Students from mainstream and special schools are getting the rare chance to learn about each other's worlds, thanks to a community programme initiated by Treats, a non-profit group, and global delivery firm FedEx Express.
Launched last month, "Journey to Integration 2011" involves 120 students and 20 FedEx volunteers. It entails training camps on how to interact with children with special needs, visits to the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital at Hong Kong International Airport and workshops in preparation for a carnival in March that will feature an array of public performances.
FedEx provides funding for the project, arranges visits to the company's facilities and encourages employees to plan and take part in activities as well as offer guidance to students.
Anthony Leung Ming-tim, managing director of FedEx Express Hong Kong and Macau, says the initiative provides an opportunity for staff and young people to learn more about students with different abilities.
"They realised that students with special needs are as interested in the world as they are," he says. "[The latter] showed a lot of interest when visiting our Chek Lap Kok facility. They studied the operation of the company and asked very relevant questions."
Youngsters are expected to develop a more realistic understanding of individuals with special needs, according to Kris Tong Sung-man, director of Treats, which was founded in 1979 to promote diversity and integration in Hong Kong.
Treats works with children, youths and families - including those with learning disabilities and mental, physical, emotional and social challenges - and children from single-parent families, new arrivals and ethnic minorities.
"The problem of a lack of understanding cannot be alleviated through just one or two encounters," Tong says.
"Through a series of activities, students will experience first hand what it is like to interact with people with special needs. The activities are designed to put all participants on an equal footing."
Lau Wing-yin and Wong Wan-hei, two 15-year-olds attending CNEC Christian College in Kwai Chung, say their perception of people with special needs has changed.
"One of the students we came to know is autistic, but he is capable of taking care of himself and is smart and communicative," says Wong.
Lau, meanwhile, has learned the importance of being patient to give people a chance to prove themselves.
Steven Ying Shi-ching, operations manager at FedEx Express Hong Kong, says he previously thought people with special needs would be rather passive.
"I found they are very proactive and that we are wrong to think they need a lot of special attention," he says.
Mission and vision
Promote the integration of people with different abilities
Enhance volunteers' appreciation of a diverse society
Promote the importance of an integrated and inclusive society