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.

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.”

Children and parents experience OneSky’s new Family Centre in Hong Kong

It’s hard to say who lockdown has been hardest on — stressed parents or their young children stuck inside Hong Kong’s infamously compact homes.

But, 14 families recently had the chance to enjoy a special open space filled with educational toys, games, swings and climbing frames.

That space is the newly opened Family Centre at the P. C. Lee OneSky Global Centre for Early Childhood Development in Sham Shui Po. The event was a Community Day set up to promote OneSky Parenting Training workshops, launching to local families this month.

On this occasion, moms and dads joined a 15-minute parenting talk in English and Cantonese, then spent time enjoying a facilitated play session with their children and OneSky Family Mentors.

The brand-new Family Centre includes an indoor playground, wet room, access to books, videos and counselling services.

“This was just a brief taster of Parenting Training,” said Cordelia Au, OneSky Associate Director of Community Partnerships. “But we were able to talk about observing, interpreting and responding to children which is at the heart of the OneSky Approach.”

The Family Centre will also serve as a community gathering space where children (up to age six) and their caregivers can play and learn together.

Families with children of this age, living in a designated area of Sham Shui Po, can register as members. Registered members are able to book facilitated play sessions, participate in parenting skills workshops, and access consultation and referral services. Residents living outside the service boundary may attend parenting skills workshops.

For more information, please visit the centre or call 3598 9338 during office hours.

While 2020 has been a difficult year for all, parents and young children have suffered disproportionately. The pandemic has affected work availability as well as childcare and outlets for play.

But OneSky is determined to help.

“The centre is a safe, friendly space for children and parents where they can enjoy the space, access assistance and be a part of a community facing the same challenges,” said Cordelia.

“In the meantime, we have received so much positive feedback from our invited guests and watched the children have so much fun. Children need to play and that requires space – that’s a premium for so many in Hong Kong, particularly this year with public play spaces having been closed.”


OneSkyHeroes – Generali believes in the importance of families, that’s why it believes in OneSky

A passionate partnership in Hong Kong – Generali finds a kindred spirit in OneSky

Generali’s reach is global with a presence in over 50 countries. But its Italian roots and culture are still evident. For Josi Chiang, Head of Generali’s The Human Safety Net program (THSN) in Hong Kong, that was why it first recognized OneSky for All Children (OneSky) as a potential partner.

“As an Italian company, Generali holds true to its roots. We value the importance of families and of the time they spend together,” said Josi.

“So, when we were looking to launch our local THSN program as part of Generali’s global movement, families were always at the forefront of our thinking.”

Josi Chiang, center

“We were looking for a local NGO that assists vulnerable families in Hong Kong with emphasis on very young children. The formative years are when children develop their social, cognitive and physical skills and that’s the time we think we can make the most difference.”

To this end, THSN has pledged to fund OneSky’s Family Centre in Sham Shui Po for children aged 0-6 and their Family Mentors who are essential to providing loving and responsive care to the children. The partnership will include supporting the development of OneSky’s program in the center and volunteering by local Generali employees.

Photo credit: Vicky Chan, Avoid Obvious Architects

For OneSky’s Director of Development in Hong Kong, Susanna Lee, Generali’s passion and energy has been very inspiring. It’s clear it will be an exciting partnership.

Susanna joined a two-day THSN workshop with Generali staff recently and left elated.

“I just felt so energized and moved by their commitment. It’s impossible not to look forward and imagine what we can achieve together,” said Susanna. “There was so much passion and creativity in the room.”

Susanna Lee

Also looking ahead, Josi believes the partnership will mean a better future for Hong Kong’s most vulnerable children.

“Hong Kong is a developed city, but at the same time, space is a problem and inequality is huge. One-fifth of the city’s population lives below the poverty line and many are living in cramped homes without any space to grow and play.”

It’s a huge challenge but Generali is keen to play their part in bringing lasting change.

Generali and OneSky staff.

“It is disheartening to see so many lacking opportunities and having such a difficult start in life,” added Josi. “We believe everyone should have a real chance. OneSky knows that they can help children by providing space to play and grow, and help develop skills with love and care.

“In doing so they are assisting families as well as our future communities. Hopefully, this vicious cycle of poverty can be broken.”

Even before social distancing, Hong Kong kids needed more safe space

In 2018, when my son was two, we began this project for OneSky in Sham Shui Po and he helped color in the floor plans. A year later he saw the plans animated and even visited the site.

Of course, he was excited about the play equipment but he especially loved the big windows.

In 2020, aged four, he finally got to attend the opening. My decision to share the process with him had been spontaneous but it turned out to be very special, not least because our world has changed so much in this short time.

Now, in July 2020, Hong Kong is experiencing another Covid-19 surge. Public spaces have proven to be highly important to maintain social distance. In Sham Shui Po, subdivided flats suffer their own lack of space with all the physical and emotional stress that entails.

WATCH: See architect Vicky Chan visit the OneSky Global Centre with his son and his friend.

In the meantime, schools have closed early for summer vacation. K-1 students have been stuck at home since January. Keeping children engaged until school opens again is vital for their own development. It also helps parents and reduces conflict. I know it is not easy to deal with a very active child 24/7.

Pandemic preparation is not something we had planned in 2018 when we started out, but surface treatments in the center were designed with wellbeing in mind. Its large play area with big open windows will keep children in the neighborhood engaged, safe and healthy.

When children finally entered the site, it was so much fun for them to explore. They loved the windows. They let in so much light and allowed the child to build their own relationship with the space.

For me the site is special. Among my memories are the many human touches that make it work. During construction, the contractor had difficulty attempting to create the curvy line along both sides of the stairs. My team and I went and hand painted the guiding line for them to trace. It worked beautifully. Being hands-on made it feel very different to the digital approach of modern architecture.

Recently I climbed the nearby mountain and looked back down onto the OneSky building on its historical corner of Sham Shui Po. The neighborhood is changing.  Newly developed private residences mean space is further consumed while others are displaced.

My wish for the OneSky building is for it to remain humble and continue to serve as the guardian. I believe it will transform the neighborhood in a positive way for all.

Find out more about the P. C. Lee OneSky Global Centre for Early Childhood Development and how it brings together children, families and caregivers to play, learn and train while creating a better future for vulnerable children in Hong Kong.

A new future for early childhood care and education in Asia

After years of planning and with the support of visionary foundations, corporations and individuals the P. C. Lee OneSky Global Centre for Early Childhood Development (the Center) has opened in Hong Kong.

As a global training organization with a mission to teach communities and caregivers to provide nurturing responsive care and early education that unlocks the vast hidden potential in our world’s most vulnerable children, we couldn’t be more excited.

Our new regional training hub for global best practices in early childhood care and education (ECCE) will build a community of childcare professionals and paraprofessionals, scaling the reach of our work across Hong Kong and Asia, ensuring even more vulnerable children have an equal start in life.

Following an extensive two-year needs assessment, the OneSky Global Centre for Early Childhood Development was conceived in partnership with the. P. C. Lee family who, in honoring their late father’s compassion, kindness and love of learning, are helping to build a more equitable future for marginalized children in Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong, despite the city’s prosperity, one in five children lives in poverty*. If these vulnerable children enter mainstream schools without quality ECCE, the chance of them realizing their full potential is limited.

The Center will be a community gathering place where children, ages 0-6, and their caregivers can play and learn together. And we will bring NGOs, academics and social services to the Centre to share best practices and current research in early childhood care and education.

This monumental achievement could not have occurred without the support and encouragement of our family of donors around the world. Thank you.

*Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report 2018 – pre-intervention rate by age.

OneSky Hikers – thank you so very much

By Jenny Bowen, OneSky Founder & CEO

At OneSky we often talk about changing young lives, “one child at a time”.

It’s an absolutely accurate statement. In order to reach young children at a very young age, you have to be able to build a relationship with them. That can only be achieved individually between the caregiver and the child.

It’s at the heart of everything we do. It is, in essence, the OneSky Approach, that focuses on human beings and relies on skilled and loving human interaction between children and those who care for them.

Likewise in order to make this happen, we need to reach out to friends. We need to explain what we do and hope you are as inspired by our work as we are.

It’s YOUR support that enables us to give child after child a future. Together we can provide a start in life that can never be taken away.

And that support grows, “one friend at a time”. We’ve seen it played out over recent months ahead of the hike. It’s been a hard year for Hong Kong, it was easy to briefly imagine that our own cause could be overlooked.

But hiker after hiker signed up. Whole groups joined the cause. Then on Sunday, there you all were – over 400 friends of all ages, enjoying a beautiful day in the sunshine. Each of you wanting to play your part in helping young and vulnerable children throughout Asia.

Step by step through Hong Kong’s beautiful trails you were there for us. Our OneSky family.

Hong Kong is set to play a major role in OneSky’s future. We are excited that the P. C. Lee OneSky Global Centre for Early Childhood Development will open in Sham Shui Po next year. There will be a Family Centre and an Early Learning Hub offering high-quality care for children at risk. These children will be Hong Kong’s future. We will also train trainers from across the region and build educational resources that will benefit thousands more children.

None of this happens by accident. It takes vision and long term commitments from amazing staff. Most importantly, it takes people who believe in what we do.

Thank you for believing. Together we can achieve so much more.