Cover PLK’s current chairman, Ma Ching-nam

The charity Po Leung Kuk is continuing its 142-year mission of helping Hongkongers in need by equipping young people with career skills

Even those not familiar with the work of Po Leung Kuk (PLK) may have wondered what lies behind the distinctive white facade of the charity’s grade II-listed headquarters on Leighton Road, its home since 1932. And if the building’s walls could talk, they’d have plenty of tales to tell—PLK is one of the most storied charities in the city, having supported those in need for 142 years.

Now, the organisation is looking ahead under the leadership of Ma Ching-nam, chairman of its board of directors. A lawyer by trade, Ma has made sports and technology his priorities since assuming his role at PLK.

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What began in 1878 as an orphanage to protect women and children from kidnapping by criminals has evolved to now care for more than 700,000 people, 300 of which are housed at the Leighton Road complex. The others are spread across Hong Kong throughout residences for children, day care centres, rehabilitation clinics for children and adults with special needs, and schools ranging from kindergartens to colleges. “Today we have almost 50,000 students, which is on par with many of the big schools in Hong Kong. We’ve really blossomed,” Ma says.

The foundation is setting its sights on navigating the 21st century with greater emphasis on technology. In keeping with the times, e-learning and coding will be offered at the Lee Shau Kee Youth Oasis hostel in Yuen Long, which will be the largest youth hostel in Hong Kong once it is completed in two years’ time.

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Though Ma has only had an official title for the last decade, the organisation has played a central role in his life from childhood thanks to his father, Dr Ma Kamming, who served as chairman in 1960. “I would accompany him to a lot of the functions,” Ma says. “I used to tell people that I was raised in Po Leung Kuk and they actually thought I was one of the orphans.”

Like his father before him, he is driven by a passion for helping others and remains optimistic, despite a challenging current environment for Hong Kong charities. “I put 110 per cent into my work and it’s very satisfying seeing the smiling faces of all the children after a long day. When they see me and shout, ‘Chairman Ma! How are you?’ I feel great.”

Ma’s dedication is evident in his office, which is decorated with paintings and handicrafts given to him by children, but he dreams of the day when PLK’s services will no longer be needed. “If we ever close our doors as an organisation, I suppose it’s a good thing; it means everybody is safe and happy and there is no need for a charity like us, but until then we’ve got work to do,” he says.

See also: 50 Hong Kong Charities To Support

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