Further allegations of abuse surfaced on Thursday against a student leadership training camp organised by prominent Hong Kong educational charity Po Leung Kuk (PLK).

The new allegations related to the PLK Leadership Camp were reported by local paper Apple Daily. Students and parents, who spoke anonymously, claimed that students had been forced to eat grass, denied water after strenuous exercise, and said that parents had been insulted by camp trainers.

Last Saturday, a series of allegations suggested trainers had physically and verbally abused students, and promoted a pro-Beijing political agenda, emerged on Facebook page Schools Secrets.

Po Leung Kuk Leadership Camp
Photo: Po Leung Kuk Leadership Camp promotional video screenshot.

Eating grass

A student at Shatin secondary school Christ College said that he attended the camp two years ago as a Form Four student. He alleged that a trainer had shouted profanities, and forced him to eat several blades of grass taken from the mountainside. This punishment was reportedly meted out because of his bad behaviour.

The student also claimed that during a hike, classmates who walked slowly were forced to stand in a dirty creek for half an hour. He provided photographs to Apple Daily appearing to show the students in the creek.

Announcements on Christ College’s website state that the camp was a compulsory activity for Form Four pupils – for which they each had to pay HK$700 during the years 2012, 2013 and 2015.

A Christ College spokesperson told HKFP that its teachers had not personally witnessed any incidents where trainers forced students to eat grass. “We absolutely do not agree with these methods,” added the spokesperson.

The college said that Form Four students initially expressed concern about the PLK camp last year. “However, after honest discussions between teachers, students and parents, the concerns were alleviated, and parents and students chose to participate.”

“Post-activity assessment showed that [the camp] had a positive effect.”

Secondary school
Christ College. Photo: Exploringlife via Wikicommons.

“We do not permit any arrangements that physically or mentally endanger the students,” added the spokesperson. “The college has so far not planned to carry on hiring [the PLK] to organise similar training activities next year.”

No water after strenuous exercise

Separately, three parents of children from an unnamed PLK-founded primary school told Apple Daily that they had previously attempted to lodge a complaint to the school. One parent said that her daughter was punished by not being allowed to rest or drink water after a strenuous marching exercise.

“She was under the sun for a long time, and feeling very dizzy,” said the parent. She added that her daughter had no choice but to secretly drink water from the tap after going to the bathroom.

Another parent alleged that after her son had been forced to duck-walk – walk while squatting – he knelt down due to exhaustion. He was then slapped by a camp trainer.

The third parent’s daughter claimed that a trainer had insulted the parents: “Are your parents idiots?” the trainer reportedly asked the daughter. “How did they give birth to an idiot like you?”

The school reportedly engaged social workers and psychologists to provide emotional support to students after the camp.

YouTube video

Child abuse complaint

The three parents told Apple Daily that they sought help from child protection NGO Against Child Abuse. The NGO reportedly offered to call the police, but did not do so after the school promised it would not take students to the PLK camp again.

A spokesperson for the NGO declined to confirm to HKFP whether the group had received any complaints from parents, in order not to deter other whistleblowers from reporting similar cases.

“With each report, we would deploy our social workers to listen to parents and children as to find out what really happened,” said the spokesperson.

‘Positive feedback’

Established in 2006, the PLK Leadership Camp claims to help students develop their potential, improve their teamwork abilities and become braver, by organising physical activities in the rural New Territories. It has faced accusations of employing harsh training methods in the past.

The PLK told Apple Daily that the camp has received “positive feedback” from schools.

It added that it does not agree with behaviour that involves abuse, foul language or personal attacks. It said it has reminded camp trainers to first and foremost care for the well-being of students.

Sai Kung
Po Leung Kuk Pak Tam Chung Camp. File photo: Chong Fat via Wikimedia Commons.

Outraged reactions

The new series of allegations ignited outraged reactions from politicians. Pro-democracy lawmaker Nathan Law called for an end to the “ridiculous” training practices.

“To completely destroy the self-confidence and self-respect of students, and to establish discipline and obedience from the ashes, is an extremely, extremely, outdated training practice,” he said. “It leaves deep scars upon children.”

“This is not training,” added fellow pro-democracy legislator Ted Hui. “This is just a way of letting ‘instructors’ to vent!”

Update: In response to HKFP’s enquiries, the PLK said that it is concerned about the situation at its leadership camp, and takes service quality seriously.

The PLK said it set up a consultancy committee last year to discuss how to improve the service and content of the training camp, including drafting behavioural guidelines for camp trainers, and regulating their speech and actions.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.