As Alman Chan Siu-cheuk walked through Hong Kong's upscale Central district recently, a young woman stopped him and pressed a HK$100 bill into his hand, asking him to buy food for students at Christian Zheng Sheng College - Hong Kong's only private boarding school for young drug abusers.
As principal of the school, he has made a life's work out of helping young addicts and he is glad to receive such shows of support.
Students exchange food during lunch break at the Christian Zheng Sheng College, a drug rehabilitation center, in Hong Kong on Monday. [Agencies]
The drug problem among Hong Kong's young has been growing at an alarming rate. Social workers and academics speak of encountering addicts as young as 9 and point out that there were 8,306 reported psychotropic drug users in Hong Kong in 2008, almost one-third more than the 6,335 registered in 2005.
The most popular drug among the young is ketamine, an animal tranquilizer produced illegally on the Chinese mainland and in Hong Kong. Only yesterday, Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee reported that between January and May the number of people between 10 and 20 arrested for serious drug possession was 517, 10 percent more than last year.
In recent weeks, there has been a succession of news reports about secondary school students being found in a dazed condition and sometimes unconscious in Hong Kong's parks, thoroughfares and public places.
The most startling account was perhaps the disclosure that four girls from Rosaryhill School, one of Hong Kong's most prestigious secondary schools, were caught taking drugs.
Against this backdrop, Chan has been busy working on a plan to move from the dilapidated and aging campus of Christian Zheng Sheng to a new location at a vacant school in Hong Kong's Mui Wo district.
Christian Zheng Sheng College bases its drug rehabilitation therapy on creating a climate of mutual respect and self-reliance. No pharmaceutical products are used in the treatment.
Students, who usually attend the college for periods as long as three years, are not considered "inmates," even though many have committed crimes.
The school's success is tangible - many of Chan's students go on to complete secondary education and several pursue careers inspired by the school's vocational programs in areas including pizza making, video production and book-keeping.
Many in Hong Kong have said people who make mistakes deserve a second chance. Even the city's chief executive, Donald Tsang, endorsed the college, along with 35 out of 60 members of Hong Kong's Legislative Council. They backed the relocation of the campus to Mui Wo district.
However, the plan has also drawn strong opposition from some in the community who worry that a drug rehabilitation centre in their neighborhood will negatively impact local children - especially considering those same children must travel far to get to their own school.