Helping to raise confident kids in Sham Shui Po

By Crystal Cheng, Family Center Supervisor

I joined OneSky in June 2019 to empower and engage caregivers and to help children develop their full potential regardless of their ethnicity, ability or socio-economic status. This past year has only served to reinforce the importance of our work.

Recently, I interacted with a parent who joined our Family Centre when it opened a year ago. It has been a difficult year for her, as it has been for so many in the low-income community we serve. But, as a social worker, what has struck me is that she has been able to find positives in her difficult situation. In particular, she spoke of the encouraging change in her daughter’s behavior and how that has drawn them closer.

Her child has become braver, more confident, because of what she has learned from her OneSky family mentors. Within a supportive environment, this mum has been taught to observe her child, note her interests, and use them to enrich her play. This in turn has strengthened their bond, as well as the child’s sense of trust and self-confidence.

To learn new skills, put them into practice, and see a tangible response has left quite an impression on this mum, who said it felt like “a small personal miracle, played out against the backdrop of this awful pandemic.”

Here in Hong Kong, as we fought Covid-19, OneSky’s usual means of reaching out and changing lives were constantly impacted and we have had to adapt.

Primarily, the OneSky Centre is a place for the local community to gather, learn, and, of course, play. To date, we have registered 437 children and 495 caregivers as members of the Centre.

At times, the children have been able to enjoy socially distanced supervised play and parents enjoyed training workshops. At other times, however, with services suspended, continuing our work for the children and their caregivers has required creativity.

So, we started online storytelling sessions, parent-child activities and even a virtual Christmas party through the phone. Using WhatsApp, we have offered parenting tips, activity cards, and all manner of DIY fun for kids.

Despite all the constraints, we have never stopped reaching out and letting parents know they are not alone. Pandemic circumstances allowing, each family is able to access support and services in the Family Centre.

One of the lessons we have learned from the past year is not to second guess the future, and 2021 still remains somewhat unknown.

However, like that child with the proud mum, our confidence is growing. Despite tough circumstances, we learned that we, too, can rise to the occasion. I’m so proud of our staff and their bravery, innovation, and commitment to the community we serve.

Complementing the parenting skills training led by our Family Mentors, innovation will continue to characterize our approach to working with vulnerable communities as we build a supportive network for the families of Sham Shui Po.

It has already been quite a journey, thanks to the generous hearts of colleagues, donors, and local NGOs. Standing together, we are proud to be part of the solution to offer a better future for the vulnerable families of Hong Kong.

The D. H. Chen Foundation Training Hub – helping to expand the capacity and quality of childcare in Hong Kong

At the heart of the P. C. Lee OneSky Global Centre for Early Childhood Development is The D. H. Chen Foundation Training Hub, offering training programs for both professionals and parents using cutting-edge theory on early brain development. The innovative teaching methods unite children and adults on a new learning journey.

Since opening in Hong Kong a year ago, during the pandemic and various lockdowns, OneSky’s training focus has been on supporting parents.

Our training is interactive and suitable for all parents or caregivers of young children. It includes responsive care, building secure attachment, child development, and play-based learning.

For Jasmina Wadhwani, OneSky’s Director of Global Programs, the past 12 months have been remarkable, despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It has been an incredible year for our training program,” said Jasmina. “The year has passed so fast, and it has been a joy training and watching the parents grow in their learning and being able to use our teaching with their children at home.”

Parents like Jessica — who has a 2-year-old boy — have found the Centre to be a refuge. In between lockdowns she and her son visited the Family Centre in person to play while she also participated in family training.

She told OneSky: “I am so happy to have been able to participate in the parenting course offered by OneSky. It has enabled me to absorb so much practical knowledge as well as being able to enjoy a new, safe and rich playground with my child.”

Jessica and her son are among many who have directly benefited from OneSky’s training and its lasting impact on both caregivers and children, which began more than 20 years ago with OneSky’s groundbreaking work in China’s orphanages and rural villages.

Today, thousands of more lives are being changed in Hong Kong, Mongolia and Vietnam, thanks to OneSky’s mission of training communities and caregivers.

“It’s very heartwarming when the teacher remembers my child each time we are together,” added Jessica. “I love that during lessons we learn so much from small details to the big picture information.”

The OneSky Global Centre now partners with ten NGOs, including PathFinders and the Music Children Foundation, to recruit vulnerable families to join OneSky’s parent training.

The ultimate goal of The D. H. Chen Foundation Training Hub is to offer training programs for professionals, as well as parents, using best practices in early childhood education.

As a training organization, OneSky’s mission is to support the systems of care in Hong Kong that are so vital to growing a healthy, happy society for tomorrow. It’s a new pioneering journey, using the proven OneSky Approach, that has only just begun in Hong Kong.

One year on, the vision and bravery at the heart of OneSky Global Centre

By Susanna Lee, Executive Director of the OneSky Global Centre

I grew up in Sham Shui Po, near what is now the P.C. Lee OneSky Global Centre for Early Childhood Development. Back then it was still a secondary school but that would ultimately close and the building would fall into disrepair.

My family lived in a small apartment. My parents, younger sister, and I shared a set of bunk beds, and, at the heart of our home, was a small collapsible table. It was used for meals and for watching TV but I invariably sat underneath it. It was part of my imaginary games — my little kingdom.

I recently asked my mother why I had never attended childcare. It turns out the first obstacle was the waiting list. Then, when a place finally became available, my mother visited and was shocked by what she saw. A dozen babies watched over by a single caregiver, with no time for play or nurturing.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Sham Shui Po has needed a place like OneSky’s Global Centre for my whole life.

But, as fate would have it when the Global Centre finally opened it was during a once-in-a-century occurrence – a global pandemic. While the vision of all involved was remarkable, it was matched by inspirational bravery and perseverance. Do you remember that creeping fear we were all feeling one year ago in the early months of 2020?

Susanna Lee, Executive Director of the OneSky Global Centre

At the time I was OneSky’s Hong Kong Director of Development, I am now proud to be the center’s Executive Director. Having observed all the hard work that was required to open the centre, I am grateful for the vision that led to its achievement.

It was a vision that came to light thanks to Jenny Bowen, OneSky’s founder. Jenny imagined the center as a place that was equal parts love and learning. A place where children could find a better start to life and where caregivers, parents, and partner NGOs could learn best practices in Early Childhood Education.

Working with The D. H. Chen Foundation, the center would serve as a hub to share cutting-edge theories on early brain development and teaching methods.

It was a dream that the Lee family shared too. They believed in Jenny and her vision. Their donation allowed us to begin building the dream, their gift is an investment in the future of Hong Kong’s children and it is truly fitting that the center carries their name.

Jenny’s enthusiasm for the project was contagious. A steering committee, a campaign committee, partner NGOs, and hardworking board members, all contributed so much.

So many people gave knowing this was what Sham Shui Po so desperately needed.

And it happened. This beautiful center. This inspirational, bright, love-filled space. To watch children explore it has been such a joy. Released from the constraints of small, subdivided homes, their energy is restored and their imaginations fed.

And now here we are in May 2021, a year on from opening in the toughest circumstances imaginable. Sometimes we still need to take a moment to look around at what has been achieved and feel a genuine sense of pride.

Because, 12 months ago, as Hong Kong counted Covid-19 cases and we fearfully scanned the news, our dedicated team continued as best they could. As they worked socially distanced or online, lockdown brought us all a fresh reminder of just how many of Hong Kong’s children have so little space.

Despite it all, in the last year we’ve registered 437 children and 496 caregivers as centre members. Community training has included nine events with 87 families attending. We have engaged with 57 local organizations, most of whom have visited the centre, and commenced training partnerships with two. The reach is growing and as Hong Kong emerges from the pandemic, our horizons are widening.

This is an investment in children, in parents, in good childcare, in expertise.

Because a better start for our children means a better future for all our communities.

Thank you to all who made it happen.

The incredible supporters who share OneSky’s vision for a better future

Inspired by great names, helped by good friends, and grateful for so much kindness.

We are so deeply grateful to the many generous individuals and organisations who, from the very start, have supported OneSky to bring love and nurturing care to the most vulnerable children and families of Hong Kong.

Almost exactly two years ago OneSky founder and then CEO Jenny Bowen met with Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Alongside her was OneSky Board Member Stella Lee.

The meeting was a milestone and, about a year later, carrying the name of Stella’s father, the P. C. Lee OneSky Global Centre for Early Childhood Development opened in Sham Shui Po, one of Hong Kong’s poorest neighbourhoods.

The late P. C. Lee was born in Changsha, Hunan and was the oldest of six children. He left school at the age of 11 but never stopped learning, going on to enjoy a remarkable career in banking and shipping in Hong Kong.

Through their commitment to the OneSky Global Centre, Stella and her family support their father’s legacy and OneSky’s vision to provide access to loving, nurturing care and quality early education for the children of Hong Kong.

An important part of the centre is The D. H. Chen Foundation Training Hub. This is funded by the D.H Chen Foundation which continues the philanthropic work of Dr. Din Hwa Chen a distinguished entrepreneur who espoused ‘caring for others as you care for yourself’ as his lifelong philosophy. The Training Hub provides professional and parent training to increase the capacity and quality of early childhood education in Hong Kong.

The D. H. Chen Foundation joins the Sohmen Family Foundation and Avery Dennison Foundation in offering support to the children and caregivers we serve.

Elsewhere, the desire to reach Hong Kong’s most vulnerable young children has also inspired strong corporate support.

Working together – Generali and OneSky

Our friends at Generali told us that OneSky’s desire to help families meant we were the perfect match for The Human Safety Net, their global philanthropic platform. Essential support has also come from the Hong Kong branch of Bank Julius Baer & Co. Ltd, Barclays Capital Asia Ltd and Baring Private Equity Asia.

Jean Salata and his family at the opening ceremony of the OneSky Global Centre

Baring’s support for OneSky goes back over 15 years. Jean Salata, Chief Executive and Founding Partner was a patron of the center’s Capital Campaign, which raised the funds to open the Centre in May last year.

We asked him why he was now so passionate about supporting OneSky. 

“It is easy for people to forget that while Hong Kong is a city with significant resources, there still are many children and families with unserved needs,” he told us. “The Hong Kong center is a tremendous step to help meet those needs and be a pillar of the community.”

He added: “Our philanthropy program has a specific focus on underprivileged children, particularly in the areas where we work and live. It has been so meaningful to us to support OneSky all these years and watch it grow and evolve and greatly improve the lives of children.”

OneSky also recognises the contribution of so many individuals and incredible friends who have helped fund specific parts of the centre or provided general funding. We thank you all. 

If you would like to talk to OneSky about how you or your organisation can support OneSky in Hong Kong, please get in touch witg Jackaline Chow, Associate Director of Development.

BPEA – a shining light for OneSky during the pandemic’s darkest hours

When the pandemic hit in 2020, OneSky for all children struggled to balance urgent increased need with limited resources. Baring Private Equity Asia (BPEA) stepped up with senior staff even donating their salaries for the cause.

For OneSky and the children it serves, their kindness was a shining light at a very dark time.

It followed a decade and a half, during which BPEA has been a true friend to OneSky and to Asia’s children. It’s a relationship that started with helping China’s left-behind children.

BPEA Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer Patrick Cordes explains:

Q. How did BPEA first make a connection with OneSky?

Before even beginning a formal philanthropy program, BPEA began supporting the OneSky Guangzhou location. That support started around 15 years ago, and the relationship with OneSky has only broadened and deepened since, making OneSky a core long-term component of the BPEA philanthropic program.

Q. And what was it about OneSky’s work that interested you?

When we first visited the Guangzhou location we started to understand the vast need for children left behind.  We then began supporting just that one facility, which was close in proximity and where we could go and see the results every year.  But as the organization grew and evolved into a teaching and development organization, providing the software to complement the hardware often in place throughout China, we understood the power of the new model and the vastly increased reach and ability to help as many children as possible.

Jean Salata and his family at the opening ceremony of the OneSky Global Centre

Q. With the opening of the OneSky centre, how do you think OneSky can best help Hong Kong? What are Hong Kong’s current and future challenges?

The opening of the Hong Kong centre, which was directly supported by our founder and CEO Jean Eric Salata, was a critical next step in the organization’s development, centering the organization while also creating a facility to help those in need in Hong Kong. It is easy for people to forget that while Hong Kong is a city with significant resources, there still are many children and families with significant unserved needs. The Hong Kong center is a tremendous step to help meet those needs and be a pillar of the community.

Q. OneSky was amongst those benefiting from BPEA’s assistance during the COVID crisis – what was it so important to BPEA to step up and provide help?

Given the severity of the crisis, senior members of our team gave up their salary, and we created a specific Covid relief fund. The first place we looked to help was within our core philanthropy program.  In the case of OneSky, the needs were clear with significant extra costs required for critical cleaning and protective equipment.

Q.Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Our philanthropy program has a specific focus on underprivileged children, particularly in the areas where we work and live. It has been so meaningful to us to support OneSky all these years and watch it grow and evolve and greatly improve the lives of children.

Donate your “Asia Miles” to support OneSky’s work across Asia.

An exciting new partnership with Cathay Pacific means members of the airline’s loyalty program, Asia Miles, can now help vulnerable children in OneSky’s care receive the best possible start in life.

With air miles accumulating due to restrictions on travel, members of Asia Miles can now donate their reward points to support OneSky programs in mainland ChinaHong Kong S.A.R, Mongolia and Vietnam.

OneSky believes it’s every child’s right to have full access to loving, nurturing care and quality early education. The gifts bought will be used by children cared for by OneSky trained nannies and caregivers.

13,990 Asia Miles will provide building blocks to encourage imaginative play 

4,660 Asia Miles will provide storybooks to spark a lifelong love of reading

9,320 Asia Miles will provide easels for art to improve coordination and inspire creativity

OneSky CEO Morgan Lance said: “We are honored to be chosen by Cathay Pacific and delighted that frequent flyers can give so easily to children in OneSky’s care. We want to give the very young and vulnerable the best possible start to their lives with loving, nurturing care.

“Whether you choose to buy books, easels, or building blocks, donating miles helps OneSky to support a child’s development. There is no better investment!”

OneSky appoints Executive Director to Global Centre in Hong Kong

Susanna Lee, formerly OneSky’s Hong Kong Director of Development, has been promoted to Executive Director of the P.C. Lee OneSky Global Centre for Early Childhood Development.

Having grown up in Sham Shui Po, Susanna knows, like many children living today in the center’s neighborhood, that space to play is minimal and childcare options extremely limited.

In her new role, she’ll be working with the Hong Kong government, NGO partners, and funders to grow the center’s reach and to serve vulnerable local children and families.

As a training organization, OneSky established the center to grow the capacity and quality of early childcare in Hong Kong and across Asia. The center also provides training to professional caregivers and parents.

OneSky was founded in 1998 in China to provide nurturing care and early education to abandoned children in China’s welfare institutions.

The organization now serves left-behind children in China’s rural villages, the children of migrant workers in Vietnam’s industrial zones, and children living in ger districts in the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar. The P. C. Lee OneSky Global Centre for Early Childhood Development was opened in May last year.

OneSky CEO Morgan Lance said: OneSky CEO Morgan Lance said: “Susanna has a wealth of experience working for NGO in Hong Kong, coupled with a natural passion for this work in a part of Hong Kong that she knows so well. I am delighted that Susanna has taken on this new role  –  giving back to the Sham Shui Po community where she grew up and helping OneSky grow the capacity and quality of early childhood education in Hong Kong.”

Susanna added: “I am so proud to accept this role and to represent OneSky. The decision to open in the midst of the pandemic was a brave one but the issues of childcare, space to play and child development have never been more current. We must never forget that Hong Kong’s children are Hong Kong’s future.”

A place of hope for Hong Kong parents struggling through Covid-19

As Covid-19 spread around the world in 2020, lessons were quickly learned on the impact of the disease and the efforts to control it.

Just as the vulnerable were more likely to catch the virus, those whose homes offered little space for parents and children to coexist suffered most during lockdown.

Meanwhile, financial realities also meant balancing childcare and the need to work, creating an often impossible challenge.

A brave decision

Against this backdrop, in a part of Hong Kong famed for its small, subdivided apartments, the P. C. Lee OneSky Global Centre for Early Childhood Development opened in May. While the decision to open during a pandemic was brave, the need had never been greater.

The site, in Sham Shui Po, will eventually be a multi-use center where local children and their caregivers can play, learn and enjoy support, and professional caregivers can train and be trained.

But it was soon clear during 2020 that it was local parents who needed OneSky’s help the most.

Since opening last spring, 34 parents have benefitted from OneSky training. While they learned, children were able to enjoy the open, socially-distanced spaces within the center. A further 263 families, including 343 children, have registered as center members.

And, when lockdowns intervened, OneSky staff and trainers were able to reach out to families online.

Quality time with children

For mom of three, Wong Yin Yu (pictured below), parenting training meant being able to learn, spend quality time with her children and benefit from sharing experiences with others.

“I believed I had enough experience and knowledge of caregiving but discovered my deficiencies after taking the course,” she explained. “I learned from the details that I used to overlook, like paying attention to children’s interest when teaching them something new, replicating their actions and guiding their behavior in positive ways.”

In total, three groups of parents benefited from the training. The first completed 18 sessions and are now progressing to “Graduate Alumni” level. These participants were recruited during local community events.

The second group, referred from the Music Children Foundation, completed 12 sessions. A third, again locally recruited, have completed six sessions to date.

YOU CAN HELP: Sponsor a child in a OneSky program and give them the best possible start to life. 

Next up, local charity Pathfinders has referred an additional class of parents to the site that employs a team of four Family Mentors which teaches positive parent-child interactions and early childhood best practices. OneSky continues to seek long-term partnerships with more local NGOs and community groups.

“Opening during a pandemic was, of course, far from ideal,” said Jasmina Wadhwani, OneSky Director of Global Programs, Hong Kong. “However, so many of the issues we faced as a community suddenly became worldwide topics of conversation.

“As the world committed to lockdown we saw how it badly it affected vulnerable families. The spotlight was suddenly on the need for safe spaces for children, the pressure on parents and importance of childcare and the value of caregivers as key workers.”

For the parents able to attend the OneSky Centre, it’s clear that the opportunity to get out, to learn, and share the challenges they faced, was extremely valuable. As was the supervised play for their children.

“The feedback we received from parents was extremely positive,” added Jasmina. “The center will continue to grow its services as the Covid-19 situation allows. The wider context is a world that’s being re-shaped and we’re learning to adjust quickly to existing limitations while also evolving to meet new needs.”

OneSkyHeroes: Why OneSky will always have my support – Karen Koh

Broadcaster, journalist and media trainer Karen Koh believes love and care in a child’s early years is vital – that’s why, she tells us, she believes in OneSky.

Q. How did you first hear about OneSky and what was it about our cause that moved you enough to become a part of it?

“I actually heard about OneSky when it was still called Half the Sky and I think I originally heard about it through parents at my kids’ school. For me, what was most important was learning about the attention paid to those really early years. As a parent, you know that this kind of bonding and care makes such a big difference. You know how much those first few years help build a child’s confidence and self-esteem, independence and resilience.

“I like the way OneSky operates in terms of training others because really that’s the best way to become sustainable. So that was it, when I heard about the work you were doing I thought – wow! OneSky is doing a great job using the right kind of methods that will last and have a great impact.”

Q. You’ve long given your time and expertise to a number of causes and issues. Why is giving back so important to you?

“Firstly, I have the capacity. I feel like I’ve had a very fortunate life experience and have benefited from being able to do so many things. It’s important to give back to your community. Especially if you have the skills, or you just have a platform to give a voice to others.

“We can help people achieve something and that does make your life a little more meaningful. It is so much more satisfying than just working and doing everything entirely for yourself.”

Q. OneSky believes early childhood development is an investment in future adults who will benefit our global community. How do you think your upbringing impacted who you are now and what you do?

“My childhood absolutely did impact. Hugely. When I think back to when I was very little I was often apart from my parents who were new migrants to Australia. Both my parents worked, so when I was in preschool, there was someone I called my godmother who would pick me up and take me to their house. She’d feed me and I’d play with her dogs.

“She was English and was just so kind. I always felt safe and I was happy to go there every day. Knowing that there’s somebody there for you, who is not just going to take care of you but does it in a way that’s loving and connected and supportive is just such an important thing. I think it gave me confidence, helped me communicate and gave me the ability to talk to different people.

“All these things are so important and they’re not the type of things you learn in school. You learn these skills from being with people.”

Q. As an experienced presenter with the likes of CNN and the BBC, how did it feel to be working with OneSky colleagues in our first gala broadcast? How did they do?

“I have to say the OneSky team were amazing. I’ve been in many many TV studios over the years and of course this was a first-time, quite complicated, virtual event. Watching at home, you don’t really know what it’s like at the other end and there’s so much going on behind the scenes.

“In the control room, there were probably around 15 people. There were so many elements and it was complex because we had the green screen, we had several live studio guests, several more Zoom guests and the live pledge.

“But everything was so well organized. The rehearsal took twice as long as the actual show because we had to make sure everybody knew when to walk in, walk off, and where to look. But on the night it went really smoothly. It just felt very very professional and everyone was so supportive.”

Q.If you could make a wish come true for Hong Kong’s children, what would it be?

“I just wish there was a level playing field for everybody. I wish everyone could have the same opportunities. Obviously, we don’t live in a perfect world but I think whatever we can do to give every kid a chance, with great education, a great family life and great opportunities, we should do it.

“Hong Kong is a wealthy society with huge disparities. It’s not a simple thing to solve but there are definitely ways that we can all help to make Hong Kong more equitable for those less fortunate.”