Alumni Linkage — OU People

Alumni Communication & Support Alumni Linkage Past Issues January 2020 Issue Alumni Linkage — OU People

As an experienced registered social worker, Stephen Ma Hok-chun had been in youth employment guidance and training for many years before he considered a career break in 2008. While he was thinking about what to do next, a catastrophic earthquake rattled Wenchuan County, Sichuan, shaking the world. Stephen thus decided to travel to the scene to provide psychological support for the victims as a voluntary social worker.

Recovering from tragedy, rethinking life

When Stephen arrived, tens of thousands of earthquake survivors who had lost their loved ones packed the Jiuzhou Gymnasium in Mianyang, the largest temporary settlement site. 'Many of them didn't know how to relieve stress,' said Stephen. 'They hadn't even had a good cry two or three weeks after the disaster.' To help the survivors deal with their pain and recover from the tragedy, Stephen provided them with counselling intervention and held memorial services for the departed.

After several trips to Wenchuan, Stephen compiled the insights he had gained into a teaching kit titled Life Walker: Life and Death Education, which discusses life in relation to death. 'We don't know when our lives will end, so we must cherish every moment,' he explained. As he was studying for the OUHK Master of Education when he wrote the kit, he also integrated what he learnt in class into the material. 'I had enrolled in the programme to improve my teaching work. Therefore when I set about writing the teaching kit, I drew on concepts taught in the courses, including constructivism and narrative therapy, to give it a more solid theoretical basis.' His teaching kit has become a popular reference material for life and death education in primary and secondary schools.

Life education and helping others help themselves

After his time in Wenchuan, Stephen set up various organizations with like-minded friends to carry forward his ideas. For example, he established a life education centre, Nature's Embrace, to teach young people about life through outdoor adventures. After the 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Nepal in 2015, he and his friends launched a fundraising campaign to help build temporary homes for the Dalits — neglected, impoverished low-caste communities — living in the mountains. 'Later, the campaign evolved into a project to help the victims build permanent homes,' Stephen said. 'To encourage them to help themselves, the beneficiaries were required to assist another family to build a house and give back part of the government's financial aid.' The project was a great success, exceeding its original targets.

Emotion management as the basis of innovative education

The experiences of helping disaster survivors cope with trauma have given Stephen a better understanding of stress and emotion management. Refusing to be bound by conventions, he has stepped into the role of full-time father in recent years. He and his wife, a social worker herself, have explored two innovative approaches to early childhood education: co-learning and mindfulness. 'The concept of mindfulness for kids', explained Stephen, 'involves guiding children aged 0 to 3 to perceive and calmly face their emotions.' Instead of sending their daughter to pre-nursery classes or playgroups, the couple came up with an inter-family 'co-learning' approach from their daily parenting experiences. 'Over time, we brought together a group of parents who shared our views, with whom we developed parenting ideas through collective family activities.' The couple also held community workshops to promote their philosophy, which gradually gained recognition. Recently, the Mindfulness for Kids platform founded by Stephen has received a subsidy, enabling workshops to be held regularly to arouse more attention to children's emotion management.