How a Hong Kong architect is building a future for vulnerable children

Despite decades of growth, architect Vicky Chan believes Hong Kong is more divided than ever. Now, with a design for OneSky, he’s trying to help close the gap between rich and poor.

In autumn 2018, OneSky announced plans to build the OneSky Global Centre for Early Childhood Development (OSGC) in Hong Kong’s Sham Shui Po district, within walking distance of government-subsidised housing estates and subdivided flats.

The architect charged with making that center a reality is Vicky Chan, founder of Avoid Obvious Architects. His design needed to maximise space for more than 160 of Hong Kong’s most vulnerable children, while also making OSCG a world-class hub for early education, nurture and caregiver training.

“The aim is for everyone to learn from each other within the space,” says Vicky. “The building actually has its own influence on the interaction between children, caregivers and parents. The design allows sunlight to penetrate deep into the building. But that same transparency also supports the differing needs of teachers, parents and children.”

New arrivals to Hong Kong suffer a poverty rate of some 30 percent, compared to around 15 percent for existing residents. For many newcomers, without extended family and often unable to speak the local languages, it can be a lonely existence.

“OneSky wanted a children’s centre that is also a community center,” explains Vicky. OneSky will offer family skills training, but introducing recent arrivals to a new community is just as important. “We needed a flexible building”.

OneSky believes the right start can ensure children reach their full potential. A child who develops, learns to form relationships and has a sense of self-worth can eventually give back to a community. On a grand scale, OneSky believes an investment in our forgotten children could even save our world.

But how can a building in Hong Kong turnaround the lives of children?

“In Hong Kong we see luxury towers directly next to subdivided flats,” says Vicky. “We are becoming more and more divided along financial, housing and racial lines. This city was a melting pot whose strength was its willingness to adapt, but we’re slowly losing that.

“I think a centre offering quality care and education to children from vulnerable situations helps Hong Kong. It can also be a part of how this city remains relevant and sustainable at a global level.

“The sense of purpose and pride is keeping my team focussed,” he says. “We want to make a difference with OneSky.”

The OneSky Global Center for Early Childhood Development is due to open in July 2019.

This Hong Kong singer said no to wedding gifts – she wanted donations to help children instead

When singer and internet star Robynn was planning her dream wedding with her future husband Jonathan they were determined to share their love with those less fortunate.

So they turned to OneSky.

OneSky helps bring love to the world’s most vulnerable children. By training communities and caregivers to provide nurturing responsive care, OneSky shows children that their lives matter, helping them meet their full potential.

For children – love, laughing, learning and having fun – can be the difference between natural happy progress and delayed development.

With this in mind, Robynn and Jonathan requested that instead of wedding gifts, guests could instead donate to OneSky, via the Two Presents platform. Their incredible gesture raised HK$14,482.

Could you follow Robynn’s lead and share your special day with OneSky? Find out how.

Robynn is half of Canto-pop duo Robynn & Kendy who first came to prominence with a huge internet following before being signed by Universal Music.

“For this amazing couple to share their love and good fortune with young children born with so very little, speaks volumes about them, said OneSky Director of Development Susanna Lee. “And what could be more perfect – celebrating their own bond by helping provide the loving care that so many children still need. We can’t thank them both enough. They are an inspiration”.

OneSky is scheduled to open its Global Centre for Early Childhood Development in Hong Kong later this year. The centre will be a world-class hub for quality early education and nurture and caregiver training.

It will also provide science-based early nurturing and education in an inclusive, multicultural setting for 166 local children aged up to six, each year. The 16,000 square feet space is located in Hong Kong’s Sham Shui Po district, within walking distance of government-subsidized housing estates and subdivided flats.

OneSky sends best wishes to Robynn and Jonathan and our gratitude for their wonderfully generous wedding gift!

Model of Inspiration

Chinese orphan takes on Hong Kong role at her adoptive mother’s childcare foundation
* Jenny Bowen adopted baby Maya in 1997, then went on to set up orphanages across China
* Maya, now 23, works as a programme coordinator at the OneSky Centre in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 November, 2018, 2:16pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2018, 8:18pm

By Kate Whitehead

When American scriptwriter and film director Jenny Bowen adopted baby Maya from a Guangzhou orphanage in 1997, she never imagined it would lead to her setting up orphanages across China and being involved in the transformation of child welfare in the country. And she certainly could not have foreseen that other Asian nations would be clamouring for her model of early childcare.

This feel-good success story of young lives transformed by love and nurturing is one that Hong Kong can share in, because the city is now the regional training base for Bowen’s work.

What gives it an even more special twist is that Maya – who spent almost the first two years of her life in an orphanage just across the border before being adopted by the Bowens and raised in Berkeley, California – is now working at the OneSky Centre in Hong Kong.

“Maya inspired OneSky – totally, 100 per cent. It was her transformation being in the arms of a loving family, watching a shell-shocked little child just blossom. That’s when I thought, ‘It’s so easy, we could do that for all of them’. We couldn’t bring them all home, so OneSky was the answer,” says Bowen, founder and CEO of OneSky (formerly Half the Sky Foundation).

The story of her adoption is one Maya must have heard her mother tell hundreds of times, but she listens intently. Now a confident 23-year-old with a radiant smile, she earned a double major in human development and psychology, with a minor in education, at University of California, Davis.

“We used to joke about me working at OneSky when I was a kid, but I never pictured it until my senior year last year [when] I started thinking about what I’d do when I graduated. That’s when we started thinking about the OneSky Centre in Hong Kong. I’ve been a part of it my whole life, but to be able to contribute and work with OneSky has been amazing,” says Maya, OneSky’s programme coordinator.

The charity has had an office in Hong Kong since 2006 and the city has long been a good support base for fundraising, but until now it’s been little more than that.
“China will always be at the heart of the organisation, but Hong Kong is a home from which we can share with the world. We’ve been here for 12 years – we’ve raised money here, had our finance team here, but haven’t done anything for the community,” says Bowen.

And Hong Kong does need help – with one in five children living in poverty. After a thorough needs assessment, the charity settled on the working-class Sham Shui Po area, and is renovating a 16,000-sq-ft former night school to create the OneSky Global Centre for Early Childhood Development, a hub for quality early education and carer training, as well as a resource for professionals in the field.

It will cater for at-risk children – new arrivals, those in single-parent families, from ethnic minorities, children whose parents are incarcerated and any child who may not be able to develop their full potential because of their circumstances.

Due to open in mid-2019, the centre will include early nurture and education rooms for children aged up to three, playrooms for children aged three to six, a space for parenting skills workshops, and a community engagement programme for new arrivals to Hong Kong and others who lack social connections where parents, grandparents and children can get together for playgroups, workshops and special events.

“It’s in the heart of Sham Shui Po – there’s government housing all around, caged homes and subdivided flats. A big part of what we are doing is creating a community centre for parents or grandparents with young children, a place for them to come, and we’ll be training then in parenting skills. We’ll also have a psychologist and counselling for the families – if the family doesn’t have support the kids aren’t going to thrive,” says Bowen.

“Whether it’s NGOs or the government, we train the community and then mentor them as they take the programmes to scale. We are trying very hard not to grow our own organisation, but to build local capacity.”

She knows what she’s talking about. The early childcare approach has been well and truly tested and boils down to something quite fundamental – children who don’t form secure attachments, who don’t have a consistent carer or receive loving care, will never reach their full potential. They will fail to thrive, one way or another.

“If you can reach children, especially before the age of two when 80 per cent of the brain is developing, you can turn things around no matter how adverse the circumstances. For the first six years there is change that can happen. After six it’s very difficult, which is why it’s important to reach children so early,” says Bowen.

Much of her success has been down to her ability to scale. The first orphanage in China was set up in 2010, and within five years Half the Sky was running more than 20 orphanages. Bowen had a good relationship with the Ministry of Civil Affairs and had partnered with them on a number of initiatives.

Then in 2011, Half the Sky partnered with the government to launch a national programme to train government carers and administrators nationwide. To date, OneSky has trained carers and administrators in 790 institutions in 30 provinces and municipalities.

Adopted girl, reunited with birth parents on Hangzhou bridge, returns to China
“Whether it’s NGOs or the government, we train the community and then mentor them as they take the programmes to scale. We are trying very hard not to grow our own organisation, but to build local capacity,” says Bowen.

I last interviewed Bowen in 2014. Having created a model of early childcare in welfare institutions, she was stepping away from that work, leaving it to the Chinese government, and going on tour with her book, Wish You Happy Forever: What China’s Orphans Taught Me About Moving Mountains. She was 67, she’d had a successful career in film, raised four children (two by birth and two adopted from China), reformed China’s welfare institutions and published a memoir. It may have been a good time to slow down – but not for Bowen.

“We had figured out a formula for unlocking the potential for hurt children, children living in adversity, and I needed to find a way to share that. I couldn’t go to everyone’s home country and try and set up a programme, so I talked to my board and about testing the model outside the welfare institutions, but in a place where we are comparable, which is China. So, we started going to the villages for left-behind kids, and worked with grandparents and whoever was taking care of the children,” says Bowen.

Within two weeks of establishing the programme, she knew it would be successful. Villages that were disintegrating, all the young adults having left, began coming to life. She and her team began working with the government to start scaling the programmes, just as they had done with the welfare institutions. The next step was to move out of China, and in 2017 she headed to Vietnam for a scouting mission. Her timing was spot on.

“A week before our trip the prime minister put out an edict demanding that the government find a way to give care to the very young children of migrant factory workers because there were so many cases of abuse of migrant factory workers’ children left in fly-by-night day care centres,” says Bowen.

The Vietnamese government was eager to hear about how Bowen had worked in China, and quickly set up a model Early Learning Centre in the city of Da Nang for the children of migrant factory workers. That was last year, and already the government has asked OneSky to scale to 17 more provinces.

“And now we’ve also started in Mongolia. Yes – we’ve been very busy,” says Bowen.

Having proved that the model she developed in China could be successfully rolled out and scaled elsewhere, Bowen was ready to implement a plan she’d been thinking about for many years – to move its headquarters to Hong Kong and establish a regional base.

“I know there’s nothing like it in Hong Kong – I can tell by the enthusiasm with which we’ve been received. There’s very little specific training here in how to work with children who live in adversity. And in particular, nothing for kids, infants and toddlers. This is not uncommon, even in Hong Kong, where it’s very advanced in terms of education training. It’s almost as if children don’t exist before they are three, as if they aren’t real people,” says Bowen.

Asian-American adoption memoir a tango of abandonment, embrace
OneSky has launched a US$20 million fundraising effort – “Campaign for all Children” – and aims to achieve its target within two years. It is off to a good start with the very generous donation of US$5 million by a Hong Kong family. Bowen hopes to attract foundations, corporations and individuals to give at any level, from sponsoring a room down to buying a tile with your name engraved on it, which will go in the centre.

“Hong Kong’s wealth disparity is one of the worst in the world and growing. We can’t change that, but we can help the kids who are disadvantaged to level the playing field for them a little bit so that when they enter school they will be able to slug it out with everyone else who is trying to get through school in Hong Kong,” says Bowen.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Model of inspiration.

Campaign Launch Party

OneSky Global Centre Launch Press Release


OneSky launches a USD 20 million Campaign for all Children

To establish the OneSky Global Centre for Early Childhood Development in Hong Kong

in support of the city’s most vulnerable children


Hong Kong, 16 October 2018 —OneSky is excited to announce the launch of its Campaign for all Children, a USD 20 million fundraising effort to build a better future for the disadvantaged children of Hong Kong and the Asia Pacific region by creating the OneSky Global Centre for Early Childhood Development (the ‘Centre’), a world-class hub for quality early education and nurture and caregiver training as well as a resource for professionals in the field.

Scheduled to open mid-2019, the Centre will provide science-based early nurturing and education in an inclusive, multicultural setting for 166 children ages 0-6 annually. OneSky has signed a lease for the new Centre, a 16,000 square feet space in the Wing Shing Building located in the heart of Hong Kong’s Sham Shui Po district within walking distance of a number of government-subsidized housing estates and subdivided flats.

The Centre will include early nurture and education rooms for children 0-3, playrooms for children 3-6, a space for Parenting Skills Workshops offered at hours convenient for parents, and a Community Engagement Programme for new arrivals to Hong Kong and others who lack social connections where parents, grandparents, and children will gather for playgroups, workshops, holiday parties and special events. To accommodate parents who work extra-long days or non-standard shifts, caregivers at the Centre will be available during extended hours.

Like all of OneSky’s work bringing quality early nurture and education to the world’s most vulnerable children, the Centre is designed to be scalable to other areas in Hong Kong via satellite centres and other areas in the Asia Pacific region as well. To that end, the Centre will be a training base where experienced trainers teach the unique OneSky approach to working with at-risk children and families to early childhood educators, social workers, education specialists and programme directors from local and regional child-focused NGO and social service organisations.

The Centre will also serve as a gathering place for those committed to early childhood nurture and education in Hong Kong, where one out of five children live in poverty, and other Asia Pacific regions where the gap between rich and poor is also widening. In partnership with local NGOs, academics, and social service offices, OneSky will invite guest speakers to share information about innovations in early childhood care and education, best practices, and current research. Community partners will also have access to OneSky’s online learning community, which offers user-friendly forums and an extensive multimedia training library.

Says OneSky’s Founder and CEO Jenny Bowen: “Over the years, the Hong Kong community has provided crucial support for OneSky’s mission to bring quality nurture and early education to the world’s most vulnerable children. I am delighted that this generous community is now coming together to support our OneSky Global Centre for Early Childhood Development, which will serve Hong Kong’s often-forgotten disadvantaged children and also serve as a valuable resource for like-minded Hong Kong organisations.”

The Official launch of Campaign for all Children in Hong Kong will take place on Tuesday, 23 October 2018 at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club. For more information, please contact OneSky.


About OneSky for all children

Founded in 1998, OneSky teaches communities and caregivers to provide nurturing responsive care and early education that unlocks the vast potential hidden in our world’s most vulnerable young children.

In China, OneSky has transformed the lives of many thousands of marginalized children and helped China re-imagine its entire child welfare system. In 2008, OneSky became one of only a handful of NGOs officially recognized and legally registered by the Chinese government; in 2017, when China instituted strict new regulations government foreign NGOs, OneSky was one of the first twenty organizations to be re-registered. In Vietnam, OneSky has tailored its approach to address the needs of 1.2 million children of migrant factory workers and opened the Da Nang Early Learning Center, which has been designed as a model that can be replicated across the country.

With the establishment of the OneSky Global Centre for Early Childhood Development in Hong Kong, OneSky will bring to the city, its established programmes and methodologies to support the city’s most disadvantaged children and provide education and training for caregivers from across Asia.


About Founder and CEO, Jenny Bowen

About Jenny Bowen, Founder of OneSky:


About the Campaign for all Children

Susanna Lee, Director of Development, Hong Kong

Phone: +852 2520 5266