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Powering lifelong learning

The Outstanding Third Age Citizens Awards 2011 has honoured 12 senior residents who have made exceptional achievements in lifelong learning, healthy living and contribution to society.

Hongkong Electric and the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS) have organised the award-giving event to encourage and promote the "active ageing" of retirees.

"The concept of `active ageing' is about staying healthy mentally and physically, being able to actively participate in self-learning activities, and contributing to society," says Catherine Sing, public affairs manager, corporate communication, at Power Assets Holdings, which owns Hongkong Electric.

Members of the public are invited to nominate retirees with outstanding achievements from all walks of life.

"The awards stemmed from the University of Third Age (U3A) project initiated by HKCSS. We supported it through the Hongkong Electric Centenary Trust," Sing says. "U3A is a sustainable, integrated project for the elderly launched in 2005 to promote lifelong learning and sharing of knowledge."

Elderly service centres have applied to Hongkong Electric for funds to establish U3A centres.

These centres provide facilities and support for seniors. They organise courses based on their interests and share their knowledge. So far, 30 U3A centres have been set up across Hong Kong. The seniors manage the U3A centres themselves. The biennial awards, launched in 2009, was a natural progression from U3A.

"We wanted to take the U3A idea further in 2008. The awards recognise outstanding retirees and promote them as role models," Sing says.

Grace Chan, chief officer for elderly service at HKCSS, says the awards motivate the elderly to study harder. "With its expertise and network, HKCSS is responsible for coordinating and promoting the awards. We also encourage seniors to participate."

The council organises awardees' experience-sharing sessions every two months. One of the awardees in 2009, Maria Lee, who used to own the Maria's Bakery chain, shared her experience in establishing a charity foundation despite setbacks, Sing says. "A Chinese herbalist has chaired a session on daily medicinal and wellness diet," she adds.

Retired midwife Poon Lau Foon-tuen is one of the awardees this year. She has been honoured for offering Chinese medicine consultations free of charge at a community centre in Wong Tai Sin several evenings a week.

"I spent several years studying Chinese medicine after my retirement. Apart from giving consultations, I share my knowledge on massage and self-administered acupuncture which are designed to help the elderly strengthen their natural defence against various diseases," Poon says.

Seniors defy odds

  • The 2011 Outstanding Third Age Citizens awardees range in age from 63 to 95
  • Since its launch in 2005, the University of Third
  • Age Centres (U3A) have organised more than 1,500 courses and offered over 22,000 educational opportunities
  • The U3A courses are divided into three broad categories: knowledge-based courses such as Putonghua and digital photography; interest-focused courses including handicraft; and physical fitness courses such as hip-hop dance and sports