A very personal journey
Tang's team taught coping skills through the performing arts, design classes and video-making to more than 62,000 youngsters last year.
How did you get involved with NGO work?
I had studied sociology at the University of Toronto mainly because it seemed like an interesting subject, but when I graduated in the early 1990s, Canada was in recession, so jobs were hard to come by. I had friends involved with the Chinese Canadian National Council (CNCC), one of whom became my mentor. I started volunteering and then did an Ontario government training programme to work with marginalised young people.
Where did that experience lead?
I ended up working with a [Canadian] provincial government which had a big youth agenda at the time. There had been riots and, among the ethnic minorities, there were a lot of discontented, jobless adults and the kids were not doing well in school. My job was to reach out to ethnic minority and aboriginal youths, and run programmes that taught analytical and critical thinking, organisational skills and civic engagement.
How were you able to do that?
Basically, we developed modules and programmes with the help of the business sector and other resources in the community. For example, we would provide training at a local centre and then arrange six-month placements with an organisation, so that young people learned relevant skills and could get practical work experience.
During those years, what presented the toughest challenge?
That was probably assuming the role of executive director for CNCC's Toronto chapter. For about 25 years, the organisation had been the only proactive voice for Chinese Canadians on equality issues and was well-known for speaking out against discrimination. I was very young at the time and had to learn everything very quickly, while developing my own style and perspective on different issues. It meant working with high-profile people in government and the community, which I was able to do thanks to love and support from my parents and various mentors who were sounding boards I could trust.
What brought you back to Hong Kong?
I was born here, but the family left when I was three. My parents brought us back for a visit in the late 1980s and I was inspired by the place. It was so different from Toronto, but I felt it is where my roots are and knew then I would move back one day. In 1997, I spent a year with KELY as a youth outreach worker. I became very attached to the work and saw at first-hand the challenges facing youths in low-income districts. When a senior position became available, the board of directors encouraged me to apply. I knew it would really challenge me, but it completed a very personal journey.
Which aspect of your work gives most satisfaction?
It is seeing young people have opportunities to do well for themselves and make personal breakthroughs. Our job is to be there and listen to them, so they can feel they are part of society and not on the fringe.
It is great when marginalised young people start to take the initiative, whether to organise a meeting, give a speech or help arranging a forum. I get a big kick out of something like that because they are, after all, our future and it gives me a sense of hope.
Surviving the NGO world
- Always have a positive attitude
- Keep an open mind
- Don't pretend to know it all
- Find your own niche
- Bring out the best in everyone