It is somewhat ironic that while many parents in Hong Kong are adamant that their children should receive the best education, they are oblivious to - if not downright ignorant of - the importance of reading out loud to them.
Reading out loud is the foundation for early literacy. Unfortunately, Hong Kong parents seem to prefer cramming their children's schedule with extracurricular activities than reading to them. A recent survey, commissioned by the Department of Health and carried out by the University of Hong Kong, showed that only 46.2 per cent of children aged 14 or under read with either parent.
It is towards the goal of encouraging reading out loud that New York Life Insurance has decided to support Bring Me A Book Hong Kong, a non-profit group dedicated to providing children with access to age-appropriate, high-quality books and promoting family literacy.
Since rolling out the "Read Together Grow Together" programme earlier this year, New York Life and its employees have supported a range of initiatives, including the installation of a mini-library in Choi Wan Rhenish Integrated Children and Youth Services Centre which serves 1,000 children a year.
The library contains 220 books for children aged 11 or below, and the books can be taken home by families so that they can experience the benefits of family reading. The company also supports workshops for the centre's teachers to learn the skills to read out loud, while employees donated books - with words of encouragement written on pages - and read to children at the centre.
In June, New York Life's staff, business associates and their families helped decorate the reading room in the centre. They painted the ceilings and walls, provided bean bags and cushions, and installed new bookshelves, tables, chairs and toy racks. Last month, more than 120 New York Life staff and business associates spared time during work to wrap more than 600 books.
Last Saturday, the firm sponsored a public awareness event at Diamond Hill where celebrities shared their experiences of reading. Reading sessions and game booths gave families time to have fun.
Diana Kwan, vice-president and head of marketing and product development at New York Life, says the initiatives have attracted an overwhelming response from employees, with the participation rate reaching 80 per cent. "There's been a boost to team spirit and volunteers have gained a sense of accomplishment beyond their work," she says.
Pia Wong, executive director of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong, says New York Life has been creative in its ways to draw support. The partnership is an example of how private and non-profit sectors can work together. "They always think further than what is asked," she says. "Rather than just donating a library, they painted and decorated the reading corner around it. We feel lucky to have found such a natural fit with New York Life."
The "Read Together Grow Together" programme is part of New York Life's global initiative where staff, insurance agents and their families volunteer to support local young people.
New York Life staff in other parts of Asia also support local child-related initiatives by holding fund-raising events and organising literacy projects.
Last year, New York Life Hong Kong organised a design competition for students to demonstrate their creativity and raise funds for Yan Oi Tong Chong Sok Un Cancer Fund.