From a loving mother to a caring leader
To echo its motto of “Education for Service”, the University recognises not only students with passion in serving but also staff members who go the extra mile to serve the community in addition to their indispensable contributions to the advancement of the University. The biennial Dr and Mrs James Tak Wu Award for Outstanding Service (Administrative and General Grade Staff Award) 2017-18 goes to Ms Serene Chu Hoi-yan, Manager (Communications and Public Affairs) of the Office of Communications and Public Affairs of Lingnan University, as well as the Chairman of Little People of Hong Kong (LPHK), a charity serving patients, especially children, with rare skeletal disorders.
“Eight years ago, I did not envisage that a seemingly ordinary pregnancy would change my life and the lives of others. My son was diagnosed with achondroplasia, commonly known as dwarfism, after birth. It is a rare skeletal disorder with a prevalence of 1/25,000, accompanied with a series of medical complications,” she recalled. As a first-time mother with pain and guilt raising a child subject to social prejudice, it was easier for her to lament “why me?” than to see all these as a life-changing challenge.
Having walked through fear, pain, anxiety and loneliness, Serene realised that the only way to navigate challenges in life is to rise above obstacles and learn to see the meaning of what life unfolds. “When I failed to find a support network for my dwarf son in 2013, I did what I thought was necessary — set up one. I also wanted to help other families who are going through the same journey,” she explained. Her attitude reminds us of what the legendary football coach and analyst Lou Holtz once said, “Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.”
“We are Little, but not Less” depicts the faith shared among the community of LPHK. To convey this fundamental message of acceptance and equality, the foundation at first managed to establish a social media platform that provides emotional support for parents who are often depressed facing their children’s physical and emotional challenges. “From a setup of three families to over 50 families, the foundation started to organise seminars for patient families and medical professionals, provide timely medical information to patients, and raise the awareness of rare skeletal disorders in society through media channels,” said Serene.
Today, under an all-volunteer Executive Committee supported by an Advisory Board which consists of physicians and professionals, LPHK not only serves as a patient support group but also a strong voice that promotes acceptance, equality and inclusiveness for patients, especially children, with rare bone diseases. Through social integration projects such as the “Little People Care Alliance” co-organised with The University of Hong Kong, the foundation endeavours to cultivate an understanding among the general public and help minimise social prejudice against people with physical difference.
Heading also the Communications Sub-committee of LPHK, Serene’s sound background and expertise in corporate communications built up at Lingnan during the nine years of service have empowered her to make significant social contributions. “Maybe because I did my master studies here and began my journey as a mother here, I feel that there is a bond between me and this place. Our relatively small campus allows staff to know each other more easily and work with each other more effectively. For instance, I have witnessed how some of our scholars started their Knowledge Transfer endeavours and gradually achieved huge success in serving the community; how students’ social awareness changed over the years and, of course, how my colleagues formed families and have children,” she said. As Lingnan evolves into a leading Asian liberal arts university, Serene embraces her job challenges in the hope of becoming a more diversified public relations executive.
Serene’s dedication to LPHK has pulled together patient families under a mutual supportive network, and promotes social acceptance among the general public. All these sound big but started off merely from the innate parental love and bond with her beloved little son. Lingnan has witnessed her rising from a competent communications professional and peer supporter, to a loving mother, and eventually a caring leader.
“Eight years ago, I was told that it is impossible for physically disabled children to have an equal footing with others in a society clouded by misunderstandings and ignorance. Today, I believe we have started to do the impossible and will continue to do the impossible,” said Serene.