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Baccarat: Girl Power

Apr 2013 Educator Christine Ma is a board member of Plan International Hong Kong, the UK-based children’s development organization established in 1937. It helps underprivileged children in developing countries realise their full potential through education, health, environment and livelihood projects. Plan International set up in Hong Kong in 2009, though it ran a field office here from 1959-1973 under the name Foster Parents Plan, aiding the influx of refugees from mainland China at that time.

Ma shares Plan’s sentiment when it comes to realizing children’s full potential. The 31-year-old has a master’s degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania and taught at schools and education centres prior to setting up Jems (Junior Excellent Members of Society) Learning House in 2009. Jems offers character-building classes for children aged from three to 12. She is the elder daughter of former secretary for commerce and economic development Frederick Ma, and co-founder of charitable initiative Generocity with sister Andrea.

What inspired you to set up Jems?

Hong Kong has a great education system that helps develop a child’s intellectual ability and skill, but I agree with Martin Luther King Jr that intelligence plus character is the goal of true education. Character and values help a person use their intelligence in the right way.

The example I like to give is that a person could be brilliant at science and if he has good character he could use that skill to make medicine to cure disease, whereas with bad character he could create a drug to destroy lives. The intelligence required is the same, but one’s character determines the outcome. And I believe the foundation for setting theses values in place starts from a young age, so I founded Jems with the vision of seeing children as Junior Excellent Members of Society. What’s the biggest challenge in achieving this?

I think the most important thing about building a child’s character and values is having a strong partnership with parents. We must be on the same page as the parents in order to give the child a consistent message about the values that he/she should uphold. It’s important that parents we work with see character development as an integral part of their child’s growth.

How did you get involved in Plan International Hong Kong?

I was approached by Plan in 2010 to be an ambassador for its Because I Am A Girl (BIAAG) campaign. Initially, I was moved to help these girls; I have been very fortunate to have received a great education and be loved by my family, but many girls around the world do not have love or opportunities purely because of their gender. Then I became more committed to Plan because of the projects it has pioneered, the rich history of this international organization and the fact that they help children. Also, after I agreed to be their ambassador I found out that back in the 1970s my uncle had been one of their overseas sponsors, supporting Hong Kong children. That made it even more personal to me.

Tell us about being a Because I am a Girl ambassador.

The BIAAG campaign is Plan’s initiative to raise awareness and funds to help girls worldwide. Studies have shown that if we help girls in developing communities they will make a bigger impact on their communities than boys. Girls are relational and caring in nature; money used to help girls gets channeled back into their families and communities. Girls have been neglected, overlooked and abused, and yet they are the ones who can make the biggest difference. We need to step up, speak up and make a difference in their lives.

What’s your role?

As an ambassador, I have been involved in BIAAG events and it is my job to share its mission with people, especially the media. The BIAAG campaign kicked off two years ago with a photo competition; we asked people around the city to take pictures expressing what it meant to ‘be a girl’. I was one of the judges.

Last year, BIAAG held a charity even with dance and drama performances by supporting organisations. I attended and shared my heart with the audience about the need to help girls around the world. I also got some of my students involved. They did a piece of creative writing about how they would feel if they were girls in a disadvantaged situation in a developing country, and we published their work in the event brochure.

What are your other responsibilities at Plan?

I’m one of Plan’s newest and youngest board members, so I’m learning from the others at the moment. As a board, we oversee finance and projects; we discuss upcoming initiatives, fundraising schemes and our different programs worldwide. I’m looking forward to an upcoming trip to Cambodia, where I will visit a school project that Plan supports.

What else is happening?

Plan’s big event is the annual Walk for Children, which was held recently at Ocean Park with more than 1,000 participants. This year, we are raising money to build schools in Yunnan, China. In addition, plans are underway to support International Day of the Girl Child on October 11.



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