The CEO of PathFinders talks to Callum Wiggins about protecting the most vulnerable children born in Hong Kong.
What is PathFinders?
PathFinders was set up following the discovery of two babies and their migrant mothers in extreme poverty in Chungking Mansions. The women had been fired because they were pregnant and were homeless, penniless and reduced to feeding their babies the leftover water from boiled rice. What started as a critical intervention quickly paved the way for an organisation to help those who had fallen between the cracks of Hong Kong’s otherwise worldclass social and legal safety nets. We support an underserved population of babies, children and their migrant mothers through crisis intervention and assistance with basic human rights. Once they are removed from danger, we work to ensure they receive counselling and access to medical care and legal advice, and help them work towards a sustainable future. To date, PathFinders has helped over 3,500 babies, children and women.
“Based on the volume of cases we see at Pathfinders, we think we are seeing just the tip of the iceberg”
How did you join PathFinders?
I joined PathFinders as its first CEO in October 2013. At the time, I was not planning to change jobs. I was working at law firm Mayer Brown JSM and planned on staying until my youngest child went to school. However, I was inspired by PathFinders’ co-founders, Melissa Mowbrayd’Arbela and Kylie Uebergang, so I thought I would find out more. I applied for the role, was interviewed by the board and liked what I saw. I knew that working at PathFinders would be a major challenge but the cause resonated strongly with me.
What is your role?
As CEO I am responsible for the overall strategic development of PathFinders with a special focus on government and inter-agency relations, in particular the development of our Access to Justice Programme. We have 18 staff, 13 consultants, four board members, wonderful volunteers, interns and community partners including businesses, private clinics and hospitals, universities, schools and other NGOs. We actively encourage flexible working and employ several women who have returned to work after a career break caring for children or elders. My own work varies. It is impossible to be bored! From urgent case discussions, pitching to donors, visiting our shelters, presenting at conferences, and meeting with lawyers, doctors, consular and government officials to preparing board reports. The work is fast-paced, addictive, intense, exhilarating and challenging. What keeps everyone going is the fact that we are improving lives, one life at a time
Why is PathFinders needed in Hong Kong?
PathFinders is the only organisation working to ensure that the most vulnerable children in Hong Kong and their migrant mothers are respected and protected. That is our mission statement. Often the children and mothers PathFinders serves do not have access to health care services, identity documents and may not be able to exercise their basic legal rights. With a birth certificate, a baby will be able to apply for a passport, receive child immunisations and go to school in the future. Last year, there was a tragic case of a young girl, aged 15, who died falling from her apartment block in Repulse Bay. She and her sister never received a birth certificate, formal education or access to a public hospital. Since then, further cases of undocumented children living in Hong Kong have come to light. The media regularly reports cases of newborn babies being abandoned or dumped, but based on the volume of cases we see at PathFinders, we think we are seeing just the tip of the iceberg.
Will the work of the charity ever be considered complete?
We remain optimistic. We have to. Hong Kong should care for its population. They should not have to rely on donations and an NGO to protect and provide their basic humanitarian needs. Hong Kong can do better than this. We are working on putting ourselves out of business.
How can we get involved and help PathFinders?
We need funding. We currently receive no government funding and rely on the generosity of remarkable individuals, foundations and the corporate community. The demographic we serve is not a popular cause in Hong Kong – we frequently hear that our cases are too difficult, too risky and just not a Hong Kong issue. Of course this is a Hong Kong issue – these extremely vulnerable babies, children and women are right here among us and deserve our compassion and our support. This is not about citizenship, it is far more fundamental. These children would not have any identity without PathFinders’ work. They need an identity and all that comes with it, including immunisations, a nationality, a family, housing, food and education. Right now we also need doctors, midwives, lawyers and other volunteers, especially those with policy, technology, media, operations and event skills to support us. Please visit the donations, volunteering and supplies pages at www.pathfinders.org.hk or drop us an email at email@example.com