CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 June 2019

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An evolving value system

HONG KONG (UCAN): Increasing numbers of young people in Hong Kong are taking the road less travelled and shunning well-paid jobs in favour of low-paying careers in fields that work to protect and nourish the health of the environment, often much to the chagrin of their traditionally-minded parents.

It is not an easy road to follow, but they defend their choice saying that it helps to make the city more independent and pleasant to live in.

Ecological conservation worker, Ma See, who chooses to use his nickname, deplores the lack of education on environmental issues in the territory. 

He noted that most parents only prepare their children to be successful and wealthy. “Their mentality seldom considers nature,” he said.

Ma See has always adored animals and nature, and after he graduated in the 1990s, he took a job as an animal trainer at Ocean Park.

“I was very lucky,” he said. “I found a job related to animals and started to learn more about the field I like.”

Later, he considered whether to take on a more commercial job or instead spend his energy on conservation.

Finally, he chose to work for an environmental non-government organistation and now focusses on farmland recovery and firefly conservation. He believes that protecting farmland will help protect biodiversity.

Born in the 1970s, he and his parents witnessed Hong Kong’s economic takeoff.

“My parents, just like most people at that time, thought that conservation work was hard, low paid and it would be tough to save money for marriage,” Ma See recalled. 

He is also a part of the Mapopo Community Farm and So IL—an organic farm in the northeast of Hong Kong. He thinks that it was extremely difficult to make such unusual career choices in the past.

Twenty-three-year-old Godfrey Lau, a graduate in environmental science from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, also remarked that the previous generation does not understand the appeal of environmental jobs.

“They usually think a degree-holder should find a job with a high economic value,” Lau explained.

However, some younger parents have started to accept that their children might choose a different path.

Gladys Wong, a mother of three in her 40s, said the most important thing is the happiness of her children.

“I read the news and saw that a young graduate had become a farmer,” Wong said. “He looked very happy and enthusiastic,” she observed.

“I don’t want my children to make a lot of money if they’re not happy,” she continued, saying, “It seems better that they do what they love to do.”

Wong added that she would always respect the choices made by her children.

However, choosing an environmental career comes with challenges that still make many young people hesitate.

“One of my friends was willing to start a recycling business in Hong Kong,” Lau, who is now a trainee at a small environmental non-government organisation, said.

“My friend learned some techniques and planned to import a machine for the business. However, the rent was high and recycling policies are lacking in Hong Kong so he cannot move forward,” he explained.

Ma See thinks that life in the city will not be sustainable for the next generation if Hong Kong continues to neglect nature conservation. But he explained that some people are trying to make a breakthrough because they feel that living in Hong Kong is getting harder.

Hong Kong relies on imports for its food supply—especially from mainland China. Thus, the living cost is high and autonomy is low.

“Young people have reflected on this situation and are trying to find ways out,” he said.

“It is very good that well educated young people can now use their knowledge for organic farming,” Ma See said, but disagreed with the impression that many people have that Hong Kong has little farmland left and that few farmers remain.

“It is true that much farmland has been abandoned or has become a junkyard,” he said. “But I have met some land owners who still want their land to be cultivated.”

Around 40 per cent of Hong Kong’s land is designated as countryside by law. However, some people still attempt to develop parts of it for housing.

“If you are happy to sleep in a city with horrible air pollution in order to achieve economic growth, I think this is very sad for Hong Kong people,” Ma See said.

“Nowadays the value of the economy overrides everything including nature,” he continued. “Hong Kong people should change this mentality.” 

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