MU Connect issue 5 (page 06 to 07)

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Basketball enthusiast rejuvenates youngsters with game-changing community service

Having suffered from asthma as a child, Leung Kwok-shing's family have always expected him to do more exercise to build up his strength. It happened that, when he was in Primary 5, Kwok-shing was recruited by his school's basketball team because of his tall stature. That was when he formed an indissoluble bond with basketball, which paved the way for him to serve the community in his own distinctive way.

A positive outlook on life

Kwok-shing shares how his physical education teacher encouraged him to build a basketball team when he entered Secondary 1, as the school did not have one. With a smile, he narrates, 'I just recruited the 12 tallest boys in my year to build the school team. But I never expected to win the New Territories championship in just one year.'

'My PE teacher was my first mentor in life. He was not familiar with basketball, but he made great efforts to support us. When I was in Secondary 3, he helped me apply for the youth team, and I became an A1 Division player the following year and later a member of the Hong Kong team,' says the basketball lover. While his teacher’s selfless dedication has taught him to be grateful, his basketball adventure of over a decade has given him self-confidence and a positive outlook on life. Borrowing a metaphor, he says, 'Pass the ball and give an assist to your teammate to score a basket. I think life is about sharing.'

Becoming a volunteer basketball coach

After bringing the curtain down on his glittering basketball journey in 2007, Kwok-shing worked as a part-time coach for the clubs and the Hong Kong Team. At the same time, he was also a full-time primary school teacher. 'Back then, I arranged for a student who came from a children's home to play basketball with the school team's big sisters, and I saw great improvement in her mood swings and misbehaviour. The children’s home then invited me to teach other kids there basketball every Sunday. That was how I started my volunteer work,' he recalls.

In 2012, Kwok-shing founded the non-profit charity organisation Hoops for Hope Basketball Asia (Hoops for Hope). Together with a group of like-minded physical education teachers and tertiary students, they provided free basketball training to children and teenagers from grassroots families in Tin Shui Wai, and gradually expanded the service to other districts.

Regarding the origins of his endeavour, the enthusiast reckons that the volunteer work at the children's home made him realise that everyone, rich or poor, should have the opportunity to learn and enjoy sports. This was why he shared the idea of setting up a voluntary organisation with a friend back then. 'Unexpectedly, he drove me to Tin Shui Wai that very night to check out where the at-risk youths gathered and where there were suitable basketball courts.'

Sowing seeds of hope

Such a walk-the-talk attitude has had a profound impact on Kwok-shing. The administrative experience and connections of this friend — a senior executive at a TV station — were also of great help to him in his subsequent application for company registration, setting up the organisational structure, administrative management and promotion to the media. Kwok-shing regards the well-wisher as another mentor in life. With him pulling the strings, Hoops for Hope received sponsorship from commercial and charitable organisations to support them in organising activities such as training volunteer basketball coaches, mentorship programmes and visiting singleton elderly.

'The Chinese name of the organisation symbolises seeds sprouting in the heart of the participants, and their hopes for life,' Kwok-shing explains. He elaborates that most of the participants they serve come from underprivileged families — some students in Primary 3 or 4 have never even been to a cinema or taken the West Rail. He then recalls an unforgettable scene at one event. 'When parents were picking up their children after an activity, I saw a disabled father hiding behind a pillar. He was afraid others would make fun of his son because of his own disability,' says the aspirant. 'It was heartbreaking for me. We need to double our efforts to build confidence and happiness in our children.'

Sprouting everywhere

Hoops for Hope has a tradition of holding four-on-four basketball plays every year. The rules of their games stipulate that each team must have at least one female player who scores higher points than a male teammate, encouraging boys to pass the ball to girls and thereby instilling the concept of sharing and inclusiveness.

Besides the basketball-related activities held by the organisation, Kwok-shing is also involved in various forms of volunteer training. 'For a few years, I taught basketball at a sports centre specially arranged for young night drifters by the government, which was open from midnight to early morning, and I slowly saw changes in the young people,' says the coach. 'Some of them have since given up smoking, some returned to school and work, and some even applied for jobs in the disciplinary forces.'

Over the years, the organisation's services have produced promising results. 'Playing basketball has made many children become active and gregarious, and has also enhanced their self-confidence and sense of responsibility. Some of them even became our volunteers when they grew up,' says Kwok-shing. Among the voluntary services is the Light Up Hope project in which basketballers, who are typically taller, replace light bulbs for the elderly. The project has received great support and response. At the same time, other activities have rewarded volunteers in surprising ways. One example is a project where volunteers took family portraits for low-income households.  The experience brought some volunteers closer to their own previously estranged family members.

Awards recognising hard work

Kwok-shing's dedicated service has garnered many accolades over the years. He was named one of Hong Kong's Ten Outstanding Young Persons in 2015, and bagged the Hong Kong Volunteer Award in 2017 and the Red Cross's Hong Kong Humanity Award in 2021. These honours have enabled him to meet more like-minded friends and outstanding members from different sectors. Such connections have not only broadened his horizons, but have also given Hoops for Hope more opportunities of collaboration and gaining sponsorship.

Kwok-shing recollects that getting Hoops for Hope off the ground was not easy. 'The biggest difficulty was administrative management. With an introverted personality since childhood, I also had to learn to communicate with others.' Studying the Bachelor of General Studies at the University has filled these gaps for him. Courses such as accounting, management and PR writing helped to meet his needs in serving the community. He is currently preparing to return to his alma mater to enrol in the Doctor of Education programme.