Numerous allegations of abuse have surfaced over the past week concerning a student leadership training camp organised by prominent Hong Kong educational charity Po Leung Kuk (PLK).
Students who attended the camp – organised for various primary and secondary schools – have alleged that they suffered physical and verbal abuse, as well as political brainwashing. On Sunday, Sham Shui Po’s prestigious secondary school Ying Wa College cancelled a planned student trip to the camp.
Established in 2006, the PLK Leadership Camp claims to help students develop their potential, improve their teamwork abilities and become braver. The camp involves physical activities held in the rural New Territories, and lasts for between one and four days depending on the arrangements of each school.
The camp has faced accusations of employing harsh training methods in the past, notably from a Chinese University of Hong Kong student magazine in 2012. However, the latest series of allegations began to surface on Saturday, when complaints from a Ying Wa College student were posted on Facebook page Schools Secrets.
The Form Four student claimed that when he attended the camp in 2015, his classmates had been abused by PLK training staff after failing a training mission.
“He first grabbed the collar of [a student], pulled [them] towards him with force, and shouted at him from a close distance,” wrote the complainant. “The trainer ordered him to step on and tear up the class emblem.”
When the student refused, the trainer allegedly brandished a Swiss army knife, and called on the student to use it to cut up the emblem. The pair jostled with the knife, before another instructor intervened to stop the altercation.
“Even if the knife was not thrust towards the student, can we simply ignore the danger of one man jostling with another while wielding a knife?” wrote the author. “Our whole class really felt that our personal safety was threatened!”
The author added that students had been mocked or insulted by trainers because of their appearance, including with foul language.
The Saturday complaint also alleged that camp trainers tried to brainwash students with a political agenda. Camp director Lo Kam-cheong was cited as having provoked students who failed a task: “Not happy? Why don’t you go Occupy Central then?”
Another trainer was quoted as teaching students that “America is the worst country, starting wars everywhere in order to seize oil.” Students also claimed that he promoted national education – a controversial proposed scheme that critics say teaches loyalty to the Communist Party.
The author wrote the public complaint as Ying Wa College had announced plans to send another batch of form four students to the camp this week. The author added that teachers had forced students to attend previous camps with the threat of expulsion from the school, and did not investigate student accusations seriously.
However, on Sunday, Ying Wa College posted a message on its website, saying that the camp trip would be delayed, and that it would seek a new partner organisation other than the PLK.
“In recent days, many students have had different opinions on the upcoming form four leadership training camp,” read the message. “The school is very concerned, and is actively following up.”
The PLK website indicates that over 500 such camps have been held for various schools since 2010. It has not responded to HKFP’s requests for comment.
‘Lying in mud’
On Wednesday, local newspaper Apple Daily reported fresh accusations by students from multiple primary and secondary schools founded by the PLK, alleging further abusive practices at its own leadership training camp.
One student alleged that when she was in Primary Six in 2011, her entire class of 37 students was forced to lie on the ground outdoors – faces pressed against the mud – for three to four minutes. The students were reportedly not allowed to wipe their faces before dining, causing mud to fall in their bowls, and some suffered from stomachaches later in the evening.
Other students claimed to Apple Daily that they were forced to carry large flower pots on their backs and kneel on the floor, and hosed with cold water. Trainers also allegedly called students “pieces of rubbish” and “cockroaches.”
A number of similar anonymous accusations were made on Facebook page School Secrets.
Apple Daily cited a secondary school teaching as saying that trainers at the PLK camp shouted at students deliberately as part of a role-playing exercise, in order to inspire the students.
Pro-democracy legislator Roy Kwong wrote an open letter to the Education Bureau on Tuesday, calling for an investigation into the PLK camp.
“We request the Bureau investigate the veracity of the allegations that students have been punished with extreme methods,” wrote Kwong. “These methods are unacceptable, and will cause harm to the students.”
Localist lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai has also requested a session at the Legislative Council to discuss the allegations.
Update: A Ying Wa College spokesperson confirmed to HKFP that a trainer had indeed brandished a knife, demanding that a student cut up his class emblem, at the camp two years ago. The college said that the action was inappropriate.
“The college has always expressed its wishes and demands to the relevant institutions when organising training camps,” said the spokesperson. “The college does not accept training methods that endanger the safety of students.”