Citation: Dr. Peter NEWBERY – Doctor of Social Sciences, honoris causa



A citation written by Professor Harold TRAVER and delivered by Professor Catherine SUN Tien-lun

Peter NEWBERY has devoted his entire adult life to the betterment of Hong Kong without thought of personal gain. There are few people in Hong Kong about whom you could legitimately make such a claim. He is probably most well-known for his work with marginal youth and the establishment of Youth Outreach, one of the largest outreach social service institutions in Hong Kong. As the Founder and Executive Director of Youth Outreach, he has been at the forefront of youth counselling and outreach for the past 25 years. However, this is only half of the story. He has dedicated nearly 50 years of his life to serving Hong Kong society as a teacher, counsellor, and Chaplain to prisoners and refugees.

He was born in 1948 in Manchester, England and grew up in post-war Britain in a conventional working class home. His father worked for British Rail and his mother worked as a secretary until she became a full-time housewife. He attended a secondary school run by the Salesian Fathers, a religious order of the Catholic Church which specializes in working with the young, especially the poor. He joined the Salesian Fathers after finishing secondary school and came to Hong Kong shortly thereafter in 1967. He says he volunteered to go to Hong Kong because he saw it as something challenging. I think we can all agree that he more than met the challenge.

Father NEWBERY has been characterized as “enthusiastic, wildly energetic, and totally devoted to the children of the street.” This is a very accurate description of his character. Upon arriving in Hong Kong, he immediately set about absorbing the spirit of his adopted country and learning Cantonese, which he speaks fluently. He pursued most of his basic Salesian training in Hong Kong which included Chinese Language, Philosophy and Education and became a full member of the Salesian Fathers in 1971. After completing a degree in Theology, he went to England to be ordained in 1975 and returned to Hong Kong as a priest.

On returning to Hong Kong he worked in schools as a Teacher, Student Counsellor, and Director of Religious Activities, completed a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at the University of Hong Kong and volunteered as Chaplain to Vietnamese refugees in the closed camps. Once again, the word ‘energetic’ comes to mind. He then went on to spend ten eventful years as Senior Prison Chaplain responsible for advising the Commissioner of Correctional Services on all matters pertaining to planning, organizing, and coordinating the activities of voluntary workers in all Correctional Institutions in Hong Kong. In addition to his administrative duties, he visited institutions regularly and made personal contact with inmates to assess their needs and determine how volunteer workers could help them. It is worth recalling here that the founder of the Salesian Order, Don BOSCO, was also a Prison Chaplain.

As the 1980s were beginning to draw to a close, it was becoming increasingly obvious that some form of crisis intervention service was needed to deal with the exponential rise in the number of street kids in Hong Kong. Several agencies proposed services but most of their funding came from Government sources and the Government did not wish to fund this sort of project. Consequently, none of the agencies were able to put their proposals into operation. The Salesian Order stepped into the breach and asked Father NEWBERY to establish and run an outreach service for Street Kids, the first of its kind in Hong Kong.

Youth Outreach was established as a non-government crisis intervention centre. It set up its first hostel for boys in 1991 and opened a similar centre for girls in 1992. Initially the Salesian Fathers provided the financing for Youth Outreach but after six months, the agency supported itself through its own fundraising. Even today, only one-third of Youth Outreach’s income comes from Government subsidy while the remaining two-thirds still comes from its own fundraising efforts. As the name implies, rather than waiting for youths to come to them, Youth Outreach adopts a proactive approach by going into the streets and seeking out at-risk youths. Initially a second hand van was donated for the purpose but now the service uses 4 vans and a 5.5 ton truck to search for the children of the night, runaways and others at risk on the streets. The majority of the “runaways” were, and still are, dropouts from school or simply those who have no home they want to go to. In one way or another they are all experiencing the uncertainties of adolescence. Recognising that failure in school is often the onset of a delinquent sub-culture, Father NEWBERY has always emphasized the need to help school dropouts to re-enter the education system and return to some form of regular way of life.

While Father NEWBERY was establishing Youth Outreach and holding down his full-time job at the Correctional Services, he also found time to successfully complete a Master of Social Work (MSW) at the University of Hong Kong.

Over the past 25 years Youth Outreach has evolved from a small staff of 8 to its present staff size of more than 150. Among the staff are 70 at-risk youths employed as Programme Assistants to help them adopt a positive work attitude and develop their professional skills. Youth Outreach also provides valued fieldwork placement and internship places for Shue Yan Social Work and Counselling and Psychology students. Youth outreach services have been extended to start in the evening as well as after midnight. Last year outreach teams approached and evaluated the needs of nearly 15,000 at-risk youths. In addition to its traditional outreach service, Youth Outreach also runs a Crisis Centre for Boys and Girls that provides both residential and counselling services mainly for students, as well as Transitional Housing for Boys and Girls that besides accommodation, offers job training to its residents. Youth Outreach also runs a number of social enterprises to promote specific forms of youth culture that are appealing to at-risk youth and provide them with a platform for developing their talent. Last year, nearly 5,100 young people were involved in these cultural activities which include street dancing, bands, skateboarding and adventure programmes. Finally, Youth Outreach operates Hong Kong’s only 24-hour drop-in centre, “The Hang Out”, which provides a safe and positive meeting place for young people at any time of the day or night. In addition to providing recreational activities, social workers are on duty to provide crisis intervention to those who need it. The Hang Out also provides employment for young people as Programme Assistants. Last year, more than 2,300 new members were recruited and members made 110,000 visits to the Centre.

In addition to continuing to serve as Executive Director of Youth Outreach, Father NEWBERY is currently an honorary lecturer at the University of Hong Kong and has also been invited to lecture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. This has enabled him to share his extensive experience and knowledge of working with marginal youths with a future generation of youth workers. He has also published widely on topics related to youth work and youth justice including such widely read works as “A History of Youth Work in Hong Kong” and “Letters from the Street: Kids on the Streets of Hong Kong”.

Father NEWBERY has earned worldwide and local recognition for his distinguished contributions to youth work. He has received a Letter of Commendation from the Consul General of the United States of America for services to Vietnamese refugees; a Badge of Honour awarded in the Birthday Honours List of Her Majesty the Queen of England for services to Inmates of Correctional Institutions in Hong Kong; a ‘Service Above Self’ award from the Rotary Club; a Community Service Award, from the American Chamber of Commerce Charitable Foundation; a Medal of Honour presented by the Government of Hong Kong for contribution to youth work and, in particular, work with delinquents and youth at risk; Servitor Pacis (Servant of Peace) awarded by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations for work at the local and immediate level distinguishing the recipient as an instrument of God’s peace and healing; Leader of the Year (Community/Public Affairs) awarded by the Sing Tao Newspaper Group; and Doctor of Education (Honoris Causa) awarded by the Hong Kong Institute of Education. Most recently, in 2012, he received a Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Department of Social Work and Social Administration of the University of Hong Kong.

He is to be commended for his continuous commitment to the betterment of the lives of young people in Hong Kong and especially for his pivotal role in the establishment and operation of Youth Outreach. He has touched the lives of literally thousands of young people in Hong Kong and changed them for the better. Professor HU, on the basis of his outstanding contribution to the world we live in, I am proud to present to you Father Peter NEWBERY for the award of the degree of Doctor of Social Sciences, honoris causa.

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