Kowloon before the opening of Taipo Road.  At least that’s what I was told - I was not yet born at the time.  Many people were collecting the water running from the streams along the road.  They said the water quality was good.  I did drink this kind of stream water a lot when I was a kid.  But I am not so sure about it now.  Perhaps I have gone soft, or wiser. 

But I did not go down the hiking trail from Shatin Pass (沙田坳) to Pok Hong Estate like last time.   Instead, I continued on Shatin Pass Road until I reached the junction with Kwun Ping Road.  The view from up there was even better - I had the whole Kowloon below my feet. 

Then I went down Kwun Ping Road (觀坪路), passed through Kwun Yam Shan Tuen (觀音山村), and came out at the Shatin exit of Tate’s Cairn Tunnel (大老山隧道), near Siu Lek Yuen (小瀝源).  In fact, Kwun Ping Road was right on top of Tate’ Cairn Tunnel. 

Kwun Ping Road was very quiet.  At and near Kwun Yam Shan Tuen, I encountered dogs with bad attitude - twice.  At one point I was almost stuck.  Retreating was not an option.  So I stood my ground.  But I wasn’t sure whether it was safe to proceed.  Fortunately, the dog lost interest after a while.  Neither party was harmed. 

Along the way, I picked up some beautiful acorns - the biggest that I have ever seen in Hong Kong. 

This route is tough, very tough in fact.  Shatin Pass Road is really steep and long.  I doubt whether I will ever be able to run all the way up.  But the worst part was the dogs.  Dogs running around on open but quiet roads, without leashes, muzzles or owners around - bad idea.