Deprived youth deserve life-changing program to break curse of poverty

To perfect a society, Aristotle said that a country and its government must make available conditions and means for its citizens to live a good life, and to relieve injustice caused by poverty. 

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government recently put forth a youth poverty-alleviation program that is to be implemented in October this year. The purpose of the program is to reduce intergenerational poverty by providing the younger generation — junior secondary school students —  with the necessary tools and means to gain the knowledge and skills to better their chances of good living and a brighter future. 

This program is designed for a total of 2,000 secondary schoolchildren, as the first cohort for a one-year period of learning support, from families living in subdivided flats. Should there be more than 2,000 applicants in the initial phase of the program, priority will be given to older teenagers studying in secondary 3 or Form 3. 

This program involves pairing every successful applicant (student) with a mentor. Each mentor will share his or her personal life experiences and help the student mentee in planning their development goals. Activities such as visits to Hong Kong Science Park, Cyberport, West Kowloon Cultural District, as well as visits to government offices and departments, will be arranged to widen the students’ horizons and to foster closer bonds between the mentors and mentees. Other activities such as “job shadowing” and company visits will also become part of the program. 

A total of HK$10,000 ($1,274) will be given to each successful student and this payment will be given out in two installments. First, HK$5,000 will be given to the students at the start of the program for them to use under the guidance of their mentors, and the remaining HK$5,000 will be granted upon completion of the program. 

The duration of this program is one year. 

As a member of the Poverty Commission, the previous Child Development Fund (CDF) and a mentor of the CDF mentorship program, I applaud and support whole-heartedly this new initiative from the government. According to the “Hong Kong Poverty Report 2020”, there are more than 270,000 poor children under the age of 18 living in Hong Kong, accounting for about a quarter of the child population. Given such a figure, a simple comparison will show that the quota of 2,000 mentees is disproportionately small. What is more, the HK$10,000 grant is considered low, making it difficult for the mentees to formulate longer-term development and financial plans. Despite these criticisms, the direction the program is heading to is certainly right.

This youth poverty-alleviation program is complementary to the existing Child Development Fund programs that are for young children and teenagers. 

As many such programs involving cash payouts or rewards require applicants to contribute some money themselves, it is good that the government is asking for no compulsory financial contribution to be eligible for the HK$10,000 monetary reward. Applicants need only fulfill the criteria of age and living conditions, and they must successfully complete the program. 

The engagement of members of the corporate class to recommend and nominate mentors, as well as opportunities for job shadowing, will allow our youth to experience real-life work situations and challenges. This will help our youths to gain an understanding of what skills or knowledge they need to acquire for their future career development. 

Structured activities to enable mentors and mentees to bond and share personal experiences will serve to encourage our less-privileged youths. In the process, I hope that good values and ethics such as perseverance, integrity, respect and compassion will also be passed on to the mentees. 

While the programs from the CDF are limited to certain districts, this new program from the government is citywide, open to all youths who can meet the criteria. Together, all these programs complement each other to provide the means for our less-privileged younger generation to improve their future lives and bridge the wealth gap. 

These programs are the first step to start the work of alleviating intergenerational poverty and moving toward the building of a harmonious society. Without a doubt, it is a step in the right direction.

The author, a radiologist, is a co-founder of the Hong Kong Coalition and a council member of the Chinese Young Entrepreneurs Association.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.