Interview with Phoebe Lam - Class of 2013

Phoebe Lam, DGS Class of 2013, has in April 2014 won the Top 10 Outstanding Youth Award – a prestigious prize presented by HKSAR Home Affairs Bureau and Commission on Youth to commend on her outstanding achievements in personal development, leadership and social services. Phoebe is the youngest winner in the Open Category of the Award for her eight years’ participation in community services. Since Primary Four, Phoebe has been awarded numerous service awards from Hong Kong Red Cross, Hong Kong Social Welfare Department and Hong Kong Education Bureau’s Community Health Youth Club. She is also an accomplished pianist, violinist and swimmer.

In May 2014, Andrea Lai, Audrey Chen and Adeline Cheng of the DOGA Editorial Sub-committee, met up with Phoebe to discuss what motivated her and how, despite her busy academic schedules, she found the time to participate in a diverse range of activities, including sports, music and community services.


I: Interviewers P: Phoebe

I:   DGS’ school motto is Daily Giving Service. By giving so much to the community since Primary Four, you really have embraced wholeheartedly our school motto from a very tender age. What made you become so concerned with helping the needy?

P:   My mum got me interested in social services when she brought me to sell flags in Sheung Shui when I was about 8 or 9 years old. I found that I was very happy to serve our community. I started to be quite active in doing community services work from S1. I helped in local community centres where I was involved in both youth and elderly social services. I even learned sign language so I could help the deaf and dumb. With more time devoted to community services work, I had to give up gymnastics but I felt it was worth it as I was doing something meaningful and giving back to our community. By doing community services, I saw that there were a lot of inequality in the world, and so many people less fortunate than I am. I felt that God wanted me to use my abilities to help others and to live a purposeful life.


I:   What is your biggest inspiration or motivation in helping the needy? What has been your greatest reward or satisfaction from your work in helping the needy?

P:   I joined the Red Cross in S1 and during Easter of that year, I helped out in a 3-day event for teens with Down Syndrome. There was a one-on-one session where I had to counsel and chat with one of the participants. I paired up with a teenage boy who I thought had the intellect of a young child. At first, I found him shy and withdrawn, not eager to communicate. However, after 3 days of playing and chatting with him, I saw a changed person – I remember on the third day, he was so eager to take a photo with me. The government can, and does give funding, but we, the community, can really help them on a personal level. I felt I had touched his soul during those 3 days and he touched mine. He wasn’t the only one who received help, I received help as well. I felt an inner joy by helping him, and I experienced growth in my own personal character.

Phoebe at Red Cross drilling competition.


I:   What do you think is the biggest challenge in helping the community?

P:   It’s a challenge to find people with the same goals and mission as you and even if you do find one, it is difficult to find people with enough commitment to carry the job through. People have different priorities in life and in my experience, with community services work, there is often quite a huge variance on how much one is willing to give. It makes the job all the tougher to achieve.


I:   What is one of the causes closest to your heart? What would you hope to see changed in terms of that cause, say 20 years from now?

P:   I think it would be how to get more people involved in community services and be more committed to the cause. My wish is to find people, with bigger hearts to give, not for oneself but for others. I would also like to see more funding from the government to expand community services work.


I:   As a first year student at HKUST, your circle of friends and network is obviously larger than it was at DGS. Do you think you could expand your efforts in helping the community such as by enlisting more of your university friends to help with your cause?

P:   I find it easier to participate in community services work at HKUST as there is a HKUST Connect platform where staff could enlist help from HKUST students. Their staff also encourages us to initiate new projects to help the needy. I recently participated in an initiative in Cheung Sha Wan where we collected not-so-fresh vegetables from the wet market vendors and distributed them personally to the poor. It was very gratifying to help on site and to get my hands dirty when I helped others. It was a more personal and intimate experience than doing high-level charitable work or fund raising activities.


I:   As former DGS girls, we all know how hectic life at school can be with academic studies and extracurricular activities. You were an accomplished pianist, violinist and swimmer during your time at DGS. How did you juggle your time between studies, social activities and community service work?

P:   In order to juggle so many activities, effective planning is the key to success. When you have a zillion things to do, it’s very easy to lose track of what is the next thing to be done and I find that keeping a good timetable and a to-do list which is updated on-the-go are also very important. Also, you have to acknowledge that you can’t do it all by yourself and you have to learn to delegate certain duties to others.

Knowing how to prioritise is also essential. Two factors need to be considered when prioritising the different activities. Firstly, one has to weigh the importance of the various activities. I put academic studies on the top of my list because academic results are very important, as it will determine the university you will go to, and the degree you will undertake. Secondly, the level of responsibility I undertook with respect to that activity also determined how much time and effort I put in. For example, I would devote more of my time as chairlady of the Red Cross Club than as secretary of the Humanities Club.

I also found that some activities such as singing in the choir and swimming were helpful in relieving stress in everyday life.


I:   How do you balance breadth and depth?

P:   I think it depends on age. When you are in primary school, you should focus on breadth to see what your interests and talents are. When you reach secondary school, you go for depth because hopefully, you will know what you like and what you do best and you should specialise in those areas. It’s just like choosing your degree in university – knowing what best suits you.


I:   What was most memorable experience during your DGS days?

P:   S5 at DGS was the year that gave me the most memorable experience. I was the most busy that year, being a prefect, the Red Cross Club chairlady at School, secretary of the Humanities Club, member of the choir, still swimming on a regular basis as well as preparing for the DSE examinations the year after. I had to learn how to prioritise my time between academic studies and extracurricular activities. I found myself sleeping very late at night to complete all the tasks on hand and as you can imagine, it was very tough. I kept asking myself why I chose to make myself so busy and my schedule so packed. I believed that God gave me the gift to wisely manage my time and I was not afraid of hard work. Looking back, I was very amazed that I could survive S5 in one piece with very little sleep or food! I felt that it was truly worthwhile when I found out in S6 that I was awarded Student of the Year in S5.

Phoebe at Choir rehearsal.

I also remember a lot about my teachers. They were very supportive of me. There was one time when my exam results were not very satisfactory but the teachers were not disappointed in me. Instead, they consoled me and gave me counseling and tuition. Even though I fell, the teachers were there ready with a helping hand, and had faith that I would soon pick myself up. They really had faith in me, and for that, I am grateful.

Phoebe with Chinese teacher and S1 form teacher Mr. HC Chan.

I:   What do you miss most about DGS?

P:   I miss the library the most. During my final years at DGS, I spent a lot of time studying and having meetings in the library. Whenever I took a break from my studies and looked out the library windows, I would admire our beautiful new campus, which made me so proud of my school. I have very fond memories of the library as it was a place where I derived a lot of satisfaction from. I treat it as a haven whenever I felt tired and weary from all the challenges I faced.


I:   What do you feel most proud of as a DGS girl?

P:   I truly felt special as a DGS girl when I entered university. I felt people gave me more respect and confidence when they hear that I’m a DGS girl. They also had higher expectations of me, and with that, came greater responsibility. I feel blessed as not all people will have this opportunity.

Phoebe with her mom on DGS Speech Day 2012. She was awarded Student of the Year.

I:   How do you think girls at DGS now can do more to help the community?

P:   At DGS, there are already lots of community services club such as the Red Cross, Girl Guides, Counseling team and Citizens Club at School. The School can help by raising awareness, both of the global needs of the world and also the local needs of our community. Community services activities of the various clubs could be promoted by putting up posters around the School and the School can encourage the girls to embrace, by action, our school motto – Daily Giving Service – by devoting their time to help those who are less fortunate than we are.


I:   What does the future hold after winning the Top 10 Youth Award? Any words of wisdom for us?

P:   I am grateful for receiving this award as I see it as an affirmation of my services to the community. However, I believe anyone can do the work to receive the award. You don’t need to be born with any particular talent. The most important is to have a big and generous heart to give and to do. Increasing awareness of the different needs around our community is also important. I believe it is important to start young. As the youth generation is the future pillar of our society, it would be easier to instill in them a sense of social responsibility when they are still young. My sincere hope is that many of our readers will be inspired by this interview to start lend a helping hand and contribute to building a better future for our community.