If your teen is looking to give back to the community, Support! International Foundation is a great place to start.
Support! International Foundation holds itself to the mission of creating opportunities for youths in Hong Kong by fostering connections for individuals from all backgrounds. The foundation of this Hong Kong-based charity stands by the principle that “young people are tomorrow’s leaders” – and when you look at what these teens have achieved, that statement rings true as ever. We chat to the talented and committed driving forces behind Support! International Foundation, Joseph, the founder, and Alex, the newly appointed president.
Read more: Where to Volunteer in Hong Kong
Joseph, what was your inspiration behind starting Support! International Foundation? Was there a key pivotal moment?
Two main reasons for why I started Support!. The first is because of my father. He and his eight other siblings grew up in Hong Kong’s public housing. Life was incredibly difficult and, all siblings had to work after school to support the family. When it was time for university, his parents simply could not afford to support it. And so, despite this setback, my dad rolled up his sleeves and worked on construction sites for four years. It was only after that, that he earned enough to send himself to university in the UK (the UK was cheaper back then!). This story represents, to me, that education matters and makes a difference, but it is also about finding one’s passions. My dad worked on construction sites, and loved seeing something tangible come out of it. As such, at university, he studied civil engineering and has become one of HK’s most eminent engineers.
The Second reason relates to Occupy Central. Back in 2014, when we were founded, I noticed all the animosity directed to young people. It was sad, and indeed, the future that I envisioned for myself seemed unreachable. The image of young people had become tainted with the radical actions of just a few student leaders. What I hoped then, and still hope now, is that Support! is an NGO that re-brands the role of young people and shows HK young people as a positive, visionary and willing group.
That, perhaps, was the ‘pivotal moment’.
Alex, how did you first get involved with Support! International Foundation?
I actually stumbled across Support! International Foundation on Facebook! I mean, it is the digital era, after all. The factor that piqued my interest was that in the picture posted, it was secondary school students, just like me, that were teaching a class of around 20 students. That was around the time when I became interested in volunteer work and making an impact, but was extremely disheartened to find that few to none volunteering opportunities applied to me – and definitely not any with long-term leadership training! I followed the Support! International Foundation page and vowed to sign up if there were any volunteering opportunities. Lo and behold, just a few days later, Support! International Foundation put out a post recruiting for new Vice Presidents. A little bigger of a role than what I had expected, but you’ve got to go big or go home! So I applied, interviewed and the rest is history!
Can you both share a bit more of the specifics about what Support! International Foundation does on a daily/weekly basis?
Well, Support! International Foundation is an NGO that is completely led by secondary school students, wishing to give back to other youths from low-income backgrounds. Every week, our student volunteers, from various secondary schools, are teaching kids English through STEAM at eight different sites across Hong Kong. Monthly, our organisation hosts youth events to empower youths by providing them with previously inaccessible opportunities. We have an amazing leadership team that works tirelessly to ensure smooth operations, and we seek advice from our seven board members – the only adults in the organization! Our goal has always been to create the leaders of tomorrow and equip them with the skills needed to make a difference. It really is the student team that runs, manages, maintains, leads and creates all of the Foundation’s programmes.
Joseph, how did you go about setting the charity up for success?
We went about setting up Support! by originally gathering a group of interested teenagers from different international schools who were passionate about the cause. We made sure to recruit youths who demonstrated a high degree of interest, and it is through this that we built the bedrock of Support! and success. We also received professional advice from key leaders from different companies to set Support! for success.
But I can’t stress the importance of having a dedicated team that was incredibly idealistic, but also capable. The reason why the charity has been so successful up till this point is because of the brilliant executive team that I get to work with. They have great ideas that they are able to put into action. My role is to ensure that they can do just that: think of something and do it.
Alex, what advice would you give to kids looking to get involved?
Cliché as it seems, I would say: just do it! I think that the key to being successful in volunteering is to be interested in learning new things, and to be willing to work. One of our key values upon which we built the Foundation is to embrace “mutual learning”. The kids that you teach may be learning from you, but you may walk away realising that you yourself have gotten a lesson in compassion and patience. Our volunteers who organise and facilitate our events tell us they’ve learnt a lot about the importance of details.
Volunteering for my community has been a pivotal experience for me, and I hope more students will give it a chance by applying during one of our recruitment seasons!
You say that “teaching others is learning yourself”. Can you each share one particularly meaningful moment you’ve had through Support! International Foundation?
Joseph: At Support! what we do best is create meaningful and impactful programmes. That is where we put all our effort and ideas. The goal is to create programmes and events for others, but at the same time, we learn through the challenges, through the logistical nuances, about how to be better leaders and organisers. It is hard for me to find a specific moment, because it has been a process. Some areas we fall short and it is up to us to patch things up and get it up and running again. Herein lies the value that the organization brings to us; indeed, where we ‘learn ourselves’.
Alex: I think a meaningful moment for me would be during our Launch Party in 2016, where we celebrated becoming a certified NGO, and tax exempt. I was in charge of bringing that event into reality, and it took months of hard work and there were many ups and downs along the way. But when the day came, I looked around the packed room at all the smiling faces of our partners, sponsors and strong supporters throughout the years, gathered together to cheer us on at our launch. I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed at that moment at what we, a group of 111 teen volunteers, had achieved.
How do you go about selecting the schools, and targeting the subjects and topics?
Joseph: We initially decided to partner up with schools I had connections with. We chose English Debate because a lot of our initial founding members were members of their respective schools’ English debating teams, so we built our foundation for our programs on that. But after that, we were introduced within the local school principal network and since then, our programme breadth has grown. We seek out topics that the students are interested in, not just what we want to teach. Our goal is to engage the beneficiaries as closely as possible to ensure that the learning is genuine but also enjoyable. That is our guidepost for picking out subjects and topics!
Alex, what’s a quote you live by?
A quote that I live by, and that’s actually the background wallpaper on my computer, is “work harder than you think you did yesterday”. It’s important that we focus our energy on bettering ourselves and empowering others; that we try, and try again, to reach the goals we have set for ourselves. Often, the biggest obstacle to productivity is our mindset. Some of the people that embody this quote are my senior leadership teammates in Support! International Foundation, who continue to inspire me so much with their drive, and who push each other to focus and hustle.
Joseph, do you have a role model? What about them makes you resonate with them?
I don’t have a ‘big-name’ role model. Of course, I look up to my parents. Both of them work incredibly hard and are passionate about their work. Sometimes, I can even find my mother working at her study in the early hours of the morning. I mentioned my dad’s story so I need not bring that up again. Another role model I have, and I think I speak for Alex too, is our Chairman, Ming Wai Lau. Whilst he has a lot on his plate in terms of responsibilities, he always finds time to offer me counsel and guidance. When things aren’t the way they are supposed to be, he will be frank. But when things go well, he is also very willing to congratulate and to celebrate. And so, that is what I aspire to be with my own team.
How do you balance your time between studying for IGCSEs/IB and running a successful charity?
Alex: At first, it was definitely difficult and it took a while to fall into sync. But the important thing was to prioritise my time effectively and delegate the work amongst my team and myself suitably so that not one of us would be overworked. When you’re truly passionate about something, you’ll make time to work at it, somehow.
Joseph: I think for both of us we minimise distractions. When I get an assessment, I try to get it done as soon as possible. That way, I have time to look into issues facing the organisation, and also to be with friends.
Can you tell us what you’re most proud about with Support! International Foundation?
Alex: I’m very proud of the rapid and positive progress we’ve made in four years. From having only one site, we’ve developed into an organisation impacting the lives of over 1,000 young people annually. I think that being able to make a change, no matter how small, to the lives of these youths and give them experiences they otherwise wouldn’t have received is what we at Support! are most proud about.
Joseph: I’m most proud of the work we have been able to do in general. In the busyness of it all, we never appreciate this, but despite us being students, we’ve organised in ways that have allowed us to reach communities that we normally would not interact with. Indeed, many international school students would never have the opportunity to interact with local school students, but we have managed to bridge that gap. In fact, I am still in touch with many of our students.
How do you hope Support! International Foundation will grow? Where do you see it in 2, 5, 10 years time?
Alex: As the next President, I hope to further develop and innovate upon the educational programmes and events to make an even better learning experience for the kids. Further than that, we have new events and programmes in the pipeline that the team and I are so excited to share with the world!
Joseph: As I am leaving Hong Kong to continue my studies, I personally hope that the span and the reach of the Foundation will continue to expand to different sites. We also hope to involve more youths in the building up of the organization, as well as being able to build up young individuals with talent to give back to society in cities not just limited to Hong Kong but also at our other sites.
In 10 years, I hope Support! will be the premier youth organization in Hong Kong that allows students to experience real leadership opportunities and the challenges in running an NGO. Not many students get that opportunity!