Lee Tsz-ying, now a graduate of Social Work, discovered in her travels to Ying De with the group that discrimination comes in many guises.
"After a ride of five to six hours from Shenzhen, I arrived at Yan Bei in Ying De, at the northernmost region of Guangdong Province. There is a junior secondary school (Yan Bei Secondary School) in the town with about 200 students. As there is no senior secondary school in this town, students need to travel to the city for their education, if they can afford the relatively high cost. Before getting a place in senior secondary school, a public examination, similar to the HKCEE in Hong Kong, has to be taken.
"As Yan Bei Secondary School is too small, students need to travel to another school at a bigger town for the public exam. When they talked about the exam, they looked stressed and anxious, which I initially thought was because of the exam itself. But I later realised that the reason for the nervousness was they were being discriminated against.
"The girls said they had to go to another town for three or four days for their public examination, where they had to live in the secondary school there. The environment was packed and ventilation was poor, which always made them sick. They had meals in the school canteen together with the local students of the town, but the locals always cut in the queue. If they showed up a bit late, nothing was left for them, although the local students could still get fed. The girls also said they were looked down upon and teased. They couldn't concentrate on their revision and exams, let alone try to achieve the best result.
"Have you ever experienced or witnessed discrimination? Our perception often is that it always goes with people of different races and different social status. It's hard to imagine students at a rural town would discriminate against students from another rural town. In our eyes, the two towns are similar socially and economically. And they are just a 20-minute drive apart. In Hong Kong, it would be like talking about students from Central discriminating against the students from Wan Chai. This really gives a good lesson and serves as a reminder that discrimination is not just a macro problem on the world stage. It can also be present in small districts and communities.
"There was another lesson for me after we left Yan Bei Secondary School and proceeded to Tang Bian. Besides paying a visit to the primary school, we were there to assess the needs of the children, especially if their families could afford their schooling, locating new cases village by village. In one village, we saw a girl sitting in a house alone. When we approached the house for more information about the village, another villager came towards us. He told us the girl was stupid and lazy. We also observed that all the villagers seemed to avoid her.
"We suspected that she was intellectually disabled. As social work students from Hong Kong, we knew that the girl could have a better life if villagers knew more about the condition and if appropriate social services were provided. To me, a student trying to make social work and rehabilitation my chosen career, this girl represents a group of people who are stigmatised as a burden on society.
"In Hong Kong, people are more open than even a decade ago towards the mentally challenged. Discrimination, however, still exists, and a more harmonious social environment is not only the responsibility of social workers."
Eunice Lee Tsz-ying