In the Japanese anime television series My Daddy Long Legs, little orphan Judy often writes letters to her uncle to share her feelings and hardships. Inspired by this concept, the Evangelical Lutheran Church Social Service of Hong Kong has collaborated with City University of Hong Kong (CityU) students for the "Uncle Long Leg" letter counselling project, which keeps them in touch with primary school students.
Cho Wing-chi, a linguistics and language technology sophomore, was fascinated by the idea. "I love the My Daddy Long Legs cartoon series. I think it would be fun to join an activity like that," Cho says.
Each volunteer exchanges letters with two to three primary school students. The children can write to their "Uncle Long Leg" whenever they want to and are encouraged to share whatever goes on in their lives. They may never meet their mentors but the bond that can develop is special.
"From the letters, I can tell the children trust us a lot. Sometimes their parents and teachers might not understand them so they write to their Uncle Long Leg to express their feelings," Cho says. "I have been trained to write in an appropriate manner to children. I try to think from their point of view and encourage them as a friend."
Uncle Long Leg is part of the City-Youth Empowerment Project initiated by Dr Elaine Au, associate professor of the Department of Applied Social Studies at CityU.
The programme started in 2005 with 200 volunteers. Now there are 500 volunteers participating in 16 service projects. The scheme serves a wide range of people, including children, the elderly, ethnic minorities and the handicapped.
"We want to ensure that our students are able to help and gain something [from it]. I try to incorporate academic elements into the projects. I encourage students to do some soul-searching and research on social problems," Au says.
Wong Wing-hung, a year two human resources management student, said he was able to broaden his social network by helping physically and mentally disabled teenagers through the project.
"Every week, I go to the Lam Tin Red Cross Residential School to tutor disabled youth. I learned that I have to be extra patient when talking to disabled people," Wong says.
One time, he took some of them to a shopping mall. It turned out to be a memorable experience.
"They were excited to see ordinary things such as fast food restaurants and shops selling CDs. Because of their condition, they seldom leave home. I am glad to be of help. I wish I could take them out more often," Wong says. "Many people look down on the disabled but they are actually dedicated individuals who want to contribute to society."
Aster Fung Yuen-yee, a year two student in policy study and administration, meets with South Asian children every week to teach them Cantonese.
"I also act as their mentor. We go out for dinner and play bowling. I help prepare them for university," she says.
Au says the young beneficiaries also get to visit the CityU campus which inspires them to work towards getting a university education.