In the fable The King with Donkey Ears, the servant tormented by the secret of the King’s donkey ears tells a tree hole, thinking it is safe. Unfortunately, the tree leaks the secret.
However, with the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Tree Hole Facebook page, people can express their thoughts to the “tree hole” through anonymous submission and know that their secrets will be safe.
The UBuddies CUHK Peer Counselling Network, launched by the Wellness and Counselling Centre of the Office of Student Affairs in 2010, aims to promote peer support and counselling. It provides a wide range of intensive training for students, including peer counseling skills and a mental health first-aid course.
The training helps those in the uBuddies scheme enhance personal growth, strengthen self-confidence, realize their potential, and, most importantly, become peer counselors.
Since its establishment in 2017, the management team of the tree hole Facebook page has provided emotional support for more than 2,000 cases.
Students may post submissions under different categories and peer counselors will sort them out, post them on the page and respond in the comments section to provide emotional support.
“Some people want comfort, others want someone to criticize them,” said Chin Uen-yi, a year three student studying Chinese language and literature who has been on the team for a year and a half. “Depending on the categories, we will use a different tone to reply.”
The first post she replied to after completing training was related to suicide, Chin recalled. She was terrified that the contributor may commit suicide and that improper wording would trigger them.
“I immediately went to my mentor, who told me not to be overly nervous. He told me the fact that the contributor was seeking emotional support proved he wanted someone to ‘pull him up’ – so there was still hope,” she said.
She likened each post to an iceberg in the sea, and the words are only a glimpse of the tip. “Our real work in emotional support is to dig up their hidden emotions,” Chin said.
Wong Chung-ming, a fourth-year philosophy student, has been on the team for three years and is a mentor. When he first joined, his task was to reply to submissions and he was often afraid of saying the wrong thing.
“Most students who submit posts are emotionally sensitive, so we are worried that the wrong wording could backfire,” he said. “We can only try to listen to the language of the contributor to gauge his or her mood, and the most important thing is to step into their shoes to truly understand and channel their emotions.”
“By interpreting the emotions of contributors, we help them feel like someone really understands, and they are not alone. Then half the battle is won.”
Since the beginning of the initiative, the team has never screened or filtered out a single submission, replying to every post and gaining more than 2,800 likes.
With the recent social unrest, the number of submissions has soared. Regarding these social issues, many posts have been similar, often including foul language and hate speech.
To avoid the negative emotions that may arise from these posts, the team added another category of posts named “team-up.”
Posts under this category integrate similar contributions into one, hoping to increase the interaction between students.
“For rough words, we will cover them before posting,” Wong said.
“In addition to sincerity and empathy, respect is one of our principles. We respect our contributors’ need for our support and their right to express themselves.”
Wong added that they do not treat submissions differently due to identity, opinion or background.
“Everyone has their own opinions and standpoints, and our job is to provide emotional support rather than educating them. There is no right or wrong way to think about emotions,” Chin said. “The most important thing is to give them care and blessings.”
This year, CUHK presented 101 individuals and teams with the Outstanding Students Awards and selected the Most Outstanding Stars among awardees from each category including innovation and invention, sports, arts, and social services.
The management team of the CUHK Tree Hole Facebook page won the Most Outstanding Star in Social Service.
Although Wong plans to work as a teacher or social worker after graduation, he thinks this experience is important to him.
“It has nothing to do with my job, even if I don’t work in the relevant industry. Learning how to deal with my own emotions is a life lesson, and you can only help others if you help yourself,” he said.
(This article was published at The Standard on November 12 2019: Education: Secret buddy trees )