Chi Heng Foundation helps non-academic teenagers in mainland villages learn the skills they need to work their way out of poverty trap.Non-academic Hong Kong teenagers are spoilt for choice when it comes to advice about what to do when they leave school.

Friends, parents, teachers and professionals are usually close at hand to help make the next step, whether it is into the workforce or on to vocational training.

But mainland teenagers from impoverished rural areas, especially those affected by AIDS, have little support in making the same critical decisions, according to Leroy Lam Sheung-lap of the Chi Heng Foundation.

“In rural China, no one gives these children support and advice. They are ignorant of the outside world. So many of them don’t have the concept of going to college and they don’t know how to plan their future,” Lam said.

“We want our kids to possess some skills. Possessing skills is key to them securing a decent living so it is important for them to become skilled workers even if they decide to drop out of school.”

That’s why the foundation is launching a new project – A Future Through Vocational Training – next March.

It will hire three people to compile databases and offer advice to junior high school students to help them make an informed decision onwhether they should pursue vocational training or look for a job.

Founded in 1998, the foundation helps mainland children affected by AIDS – including those who are healthy but have infected parents – mainly by covering their education and living expenses. It sponsors 8,400 young people, of whom 600 are in college and 400 are studying at vocational schools.

It also provides psycho-social support and has a programme to supply medication and living subsidies to those infected with the virus.

Chi Heng is one of this year’s beneficiaries of Operation Santa Claus (OSC), the annual charity appeal organized by the South China Morning Post and RTHK.

Since it started in 1988, OSC has supported more than 100 charities. The money raised this year will support 16 Hong Kong-based charities helping the needy in the city and on the mainland.

Donations will help fund Chi Heng’s new project. Some 330 teenagers are expected to benefit from the scheme in its first year of operation and up to 800 annually in the future.

AIDS-affected teenagers studying at vocational schools will share their educational experience.

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