Breaking Through to TEENs

The Beginnings of T.E.E.N.

In 2009, the board of The Women’s Foundation decided to develop a new mentoring programme for Hong Kong’s teens. Rita Ching, Associate Director of The Women’s Foundation, first started working on the T.E.E.N. programme as a volunteer during the summer of 2009 when she ran several focus groups to determine which teens would be best served by a programme that focused on developing future leaders with a critical awareness of gender issues.

Ching ran focus groups for students from international schools, less-privileged Form 1 students, Form 4 students struggling with various challenges as well as top Form 2 and 3 local students. “We wanted to select students who had the ability to get the most out of the programme” Ching explained. That ruled out the most-privileged students who were already exposed to a relatively rich array of opportunities for selfdevelopment.

It also ruled out struggling Form 4 students who were too overwhelmed and challenged to commit to T.E.E.N.’s year-long calendar of activities. In the end, Ching chose to work with “somewhat deprived” Form 2-going on-Form 3 students, who were lacking in certain fundamental resources such as financial or parental support. In other words, Ching was looking for students who, given exposure and opportunities, would be motivated enough to take advantage of them. 

“The Form 1 students we talked to didn’t have any idea of what a leader is. They didn’t really have any role models,” Ching recalled. “A lot of teens can’t communicate with their parents, who only know the traditional way of caring for children, which the teens perceive as controlling.”

After Ching joined TWF full-time in October 2009, she set to work designing a big brother and sister component for the programme that would help narrow the communication gap between the programme trainers and the T.E.E.N. participants and allow the teens to cultivate a meaningful relationship with a team of university students who would serve as role models, for them. The programme would also create space and opportunities where the teens would feel safe exploring a wide range of activities and experiences to help develop their self-esteem, and increase their awareness about gender issues. Finally, all programme participants would be required to work on a community project which would allow them to share with their peers what they had learnt from the programme.

“While lectures and talks can be helpful and educational, we learned from the focus groups that teens enjoy more interactive activities,” Ching said. So from the orientation day and summer camp to photography and film-making workshops to visits to the Stock Exchange, all the activities over the course of the year were designed to be interactive and engaging, and we made sure that our master trainer, Po Leung Kuk, shared our enthusiasm for this approach.