World YMCA Head of Strategy & Policy Răzvan-Victor Sassu headed to Hong Kong in July to attend and speak at the Inspire2Gether International Youth Conference hosted by the Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong, as well as to explore the programmes and impact of the YMCA in the Hong Kong communities. Unpacking the theme of Community Wellbeing, Razvan focussed on the significance of mental health, and YMCA approaches to supporting young people in increasingly stressful times.
Inspire2Gether International Youth Conference: Community Wellbeing in the Post-Pandemic Era
The Inspire2Gether conference brought together 120 young people from over 8 countries in the Asia-Pacific region around one of the four Pillars of YMCA Vision 2030: Community Wellbeing. Over three days, the participants mixed learning and practice in an event to mark the 20-year anniversary of the University & College YMCA Department of the Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong. The conference heard from three keynote speakers:
- Prof. S.F Yip – Director of the HKJC Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, Chair Professor and Associate Dean at the Hong Kong University (HKU) – who spoke on The Post-Pandemic Era: Mental health challenges of young people and possible responses
- Prof. Joyce L.C Ma – Emeritus Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong – who spoke on The Covid-19 pandemic impact on family life and exacerbated emotional health
- Răzvan-Victor Sassu – Head of Strategy&Policy at World YMCA – who spoke on Global Perspectives on Community Wellbeing: A World YMCA Snapshot
Following the talks, the participants went to discover the topics in practice and visited various Community programmes, some organised by the Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong and others by partner non-profit organisations. The projects focused on four key areas: mental health support for young people, elderly care, homeless care, subdivided flats / housing support.
Participants then designed their own solutions around the key issues they discovered during the event. Their ideas were presented to a jury on the last day of the conference, where they received feedback from University professors and from Răzvan, so that they could further improve their proposals.
He also shared insights over what some national YMCAs are doing around Community Wellbeing in Colombia, Lebanon, Romania and England & Wales. The conference heard about:
- A Refugees After-School Programme run by YMCA Romania, alongside a Mental Health Service and a mobile ‘health hub’
- The ‘Small Talks (Big Difference) run on mental health by YMCA England & Wales
- The delivery of subsidised essential medicines (including mental health medicine) to over 100,000 vulnerable patients by YMCA Lebanon
- The health services run by YMCA Colombia for Parkinsons sufferers, cancer survivors and over-50s.
Here are a few highlights over some of the trends that we are seeing in terms of Community Wellbeing:
- The stigma around mental health is starting to fade;
- Mental health is starting to become a real priority in the YMCA, in communities and in public policy;
- The hype around mental health can also bring a barrage of misinformation, self-diagnosis, social media challenges that pose considerable risks to young people’s mental health;
- Access to mental health support tools is now higher than ever (but it also comes with its own risks);
- We are seeing an increased focus on the individual rather than the community;
- Increasing polarization in some parts of the world strongly endangers community wellbeing;
- Quantum computing, deepfakes, the fast evolution of AI present both incredible opportunities but also new risks for wellbeing and mental health for all generations.
And some of the tips & tricks shared with the young participants:
- Bring your own contribution to dismantling the stigma around mental health for good;
- Aim for wholeness – balance and harmony between physical, mental and spiritual health;
- Build resilience through positive habits, one small step at a time – Aim for 1% improvement every day, not 100%;
- Practice gratitude – at least 30 seconds a day, which has been proven to bring positive changes to the brain and to mental health;
- Seek only reliable information and fight fake news;
- Take the initiative and volunteer or start your own project – You have the power to do more good in the world than you realise.
Visit to the Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong
Prior to the conference, Răzvan visited several Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong programmes, including:
- Kowloon Center (which provides a large gym, an innovative walking football programme, a large swimming pool, classes for young people and adults, special classes for populations aged 50+);
- a newly-opened medical center of the YMCA which provides both Western and Traditional Chinese medicine;
- the New Territories Center (which provides a large sports facility, arts class, a sizeable afterschool programme, adventure classes, rooftop community gardening programmes, climbing classes etc. for a vulnerable community surrounding the center);
- the Kornhill Center (which offers integrated community services in collaboration with 7 international schools from Hong Kong).
Said Răzvan: “These services – delivered in over 60 community centers – benefit the entire community regardless of age or background, and in many cases are critical to the wellbeing of the local communities that they serve. It is a social services model that can be inspiring for many other communities worldwide. This is community wellbeing in action: it’s great to see”.
Visit to the YMCA of Hong Kong
During his time in Hong Kong, Răzvan also met the senior leadership and staff of the YMCA of Hong Kong to discuss Vision 2030.
“It was a pleasure to be together with the teams of the YMCA of Hong Kong which are putting Vision 2030 into practice, and to have a deep-dive into the challenges they face and the opportunities they see. Vision 2030 happens at the grassroots level, and it was inspiring to see the level of commitment and creativity on the ground in Hong Kong.”