HONG KONG: Early morning at a pier in Chang Chau: twelve teenagers are seen loading dozens of boxes onto a small boat. The boxes contain the daily living needs for students at the Christian Zheng Sheng College, Hong Kong's only private boarding school aimed at rehabilitating young drug abusers. With their cargo of bread, vegetables, toilet paper and a new computer loaded, the youngsters board their boat and depart for their school on another island.
"We just bought a new computer for the kids to do film editing," said Alman Chan Siu-cheuk, principal of the school.
Months after being swept up in a scandal involving its sponsoring agency, Christian Zheng Sheng College is struggling to continue in its mission to rehabilitate youthful drug abusers. But plans to relocate the school which are vital to the college's survival remain on hold and public donations have fallen off sharply.
"Eventually we will have to move. We can not apply for a license here without fire-fighting equipments," said a warden of the school, surnamed Chung. In the absence of a license, the school has been operating under an 8-year extension since 2002. That extension will expire next year and the school must vacate its Chi Ma Wan location by the end of 2010.
Today, the school is actively moving on. Five new teachers were hired recently. Another young drug abuser was admitted just days ago.
The first sign of trouble in what has proven a tumultuous year for the school came when Christian Zheng Sheng College proposed to relocate to a vacant school at Mui Wo. Despite widespread public support and the support of many government officials, including Chief Executive Donald Tsang, the college met intractable resistance to its moving plan, from Mui Wo residents who demanded the school be reopened for local children. Nonetheless, the matter of Christian Zheng Sheng College's move to a new location continued to be vigorously pursued.
The removal plans however came to a complete halt, after the news and entertainment magazine "Next" reported that among the investments of the sponsoring group, the Christian Zheng Sheng Association, was a venture that operated a karaoke bar in which questionable practices took place.
Soon thereafter the school and the association's offices were raided by the Independent Commission Against Corruption. That investigation is continuing. The plan to move the school appears on hold until the ICAC investigation is complete.
"We have no idea and it is difficult to estimate when it (the investigation) will end and when we could move," principal Chan said. As for the future of the move, "we can only count on the government," he added.
Not only has the storm put the school through "a difficult time" as Chan described, but it's caused stress to the college's over 120 young students.
Support from society at large became transformed into opposition when the scandal broke. Chan Tin-tsun, a student at the school for three years, spoke of the change in demeanor. "It felt like suddenly falling from a height," he said. Students spent many hours talking among themselves, trying to sort out their confusion and dismay, Chan added.
The student said he's been waiting for the school to move since 2007. The existing facility is terribly overcrowded. "It is especially inconvenient for study. Three students have to share one desk," he said.
Public donations actually comprise only about 10 percent of the college's total funding.
The majority of the school's students come under the aegis of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance. Each receives HK$7,000 in school fees, HK$1,265 for accommodation and HK$2,200 for living expenses.
Still, under the ordinances of Hong Kong, the funds of the Zheng Sheng Association could be frozen at any time, once ICAC has gathered evidence.
"I am not worried. It will be all right. Because we did nothing wrong," principal Chan said. He expressed confidence in Zheng Sheng's innocence and said he was optimistic about the outcome of the investigation.
Despite the swirling scandal, the principal said he deeply believes his students continue to trust him and the school. "Students have never questioned us; one of them even wrote a card to me, with the words: 'Hold On'," Chan said.
(HK Edition 12/02/2009 page1)