Alia Eyres, CEO Mother's Choice
Alia Eyres left her corporate law career to join Mother’s Choice as CEO seven years ago in the hopes of continuing the work her family started for vulnerable young women and children in the 1980’s. We caught up with Alia to see how they are impacting the lives of not just the girls and children they look after but also the wider community in Hong Kong.
Tell us a bit about the beginnings of Mother’s Choice?
In 1986, a series of newspaper articles pointing to the alarming numbers of teen pregnancies in Hong Kong deeply moved our founders to open the doors of Mother’s Choice. They had the courage to ask themselves “what can we do about this?” instead of pointing fingers or placing blame on others. Those founders happened to be my parents and two of their friends. Everyone thinks that when they started there must have had a strategic plan along with significant funding, but the four co-founders really had nothing - they were expats that didn’t speak Chinese, my father had just started a business and 6 kids at home and then the other couple had 4 kids at home and were working with Vietnamese refugees. They all had a lot on their plates and no experience in setting up this kind of a charity, but their willingness to provide loving, non-judgmental support to the many pregnant teenagers who had no one else to turn to quickly expanded to also providing nurturing care to children without families and to be a voice for them to be in a family.
Today, the staff and volunteers of Mother’s Choice continue with this same spirit. We believe that “it takes a village to raise a child” and that everyone has a role to play. We are all ordinary people from all walks of life who have seen how one simple act of kindness and courage can change someone's life, and how that can change the world.
"The problem with our world is that we draw the circle of family to small" Mother Teresa
Can you let us know a bit about your Child Services and how you aim to achieve your goals?
Our Children’s Services, which include our Child Care Home, Foster Care and Project Bridge programmes, are all focused on serving vulnerable children who live in the residential child care system. Children in the residential child care system live in institutions, foster care, or small group homes all across our city. This system is at full capacity, with many children living apart from their families due to a number of reasons, including neglect, abuse, violence in the home, abandonment, economic hardship, and incarceration. At least 400-600 more children are on a waitlist at any one time. Most children who enter into the system stay for years, with many leaving at age 18 without ever having experienced a safe, loving, permanent family. The cost and generational impact of children growing up without families and in the system is huge. They are statistically more likely to experience physical and mental health problems, go to prison, have addiction issues, and if they are a girl, to face a crisis pregnancy in their teenage years. Teen moms with young babies are more likely to place their children into the residential care system – and the cycle begins again… We aim to break that cycle by ensuring that children get access early intervention therapies and services and nurturing care, and that they are reunited with birth family or adopted as quickly as possible. We believe that it’s important to work with the youngest children as it is well-researched that the first three years of a child’s life is the most critical. This is when a child's brain begins to grow and develop and when the foundations for their lifelong health are built.
What about the other important services you work on?
Our Youth Services includes our programs for pregnant teenagers, which sees around 700 girls reach out to us each year, most of whom are under 18. We have a crisis hotline so that we are reachable easily. Our aim is to be a safe place for girls where they can be embraced, equipped and empowered to have a hopeful future. Some girls will come to stay in our hostel as they have experienced real trauma and don’t have a safe place to live. We look at intervention and prevention together so our Youth Services also runs a comprehensive, multi-year sexuality education program in local schools. We give young people access to accurate information in order for them to make healthy and safe choices. It’s not just the biology aspect we cover, but we also talk about real life situations, understanding their values, and what a healthy relationship looks like.
Our Family Services helps to build families through adoption. Each year we work with around 300 families locally on their applications and training. We are also a licensed overseas adoption agency to help children who aren’t able to find a family here in Hong Kong find a safe, loving, and permanent family in the US. Our vision of “every child in a loving family” requires community-wide engagement, so we also provide Community Services. We harness the power of the community by engaging, equipping, and empowering 700+ volunteers across all parts of our organisation through our Volunteer Engagement programs. We also equip our peers and others on the frontline working with children, youth, and families in the community through our Community Education programs, providing Child Protection Training and sharing models, experiences, and what we’ve learned with others.
How important is the role of the community in driving change?
We are incredibly passionate about being more open source as collaborators with our community. We want to be a catalyst for social change, helping people to recognise that they can make a difference. We are serve thousands of young people and children each year, but really we are just a collection of regular Hong Kong people doing what we can. Everyone has something that they can offer and if we can influence and inspire every sector and industry in our community to play their part, then we can see culture transformed and our city will become a more loving, connected, and hopeful place.
How do you measure impact?
Impact measurement is difficult when you don’t just want to count numbers but want to measure life-changing outcomes of the children, youth, and families who come to us. We have spent the last few years intentionally building disciplined systems for evaluating, executing, and adapting our services over time to meet the changes needs in our society. For example, when we realised that the babies who were coming to us were taking longer to be adopted we were able to ask ourselves why. We learned that more and more of the babies in the care “system” in Hong Kong have been exposed to drugs in-utero. In response, we adapted our services to provide a ‘cuddler’ program that allowed for one-on-one specialised care which we researched from NICUs in North America.
What is at the route of expansion or serving a greater number of kids?
Funding is our most critical need for serving more children at this time. The reality is that like many other non-profits, we struggle to meet our budget, especially as we expand the depth and breadth of our services to provide holistic, transformative care to each of our clients, and to meet the growing needs in Hong Kong. For every child we take in, there are many more that need our help, and the number of girls facing crisis pregnancy and in desperate need of counselling and support continues to climb.
Living in a city of privilege and disparity, what has been the most effective way to open hearts?
I am really passionate about story-telling and it’s something I’d like to invest more in as an organisation. We could capture and publish all of our impact measurement data, but it’s not going to change hearts - our real life stories is what makes a real difference. I believe in the power of our words and building authentic relationships with people.
Finally, how can our readers get involved?
We are absolutely short of volunteers across our Project Bridge foster program, our Child Care Home, and in lots of different areas at Mother’s Choice. We encourage people to come along to one of our volunteer information sessions to understand what’s involved and to meet the team. The second way people can get involved is with financial support, even a small amount every month through our monthly giving program helps. We also rely on the community for gifts in kind, we have a list on the website for this as well. There really is something everyone can do.
Mother's Choice is a Retykle Charity Partner so sellers can opt to donate their 50% earnings directly to their chosen charity. Visit our Charity Partner page here to learn more.