Written by Carbo Leung //

What is your fear? Why do we fear other people?

Fear comes from the unknown. Our lack of understanding causes a lot of biases and prejudice towards people we barely know. This is not only the case in underdeveloped countries, but also in well-educated places like Hong Kong. It is not uncommon to see various labels in Hong Kong. Media portrayal has formed a negative impression on the general public. We blame people with mental disorders for harming the community; we attribute violence to the ethnic minorities; we associate children with special needs with incapability. But do we really know these people? Where do we get these answers? The gap between ‘them’ and ‘us’ has been filled by doubts and misunderstanding. This in turn creates exclusion and segregation. Is this what we want in our society?

I had little awareness of these issues before I started to work in TREATS, a non-government organization in Hong Kong which strives to promote inclusion in society. TREATS believes that every human being is born to be equal and every child has the right to participate in society. Sadly, this is not what we are seeing in today’s society. Students with special needs are usually put into typical schools in the name of inclusive education. They are often, however, requested to perform as well as other typical students without appropriate support. Other students in class may not receive education on how to get along with students with special needs, and bullying starts to appear. In this atmosphere, the so-called inclusive education is not inclusive at all. TREATS seeks to increase awareness and understanding so that everyone, regardless of abilities and background, can enjoy equal rights in society.

Direct and personal interaction is a very effective way to fight against misunderstanding. As an employee of TREATS, I work closely with both typical and special schools. We mainly target underprivileged children aged from 3 to 18. This includes children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, mental challenge, and physical challenges, as well as children from ethnic minorities.  My job is to plan experiential programs for participants so that they have a chance to get along with people with different abilities. For example, typical and special needs students may participate in a day camp together where they will be split into small groups to work on some team-building tasks. During the collaboration, typical students get to know who special needs students really are, and learn how to communicate with them. More often than not after the programme students, especially those who had never met people with autism or mental challenge before, reveal that they were surprised how friendly and passionate the special needs students were, because they thought they would be uncontrollable and make trouble all the time. They even found that they actually shared some interests. This experience shapes their attitude towards students with special needs.

Equal participation is what we treasure most in TREATS programmes. Unlike those in voluntary services, students at TREATS are not volunteers coming to serve the underprivileged. Instead, children in the two groups spend time together and enjoy the interaction. The learning is two-way: special needs students get to have more chances to connect with the community and typical students learn more about special needs and their respective attitudes towards different people. In fact, sometimes it is typical students who lack the proper social skills. It is interesting to see that exploring others can be another way of exploring oneself.

I found my job meaningful because I believe the type of person a child is early on will shape the kind of person he is later in life. He can be any of the successful figures as we see now in society. Inclusion is an attitude. If we can sow the seed earlier in children’s life, we can make a bigger change later on. As our society is rapidly growing, we are building more skyscrapers in our community but also more walls in our relationships. We put labels on people and stay away from those who seem a bit different from us, forgetting that we all are actually a part of this place. The work of TREATS helps dissolve the unnecessary walls and restore the humanity. We then will not fear others when we find the connections between them and us.

//

Carbo Leung is a fresh graduate from Hong Kong. He is now in his first year of work at TREATS, a non-government organization in Hong Kong which aims to promote inclusion in society. He loves children and youth work and enjoys using experiential means to facilitate positive changes.

**article was originally titled “The Invisible Wall”

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